As it is the silly season that tends to take hold at the end of the year (it took hold in Canberra last week, it would seem), let me make this bold prediction: recently defeated Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has more of a chance of becoming Australian prime minister than Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott is, of course, the new Liberal leader courtesy of his slender one vote majority in the Liberal party leadership ballot held last week amidst the fall-out of the failure of the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme to pass the Senate.

For those who came in late, Mr Turnbull and his colleague Ian Macfarlane had struck a deal with Labor’s climate change minister, Penny Wong, in which a number of Liberal requests to amend the Carbon Pollution Reduction bills were traded in exchange for Liberal support for the bill in the Senate.

Even though the final product was an ETS close to that proposed by John Howard just before his government was defeated at the 2007 federal election, the Macfarlane-Wong agreement was too much for the ultra-conservative rump in the Liberal party room who undertook a leadership putsch.

Within days, Turnbull had been toppled and Tony Abbott was in charge of the party.

Tony Abbott’s bid for the leadership displays either vanity or a lack of judgement (or both).

No Australian since Jim Scullin’s hopelessly split Labor government of 1929 to 1931 has ever had only one term in office.

Thanks to their spectacular implosion last week, the Liberals have probably guaranteed Mr Rudd a win at the next federal election – and probably a landslide victory at that.

Mr Abbott may think that he has got what it takes to bring the Liberals back together again, but the reality is that he will surely lead the coalition to a monumental thrashing at the next poll.

What is more, the remnants of the Liberal party room would then, in all probability, be confronted with the ETS they defeated this week and told by the Rudd government to pass it.

The alternative, they will be reminded, would be a far more radical proposal worked out in conjunction with the Greens, who will surely hold the balance of power in the Senate post the next election.
When this all happens, Mr Abbott’s leadership will collapse (if it hasn’t done so already).

What this all means is that the Liberal ultra-conservatives have done Malcolm Turnbull a big favour.

They have relieved him of the burden of leadership just before the next potentially disastrous election.

The manner in which they went about bringing him down has allowed Turnbull to be cast as a heroic figure, standing for matters of principle (supporting the ETS and being true to the agreement struck with the government) while his adversaries managed to make themselves look treacherous.

And, as a political bonus, Mr Hockey – as the other alternative moderate leader – managed to make himself look foolish and indecisive in his clumsy attempt to be a ‘unity’ candidate.

In so doing, Hockey may have dealt his leadership credentials a serious blow.

So, it is actually Malcolm Turnbull who is in the most comfortable position in the Liberal party at the moment.

Provided he can hang on to his marginal seat of Wentworth (and his performance last week won’t have done him any harm on this score), and provided he is capable of exercising patience and using his time on the back-bench wisely (this means establishing a rapport with back-bench colleagues), it is Malcolm Turnbull who looks to be best placed to pick up the pieces after the electoral defeat that appears to be imminent.

Turnbull was a good value bet for the Liberal leadership last week.

He may still be a very good bet again, especially if Mr Abbott fails at the next electoral contest.

Dr Economou is a senior lecturer in Politics at Monash University.