Malcolm Turnbull has been labelled “cuckoo” and “delusional” after claiming his Liberal Party colleagues knifed him because they were worried he would win the election.
Mr Turnbull made the extraordinary claim during an interview with respected British journalist Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Politics Live program.
“Basically, you could argue that their concern was not that I would lose the election, but rather that I would win it,” he said.
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Neil was incredulous, and reminded Mr Turnbull that he had lost 40 consecutive Newspolls.
“Are you telling me your own party didn’t want you to win the next election? That’s not credible, is it?” Neil said.
“At the time of the coup in August we were at level-pegging in the public polls with the opposition, and we were four points ahead on the polling in marginal seats, so the government was absolutely in a competitive, winnable position,” Mr Turnbull insisted.
The former prime minister pointed out that his replacement, Scott Morrison, was doing worse than him in the polls.
“Normally what you do when you replace a leader, you replace the unpopular person whose fate is sealed with somebody who is much more popular and gives you a chance of winning.
“That was not what happened in August,” he said.
Mr Turnbull has made similar claims before, most notably when he appeared on Q&A in the wake of his retirement from politics.
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The former prime minister’s critics have reacted to his latest comments not with anger, but with derision.
“I think this man needs medication,” 2GB radio host Alan Jones told his listeners this morning. This is delusion with a capital D. Speaking to Andrew Neil on the BBC. Andrew Neil, I think, nearly fainted.”
Jones said he wanted to see the internal Liberal Party polling Mr Turnbull referred to, which supposedly showed his government ahead in marginal seats.
“You’d lost, Malcolm Turnbull, 40 Newspolls in a row. You didn’t have a hope in hell of winning,” he said.
Jones’ 2GB colleague Ray Hadley said Mr Turnbull’s interview was “one for Ripley’s Believe It or Not”.
“I first heard this at 3.30 this morning. I thought I was in a dream, a bad dream, really a nightmare,” Hadley said.
“He’s cuckoo. He’s delusional.”
Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett ripped into Mr Turnbull on Sunrise, calling him “terribly, terribly selfish” and saying his comments were a joke.
“With Malcolm it has always been about Malcolm. He would have to be a candidate for the most selfish, self-centred human being in Christendom. It is all about him. He’s just amazing, he never stops,” Mr Kennett said.
“I mean, how ridiculous. How absolutely self-centred is this individual? It has been the story of his whole life. It is all about him. It is not about the country, the party that gave him the opportunity to be prime minister, it is about Malcolm.”
Mr Kennett compared Mr Turnbull to another former prime minister, Kevin Rudd. He said the pair were “both very bright but totally out of touch” with the rest of society.
“So you are saying he is an egomaniac, is he?” host David Koch asked.
“Words to that effect, yes,” Mr Kennett said.
One Nation’s leader in New South Wales, Mark Latham, said Mr Turnbull’s claims were “as weird as you will ever see” in politics.
“You don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this,” Mr Latham said. “You know, part of me feels sorry for him, he has reached a level of self-delusion where he can say this sort of thing.”
You know you’re in trouble when even Mark Latham is calling you weird.
Not everyone was critical of Mr Turnbull. Labor, at least, backed him up.
“I think Malcolm Turnbull’s right,” Anthony Albanese told Sky News.
“It was madness for him to be replaced with a fourth choice leader in Scott Morrison, who only got elected Prime Minister because people disliked either Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton more.
“Since then, Scott Morrison hasn’t been able to explain why he’s the Prime Minister, rather than Malcolm Turnbull, who was elected by the Australian people.
“And when you look at the facts, the Coalition was on 49 per cent for a couple of polls in a row, they had been increasing their primary and their two-party preferred vote, and Malcolm Turnbull had won 58 Newspolls in a row as preferred Prime Minister.
“So it was a very strange event indeed.”
The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy said Mr Turnbull’s opinion was “not totally illogical”.
“I think what he was driving at is that there are those on the right who didn’t want to see a progressive Liberal succeed, because if a progressive Liberal succeeded, then that would dent their agenda. You know, around energy policy, climate change and the rest of it,” Cassidy said.
Meanwhile, the Government tried to avoid the subject.
“I think we have raked over those coals quite enough in the last few months. I don’t propose to talk about it any further,” Defence Minister Christopher Pyne told Today.
“It is damaging though, for this to be raised with just a few months now before the election. It seems, for outside observers, that this is the ultimate act of revenge,” host Deborah Knight said.
“Would a party ever vote out a leader because they didn’t want them to win?”
“Malcolm can do whatever interviews he likes, as can other people. But the reality is we’ve got a job to do, and that is to stop Labor from wrecking our economy, stop them from wrecking our border protection,” Mr Pyne responded.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who played a critical role in removing Mr Turnbull, said the August coup was “ancient history”.