Strange Politics: Sharpen your daggers, election is coming

A SHIP with two captains is doomed to sink.

It is an ancient Turkish proverb (albeit slightly bastardised by yours truly) that nicely accounts for that lead balloon in Malcolm Turnbull's chest.

Some loose-lipped, lily-livered blaggard in the government is determined to make the SS Turnbull a leaky vessel indeed.

The Australian Federal Police were called in this week after classified national security documents were published, revealing Tony Abbott had intended the government's commission of 12 submarines to be ready for subaquatic patrolling in the late 2020s.

The Turnbull-revised white paper was less ambitious, tacking an early-2030s completion date on the Collins-class fleet.

Our "no wrecking, no undermining, no sniping" former prime minister was scathing of the delay.

"I'm not just disappointed. I'm flabbergasted at this decision," he told The Australian.

Abbott has denied leaking the document, but his choice to undermine and snipe at his leader's decision is at odds with his promise of support back when he became the victim of a Liberal Party mutiny in September.

Turnbull fortunately still has the backing of his shoulder-dwelling parrot.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne was characteristically sassy when asked on Adelaide radio station FIVEaa whether the story confirmed "Tony Abbott is now completely off the leash and leaking against Malcolm Turnbull like a crazy man".

The preening mascot simply replied: "I wouldn't describe him that way."

It was not Abbott's only undercut of the week.

He heaped praise on Turnbull in the Coalition's weekly party room meeting while simultaneously trying to corner him into abandoning any tightening of negative gearing by investors in the ridiculously rich end of town.

It was one of the first times Abbott has really exercised his political muscle since walking the plank.

He commended Turnbull for his strong opposition to Labor's negative gearing and capital gains tax plan but added "we can't go down that path".

"If we were, our words would come back to haunt us."

Abbott also told the room it was "time for the leadership to take on the savings challenge again".

In a veiled shot at his captain, he acknowledged his own failure to sell the 2014 budget but speculated it might now be possible given Turnbull and his team's much improved "communication skills".

The backroom snipes arrive at a time when the Coalition is miraculously falling in the popularity stakes among voters.

Labor and the Coalition are now neck and neck at a time when an election is expected in the next six months.

Turnbull's 55% approval rating is still well ahead of Bill Shorten's 21%, but it is headed downward while the Labor leader is ever-so-slightly working his way up the rigging.

It cannot all be attributed to leadership tensions, and people must surely be getting sick of Turnbull's refusal to announce concrete policies on anything controversial.

But navigating this perilous ocean of co-captain's calls is a tricky feat indeed.

Just ask Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

So sharpen your daggers, don your lead backpacks and wear some grippy shoes, me hearties, because the deck can get awfully slippery around election time.

Former Prime Ministers, huh? Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em.


STRANGE POLITICS with Chris Calcino
STRANGE POLITICS with Chris Calcino

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