Tony Abbott has survived the spill motion, with 61 votes supporting his continued leadership to 39 against.
Neither of the two likely leadership contestants – Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop – had announced that they would challenge. In fact, both had publicly opposed the spill motion, not wanting to look disloyal. Without a candidate opposing Abbott, the spill was always more likely than not to fail. Better the devil you know than a leadership void.
And of course Abbott made a “Captain’s Call” to move the vote ahead by a day, wrong-footing those who might have been rushing to lock in the anti-Abbott numbers.
Nonetheless, it’s surely still the beginning of the end for him. Both Turnbull and Bishop know that there’s plenty of time to axe Abbott before the next election. They’ll have been watching to see just how big the ABA (Anyone But Abbott) camp is. Now they know it’s sizeable – 39% of MPs wanted Abbott gone without a challenger even putting up their hand.
From here, the question becomes whether a head-to-head Turnbull v Abbott, or Bishop v Abbott, contest can convert an extra 12 votes away from the Prime Minister.
Given that the latest Newspoll published this morning in The Australian shows the Coalition is a massive 14 points behind the Labor party (the Coalition’s worst result since November 2009), one would have to assume that it won’t take a great deal of persuading for a number of senior MPs to fall in behind either Turnbull or Bishop. Loyalty means little in politics when one’s seat is at stake.
The Coalition’s poll numbers may be looking abysmal, but Abbott’s personal numbers are even worse. The latest Newspoll also shows his preferred Prime Minister rating at just 30% – the worst for a Prime Minister since 1994.
Abbott may have survived for today, but the number-crunching will now begin in earnest. The knives will be well and truly out.