Tony Abbott might be about to lose his job. And for once, we hope a woman doesn't get it.

Have you heard of the glass cliff?

It is six months since the last LNP leadership crisis and – thanks to gay marriage, Bronwyn and her helicopter, Dyson Heydon and his lack of ability to scroll down etc – Tony Abbott has fallen further in the polls and storm clouds are once again gathering above his head.

No political leader can survive for long if the polls continue to predict a 36-seat wipe out if he stays at the top.

The sensible thing for the LNP to do would be to give Malcolm Turnbull the job. He has done an exemplary job of keeping his nose clean and – while doing so – has also shown considerable political dexterity in keeping his reputation as a moderate. He is hands-down the most popular political leader in Australia and – given Bill Shorten’s lousy numbers – would probably win the next election easily.

Malcolm Turnbull 720x547
Is it time for Turnbull to take his popularity to the polls? Image via Facebook.

Unfortunately, there is one group of Australians who cannot bear him and that is the hard right of his own party. Many of them, it seems, may be prepared to put up with a catastrophic election result rather than see him in the top job.

The next name bandied about as a possible replacement for Abbott is Scott Morrison. He sits much more comfortably with the hard right but he would be an even more polarizing figure for the electorate than Tony Abbott. Despite attempts to soften his image via the Social Services portfolio he remains the LNP Minister most likely to be used to scare kids into behaving. ‘Eat your greens, Jayden, or Scott Morrison will come in the night and take you off to Nauru!’ There is also the consideration of how his appointment as PM would be received by the rest of the world. If we look like international pariahs now, wait till he gets the gig. John Oliver would have a field day!


Nevertheless, if there is a leadership challenge and the LNP have any hope left that they can rescue themselves from an election wipe-out, I suspect it’ll be Morrison who gets the job. I think Turnbull knows this and is keeping his powder dry until the election is lost.

Of course there is one leadership contender I haven’t mentioned and that is Julie Bishop. She is much more popular with the electorate than Morrison and is universally considered to have done a good job as Foreign Minister. She ought to be the no-brainer, especially as female leaders of conservative parties tend to be more popular and successful with the electorate than female leaders of progressive ones. Think Thatcher, Merkel and Gandhi as opposed to Gillard, Clinton and ….um…I can’t think of another one. About the only successful female leader of a progressive party I can think of is Helen Clark, but she’s the exception that proves the rule.

If there is a spill and Bishop wins, however, I think this means the LNP will have given up all hope of winning the next election. It’s what we tend to do in Australia. If there is unavoidable disaster looming ahead, all the blokes step back and give the job to a woman. The senior woman realises this, of course, but she also knows its probably her only chance to get the gig so she grasps the poisoned chalice, white knuckled, and drinks deeply.

Julie Bishop and Margaret Thatcher 720x547
Could Bishop be a successful leader in the vein of conservative female leaders before her?

This is what happened to Kristina Keneally, Joan Kirner, Carmen Lawrence, Kerry Chikarovski and even Anna Palaszczuk. No-one expected the Queensland ALP to recover from such a profound electoral disaster so quickly and so she got what looked like the thankless task of leading a tiny remnant lump against a triumphalist premier. She who laughs last as they say…

The phenomenon is so common it has a name. It is called ‘glass cliffing’. What it means is that a woman is allowed to break the glass ceiling only when the whole organisation is about to fall off a cliff. We’ve seen it happen in business too. Most notably with Meredith Hellicar who got the nod as Chair of James Hardie just before the asbestosis scandal hit the fan.

The phenomenon of the glass cliff has nothing to do with the talent of the women involved. All the women I have named are smart and effective people. Julie Bishop would probably make a very good LNP leader. She might even have what it takes to win the next election. She’d certainly be an improvement on the current lot. Sadly, however, if she gets the job, regardless of all the rhetoric about how great it is to have a woman in the job, it probably means the LNP know they are in for a drubbing.

If Tony Abbott were to get the elbow, who should replace him?

Want more on this topic? Try these:

Julie Bishop on why she does not support quotas for women in parliament.

This is the truth about the Gillard prime ministership.

Tanya Plibersek: “Why I’m a feminist”.

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