Why do some Labor types hope Tony Abbott wins Warringah?

There are mischievous whispers among Labor types that they would quite like former prime minister and conservative tribalist Tony Abbott to keep his seat of Warringah next Saturday.

"In the event that they lose, and in the event he hangs on, you would want to pay for front row tickets to see how that plays out in their party room," one Labor MP remarked to The Sun-Herald this week.

Tony Abbott at Sunnyfield, a support organisation for people with intellectual disabilities, in Allambie Heights. Picutre: Janie Barrett

Tony Abbott at Sunnyfield, a support organisation for people with intellectual disabilities, in Allambie Heights. Picutre: Janie Barrett

The electorate, which Abbott has held since 1994, has always been one of the country's bluest. But Abbott is in grave danger of losing it to independent candidate Zali Steggall, who is polling strongly.

It's possible Steggall was concocted in a laboratory by scientists experimenting with Abbott anti-matter: she is female, a believer in consensus, soft in style, impossible for him to muscle up against, and yet able to match him in terms of sporty prowess (she is a former Olympic skier) and intellect (she is a barrister).

Steggall is also credible in an election campaign that has featured, to date, candidates dropped for diverse sins including stripper-groping, anti-Muslim social media posts, anti-Semitic social media posts, and most recently, to close the circle of disgrace, some old-fashioned rape-victim blaming.

This week the betting odds on Warringah narrowed - Abbott started out as favourite but punters have piled money on for Steggall and the pair are now equal favourites at $1.88.

The Abbott-for-Warringah Labor types are banking on Abbott being a de-stabilising force for the Coalition, particularly if it goes into opposition.

That looks even likelier after this week, which featured a Prime Ministerial egging being over-shadowed by a bungled B-team hit-job on Labor leader Bill Shorten by The Daily Telegraph, via the time-honoured medium of a late-mother attack.

Like all bungled hit-jobs, it had spectacular consequences, just not the ones its makers intended. Instead, the nasty journalism brought forth a great national flowering of mummy-stories, as people shared anecdotes on social media of their inspirational mothers, whose ambitions were thwarted by systemic inequality.

Equal favourites in the betting odds ... Warringah rivals Zali Steggall and Tony Abbott. Picture: AAP Image/Damian Shaw

Equal favourites in the betting odds ... Warringah rivals Zali Steggall and Tony Abbott. Picture: AAP Image/Damian Shaw

Virginia Woolf wrote about this very issue in 1928 when she created a thought experiment about Shakespeare's fictional sister, who she named Judith, and published it in A Room of One's Own.

This is a seminal feminist text I am going to assume the editors of the Telegraph have not (yet) read, but I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say that things did not end well for Judith.

If Labor people want Abbott to win, what of his own people?

One of the things characterising this election campaign on the Coalition side is how much of a one-man race it's become.

By any measure Scott Morrison has campaigned incredibly well. He is energetic and affable, he communicates well, and he is highly visible. But he is on his own.

Key members of his front bench are retiring - Kelly O'Dwyer, Christopher Pyne, Steve Ciobo and Michael Keenan.

Others face serious challenges in their electorates and have their hands full - Josh Frydenberg, Greg Hunt, Peter Dutton.

By contrast Shorten is flanked by his team, a deliberate strategy meant to show voters Labor is a buy-one-get-them-all deal, ready to slot straight into government, under-studies no more.

Poignantly, perhaps, Abbott would have excelled at this kind of turbo-solo campaigning. I still remember fondly in 2010 when the then opposition leader, hoping to snatch the prime ministership from Julia Gillard, eschewed sleep for the last 36 hours of the election campaign.

It was both a bizzaro macho stunt and an inspired idea that earned him great media coverage, and nearly won him the election.

This coming week Abbott will be just as adrenalised as he approaches the culmination of what he has called the "fight of my life".

Abbott is also fighting a one-man battle, with the moderates in his electorate largely deserting him and not showing up to leaflet or door-knock as they have in previous elections.

This is hardly surprising given the revolt Abbott faced at his preselection last September, when 30 per cent of grassroots members voted against him, despite their being no other candidate.

The ongoing antipathy of moderate Liberal branch members to their local member is noticeable, and the result is that Steggall's volunteers, in their distinctive aqua t-shirts, are much more visible on the streets of Manly and Mosman.

But Abbott still has his conservative supporters. Factional allies including NSW senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Liberal Party vice-president Teena McQueen are working on his campaign. His campaign chief is former Woolworths boss Roger Corbett. Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent a carefully worded letter of support for Abbott to Warringah constituents.

This week there was some consternation among moderate Liberals when John Caputo, a Dee Why real estate agent and Abbott's chief fundraiser, was seen handing out how-to-votes for conservative Liberal NSW senator Jim Molan. Molan is expected to lose his Senate seat, and the conservative faction is deeply unhappy about it.

There is a suspicion among some of these conservatives, who do not trust Morrison, that the Prime Minister does not want Abbott to keep his seat, because he could present a dangerous rival for opposition leader in a newly constituted party room, post-election.

It's an upside-downsy world, where The Daily Telegraph sparks a feminist reckoning and Abbott is cheered by Labor members and apparatchiks, while some in his own party run dead on him.

  • SMH/The Age
This story Why do some Labor types hope Tony Abbott wins Warringah? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.