Peter Slipper’s defection from the coalition was always a political win for the coalition. Whilst the government won an extra vote on the floor of the house, the coalition were gifted with a political baseball bat with which to whack the government. The Slipper defection consolidated perceptions that the government was Machiavellian and tricky, whatever trust still existed between the government and the electors was further ameliorated by Julia Gillard, as they saw it, using a bit of dodgy legal hocus pocus to cling on to her position after her falling out with Andrew Wilkie.
The gift was made greater still by the reputation of the man himself, Peter Slipper. Of all the coalition MP’s the government could have gotten a defection from, Slipper was the one that reeked most abhorrently of corruption and scandal. He had a long legacy of holding radically, dangerously right wing positions, and trying to milk parliamentary benefits for all they’re worth.
All the opposition really needed to do in order to get a good deal of political capital out of the whole affair was gently remind the electorate every couple of weeks how desperately and dodgily the government had acted. Unfortunately for everyone involved Tony Abbott has never really appreciated the whole concept of “less is more” and took every opportunity to try and escalate the scandal to new heights. Predictably he went too far; he exaggerated the extent of Slipper’s shortcomings and in doing so undermined the credibility of his more accurate criticisms. Of itself this was foolish but tolerable, in effect he had merely denied himself a free gift from the government, nothing gained but nothing lost, but again he went further.
By orchestrating a set up with James Ashby he has substantially damaged his own trustworthiness. He has probably ended the political career of Mal Brough, by all reports one of Howard’s most talented minister. He also has to now deal with the reality that serious questions hang over the political credibility of George Brandis and Christopher Pyne who have hitherto been two of the more effective shadow ministers within the coalition ranks. The once toxic Peter Slipper is now virtually impervious to criticism because of the amount of discredited criticisms that were leveled against him and Abbott has lost at least one senior minister from his alternative government. It would be fascinating to speak to some of Abbott, Brough, Pyne or Brandis’ staff and get an explanation as to why, when they knew that fact was not on their side and that judgment day was coming, they continued to escalate the intensity of the scandal rather than distance themselves from it. Will it be enough to deny Abbott an election win in 2013? Absolutely not but it was a remarkably poor display of political strategy.