Tony Abbott was a useful villain for the left – his incompetence will be missed

Anyone with half a heart could hate the now ousted PM, but his replacement will be a far more formidable foe

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The Independent Online

Tony Abbott, Australia’s least successful Prime Minister since the execrable Billy Hughes, has left the office the way he came in: in a night of long knives, media doorsteps and half-whispered deals. He will be missed by coal magnates, his lame-duck cigar-smoking treasurer and cadaverous newspaper moguls alike. That’s four Prime Ministers in two and a half years, Australia. Apparently this one didn’t even serve long enough to get a Prime Minister’s pension.

So what are we to make of this? As Malcolm Turnbull, the lucky beneficiary of Tony’s indomitable awfulness has already pointed out, this mess of government has watched as its favourability dropped across 30 consecutive polls, and all while facing one of the least formidable oppositions in living memory. In Labor's Bill Shorten, we have a man who the average Australian would honestly not recognise if he rode the Melbourne cup winner across the city to open the batting at the Boxing Day test.

Tony Abbott gave the Australian left that most precious of things: a cartoonish opponent that anyone with half a heart could hate. But to a majority of Australians he was, at least for a few days a couple of years ago, regarded as the better candidate. In case you had forgotten, this is a man who proudly bit into an onion like it was an apple, not once, but twice for the cameras. Even at the time, it was abundantly clear that not even Abbott had any idea why this might have been a good idea. But that never stopped him. The man was not for turning.

Australia will wake to Malcolm Turnbull tomorrow as its newest leader. Over the course of his political career, Turnbull has proven to be a chameleonic type. This doesn't bode well for the moral direction of Australia. Some might say that the country has already lost its way with its uncompromisingly evil treatment of asylum seekers (the scapegoats of choice for both sides of Australian politics). With Abbott in charge, it was easy for the left to channel their outrage towards issues like this, and lay the blame squarely at his feet. But now a smart and eerily unprincipled man is at the wheel. It won't be as easy to demonise him in the same way – he's too canny, and dangerously urbane. You could say that the battle for the soul of Australia is about to begin in earnest.

It has already been said that Jeremy Corbyn scares politicians of the right and left alike because he doesn't believe that it is better to have power than it is to have principles. In the wake of Abbott’s departure, Australia's second-richest parliamentarian is its leader, and there nothing but a vacuum where the opposition should be. At a time like this, the country has to wonder where it can find its own left-wing maverick to breathe life and compassion back into politics.

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