The Australian Liberal party has just replaced its leader. It took all of a couple of days, from caucus revolt to leadership vote. That’s because the Australian Liberals choose their leader on the classic Westminster model: by a vote of the caucus, rather than, as in this country, by the wholesale purchase and sale of thousands of instant memberships, busloads of elderly drunks etc.
And they do this because in Australia they believe a party leader’s chief task is to lead the caucus in Parliament — because, in Australia, Parliament matters.
In the end, the incumbent, Malcolm Turnbull, lost to challenger Tony Abbott, 42 to 41. I pass no judgement on the proximate cause of Turnbull’s downfall, his endorsement of the governing Labour party’s climate change policy. But you can bet that any leader of the Australian Liberal party has to be awfully solicitous of his caucus’s views. The balance of power between leader and caucus is very different there than it is here, where MPs have aptly been described as “$140,000 voting machines.”
It also signals a strategic shift on the Liberals’ part: they intend to stand and fight on this issue, sharpening their differences with the government rather than minimizing them. Again, whatever your views, it’s refreshing to see a country where voters are actually given a choice.