Yes, We Have A PM, But The Battle For The Soul Of The Liberal Party Lives On

The festering wound has been ripped open and may not be about to heal.

It wasn't the result many expected, and it won't be a result that will magically heal the festering split in the Liberal party.

But after three precarious years, the Turnbull experiment is over and we have a new Prime Minister. Cronulla-based Scott Morrison is the nation's new leader after a vote which was not just about a short-term leader but the long-term soul of the once-proud Liberal Party.

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The Liberal Party is in turmoil.

I say 'Turnbull experiment' because that's what it was. Malcolm, a guy who originally wanted to join the Labor Party, who came into the top job after building a reputation as a cooler guy in a leather jacket who wanted to do something about climate change -- in contrast to the stuffy dinosaurs in suits -- and easily could have sat in the Labor caucus instead, was taken in as PM to correct the calamitous Abbott years.

It was needed.

But Turnbull's gambit to knife Abbott, unprecedented in the modern Liberal Party, was to open up a deep and toxic civil war in the party, tearing wide the long-uneasy alliance between the conservative right and more moderate centre-right elements of the party.

Today's vote won't fix that. This is a party in civil war.

"What I have done always is to try to keep the party together," Turnbull said in his final press conference.

"There are differences on policy but frankly all of them were able to be resolved with a little bit of good will."

This right vs centre-right split isn't just a Monty Python Life Of Brian-esque battle of names alone -- "Judean People's Front? We're the People's Front of Judea!" -- it is a battle for the very essence of the party.

Moderates were happy to allow marriage equality, action on climate change, to move away slightly from the focus on churches and conservatism, and embrace a slightly more modern world.

The conservatives have been pushing the Turnbull administration further right, to embrace Pauline Hanson's populist One Nation policies on immigration and race and religion and crime.

One side had to give. Only one could win.

Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison

While the past week (indeed, the past few months and even years) has been painted as a fight between the Turnbull and Abbott camps, in the end it came down to a fight between their deputies and anointed successors.

First it was Turnbull vs Dutton, but it really came down to Dutton the challenger -- promising a return to "base" issues like power prices and immigration, shifting away from moderate issues like multiculturalism and social reform -- against Morrison, the candidate for continuity, Turnbull's close mate and ally.

This week we've been hammered with claims Dutton was the overwhelming choice to take over from Turnbull. Indeed, close Turnbull allies Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield switched their support from the PM to Dutton -- the most significant dominoes to fall -- because they felt the majority of the party wanted Turnbull out.

Cash, Cormann and Fifield wanted a vote (AAP Image/Sam Mooy)

In fact, the vote for a spill was 45-40. If those three hadn't flipped, there wouldn't have been a new leadership vote at all. There was no overwhelming thirst to change the leader, nor was there any overwhelming hunger for any of the potential replacements.

There's a new leader and Turnbull, the hated figure for much of the party's more conservative dinosaurs, is gone. That is half the battle. But Morrison is not the man half the party wanted. Half the party didn't even want a vote to start with, and when it came on, half of them wanted Dutton.

Morrison is a more conservative man than Turnbull --  he got up in parliament holding a lump of coal saying how much he loved the black rock -- so we might see things die down a little.

Then again, maybe not.

Both men are to the right of Turnbull. Probably most of the Liberal party is to the right of Turnbull. It was a question today of how far right the modern Liberal party goes. No matter who won, Dutton or Bishop or Morrison or even if Turnbull hung on somehow, none of them have any hope of winning the next election.

This vote was about the soul of the party, a definitive 'put up or shut up' vote to find out whether the Liberals would become a moderate or a conservative party in 2018 and beyond. Both sides would have hoped their candidate would have scored more votes, to claim an overwhelming mandate for their faction to take the lead in the party. But the split vote, basically 50-50, won't fix this issue.

The festering sore may have been covered with a Band-Aid, with all sides (publicly at least) saying it's time to rally together. But don't expect this to die down for some time yet, if ever.

Morrison may be the man to bring the two sides together, perhaps better placed than Turnbull was. But it remains to be seen how, and even if, the two sides can work together long term.

We've had Turnbull vs Abbott for years.

Will we now see the conflict passed down to the successors, and Morrison vs Dutton for the foreseeable future?