End of a fool

Make no mistake, Brendan Nelson has been a brave man. He took over the leadership of the Liberal Party last November when it was at a low ebb. It had been decimated in the federal election, the previous leader had lost his own seat, and the man many thought to be the natural successor (Peter Costello) wanted to move on. It was Dr Nelson's task to rebuild the party's stocks and to make it a competitive policy force for the future.

He was dismally incapable of the task. It showed, and showed, and showed. He kept smiling, kept a bold front, kept believing in himself. Even when his own beliefs changed from day to day.

But at the end of the day, Brendan Nelson was the man who wiped Alexander Downer off the map as the parliamentary Liberal Party's Worst Leader Ever. He had lots of ambition but little nous, he had little policy direction and some truly bizarre priorities. His opposition to an "alcopops tax", his belief that an Emissions Trading Scheme in 2011 is infinitely more preferable than one in 2010, his assertion in the days before the Prime Minister's apology to aborigines that "the most important person he [Rudd] should be negotiating with is me".

And, of course, the impassioned "every mother loves her baby" opposition to means-testing the baby bonus. Add to that his obsession with using a cut in fuel excise and expecting market forces to allow the price cut to flow to the public. And finally, on Monday, the pathetic sight of The Good Doctor in the House of Representatives brandishing a tin of Coles Smart Buy baked beans and a jar of Coles Smart Buy jam (I couldn't make out the flavour) in support of an ad hoc rise in the pension (not a bad idea in itself, but he's not exactly in the government).

The really disturbing thing is that in yesterday morning's leadership vote, 41 out of 86 Liberal MPs actually voted for him. Malcolm Turnbull is the new Leader of the Opposition. Nobody likes Malcolm Turnbull except Malcolm Turnbull. But at least he will be better than Brendan Nelson.

And, for that matter, John Winston Howard.