As events slide towards a dangerous parliamentary defeat over an inquiry into the nation’s major banks, the impression being created is of a governing party losing its religion.
The Coalition is at war with itself, prompting senior ministers such as Christopher Pyne to warn that disunity leads to defeat.
The flashpoint is the bank inquiry being pushed by Nationals but the intra-Coalition grievances run deeper, and include lingering resentment over the social progressiveness of same-sex marriage, and more.
It is extraordinary to think that a government with such benign economic fundamentals – moderate growth, low inflation, low joblessness, record low interest rates – is dismantling itself in office over social policy the rest of the country regards as uncontroversial.
Presumably Malcolm Turnbull was delighted when John Howard weighed in behind him last week on the banking royal commission, calling it “rank socialism”.
As a lodestar of the n right, Howard’s conservative “cred” buttressed Turnbull’s less emotive business case against the probe with both adding up to an appeal to populist Nats to remember whose side they’re on.
Against Turnbull’s sole metric of foiling any inquiry, Howard’s heft appeared helpful. But in fact, it barely moved the needle.
Such are the factors Turnbull now confronts that even Howard’s iron-fisted rhetoric served only to remind conservative nostalgists of how comparatively ordered things used to be.
It’s a contrast that does the current mob no favours. It is hard to imagine prime minister Howard allowing events to reach the current state of chaos. Nor would Howard and his Nationals partner in leadership have brooked the culture of ill-discipline and public complaint that characterises backbench practice in 2017.
But then Howard never suffered the fecklessness from his deputy prime minister to which Turnbull has been subjected via Barnaby Joyce.
The chief Nat has been worse than useless, and has now flagged allowing his party to adopt a pro-inquiry position.
That is staggering. Not since the then Country Party leader Earle Page undermined RG Menzies in 1939-40 has the minor partner been so destructive.
Turnbull is in a bind. The Nats have made sure of that.