Michael Heseltine does not look like a potato. In fact, he is curiously unlike Peter Dutton in a number of ways.
Heseltine came from an educated background and was an effective minister with broadly progressive views. He did belong to a group called “One Nation”, but that was mostly coincidence.
But like Dutton, Heseltine launched a leadership challenge that mortally wounded a prime minister. Also, as it happens, a prime minister who was perceived as arrogant, believed in climate change and was out of step with the traditions of their party (and trailed badly in the opinion polls).
Heseltine, however, did not go on to take the leadership. Margaret Thatcher – for yes, it was she, and the year was 1990 – had beaten him in the first ballot, but judged that she was too badly damaged to be sure of prevailing in the second. Instead, she withdrew and backed her chancellor of the exchequer, John Major.
Major then beat Heseltine comfortably in the second ballot, and went on to win the general election of 1992. Heseltine rejoined the cabinet and seemed to bear no particular ill-will to Major; he later served as his deputy prime minister.
Nor is that the only precedent. In June 2013, Simon Crean defeated a challenge from Kim Beazley for the Labor Party leadership, but attacks on him continued. At the end of the year he stood down, but backed shadow treasurer Mark Latham as his replacement, and Latham narrowly defeated Beazley in a caucus ballot.
So while yesterday’s events seem to have made Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership unsustainable, it does not follow that Dutton will be the beneficiary. If he is willing to sacrifice himself, Turnbull could probably ensure the election of a compromise candidate – Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison are the obvious possibilities.
Whether such a candidate could repeat Major’s feat of winning the government another term is a different question, but stranger things have happened.