Turnbull's delaying tactics may have saved Menzies' party
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Turnbull's delaying tactics may have saved Menzies' party

The parliamentary Liberal party has remained true to the centrist principles established by Sir Robert Menzies 74 years ago by choosing Scott Morrison as Australia's 30th Prime Minister.

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If Dutton, and his ultra-conservative and fundamentalist backers, had been rewarded with the leadership it would have sent a clear signal the Liberals had shifted away from the centre, their traditional heartland, towards One Nation territory.

This was the point Turnbull made when he accused media figures of colluding with his political enemies to stage an "insurgency" with the intention of dragging the Liberals to the right.

"What we have witnessed at the moment, is a very deliberate effort to pull the Liberal Party further to the right," he said.

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Experienced Canberra watcher Michelle Grattan, agreed: "If he [Dutton] receives a legal tick followed by the party tick, the conservatives will have gained an unprecedented grip on the Liberal Party's throat".

While the last 10 days have been a disastrous train wreck for the Coalition, which is now almost certain to be thrashed at the next election, Friday's result was the best to be hoped for.

The first sign Dutton, Abbott, Cormann, Cash and company had badly miscalculated came when 40 of the members present voted against the spill, effectively affirming their support for Turnbull to stay on as PM.

Once Bishop, ironically the most electorally popular of the candidates, was knocked out of contention Morrison become the most likely victor.

The controversial and heavy handed tactics Turnbull used to delay the vote by 24 hours allowed him to present Dutton as a high risk, low-value, option on the basis of questions over his s44 eligibility to be in parliament.

Then there was the question of the former Home Affairs' minister's ability to win votes anywhere outside his own state. Polling released overnight indicated a Dutton-led Coalition would fare significantly worse at the next election, including in Queensland, than a Turnbull-led one.

Morrison, by contrast, represents a safe pair of hands. While he is unlikely to win the next election for the Coalition thanks to the bizarre events that have made this one of the most unusual weeks in Australian political history since 1975, he isn't going to scare the voters away in droves either.

A successful Treasurer, and before that, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister for Social Services, Morrison has presided over a period of strong economic growth and job creation. As a loyal supporter of his Prime Minister right up until the 11th hour, he doesn't come to the top job with blood on his hands.

These points, coupled with the fact "ScoMo" is a media favourite who has successfully sold a succession of budgets since 2015, means he doesn't have to reinvent himself in order to connect with the voters.

While it was always obvious the damage caused by what now appears to have been a panicky and slap-dash challenge could not be undone, the Liberals have managed to contain some of the damage by denying the insurgents a victory.

Those behind it, who include some of the most senior members of the Turnbull cabinet, now have the challenging task of explaining themselves to their colleagues and their constituents.