The decapitation strike awaits.
This is a military tactic favoured by those who don’t pussy-foot around.
It is defined as “achieving strategic paralysis by targeting political leadership, command and control”.
Think of the use of a Bolshevik firing squad to end the rule of Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian Imperial Family in 1918.
In the Canberra that Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls a “bubble”, vanquished challengers tend to go quiet for a decent period, dreaming and scheming behind closed doors. There’s a sort of shadow dance to these things. Normally.
But Barnaby Joyce is not a normal inhabitant of the bubble, and nor is he given to dancing, shadow or otherwise. He favours crashing through the crowd on the way to the bar.
Scott Morrison and the current Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, didn’t have to wait long to be treated to Barnaby’s “hold-my-beer” approach.
It came within hours of the post-challenge Coalition front bench being announced.
Neither Barnaby nor any of his little band of mutineers got a showing on the Coalition’s front lines, including Matt Canavan, who had resigned as Minister for Resources in the hours before the spill, apparently imagining this would shake loose McCormack from the leadership.
Barnaby fired off a threatening email to the Prime Minister, and then released the text of it to the media.
“Sorry Scott. But Michael [McCormack] picking only those who voted for him is foolish as it leaves little room for ownership to the team and as such makes things precarious,” he wrote.
“Sorry” was the only redundant word.
If Morrison thought Barnaby and his merry men were bluffing, he was quickly disavowed of this in Parliament.
By breaking away from all their colleagues, National and Liberal, and joining the Labor Party to install as deputy speaker Llew O’Brien – the Queensland ex-cop who precipitated the Nationals’ leadership spill – they were demonstrating the precise meaning of what Barnaby called “precarious”.
It meant the government’s majority.
Whatever the triumphal bluster about last year’s “miracle” election, the Morrison-McCormack Coalition sits on a majority of just two votes in the House of Representatives.
Barnaby and fellow malcontents George Christensen and Llew O’Brien thus hold the balance of power, should they wish to use it.
And so, they did.
Just to rub it in, Queenslander Ken O’Dowd and another Joyce supporter, David Gillespie of NSW, are believed to have voted for O’Brien as well.
The business of installing a deputy speaker, of course, is a trivial issue in itself (except, of course, for the lucky O’Brien, who gets a whacking $42,000 pay rise over his $211,000 base salary).
But as a message about a coming decapitation if the mutineers don’t get their way, Barnaby’s exercise of the balance of power couldn’t have been clearer.
He and his fellow Nationals guerillas will, pretty clearly, seek to “achieve strategic paralysis by targeting political leadership, command and control”.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.