THE support from the party room for Barnaby Joyce to remain the Nationals’ federal leader despite his current problems says as much for Mr Joyce’s personal charisma as it does for the lack of real alternatives.
The fallout from revelations that Mr Joyce was to become a father with his new partner and former political adviser has dominated federal politics for more than a week.
It has robbed the federal government of much-needed momentum at a time when it appeared to be slowly clawing back ground it had lost to the opposition and meant the new parliamentary term has started as poorly as the last one ended for the Coalition.
At first there was a general unease about a politician’s private life being made such public fodder and MPs from right across the political spectrum were quick to denounce the publication.
What has kept this story going, though, has been speculation over the use of public money with regards to the deputy prime minister’s relationship, particularly questions over whether Mr Joyce’s new partner had been parachuted into a job in a colleague’s office when remaining in Mr Joyce’s became untenable.
And now it has been revealed that rank and file members of the Nationals paid Mr Joyce’s wage when he was briefly outed from parliament last year following the citizenship debacle.
The whole sordid tale has also dragged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull into the mess, doing him no favours in the process.
Mr Turnbull’s office this week found that there had been no breach of the ministerial code of conduct by Mr Joyce because his new partner was not yet regarded as his partner when she was given a new job in a colleague’s office.
It was a finding that smacked of political expediency and one that badly failed the “pub test” that the PM himself so favours.
For all that, though, Mr Joyce appears certain to remain as leader of the Nationals – one of the country’s most socially conservative parties with a constituency that would surely frown on much of what they have seen over the past week and a half.
And he will do so because most of his Nationals colleagues recognise that a publicly embattled Mr Joyce is still a far better electoral prospect for them than the largely unknown alternatives within the party room.
When it comes to pragmatism over policy, the Nationals can play the game as well as either of the big two parties.