Liberal Party Insiders Refer To Tony Abbott As 'Tony 28' Because 'PM' Is Reserved For John Howard

Tony Abbott and John HowardTony Abbott with John Howard. Getty / Jonathan Wood

Long-serving Liberal Party operatives had a minor but awkward issue to deal with on the night of the federal election.

There is an entrenched tradition of referring to John Howard, who was prime minister between 1996 and 2007, as “the PM”, or “PM” when addressing him directly. After he lost to Kevin Rudd in 2007, party stalwarts still referred to him by the office title. The name had stuck.

On election night when it started looking certain Abbott was going to lead the party to a victory, the question arose about how to refer to the new leader of the country when “PM” is reserved for Howard.

The solution has been revealed by Liberals’ federal director Brian Loughnane in a diary entry for The Spectator and is not dissimilar to the conventional way of distinguishing between George H.W. Bush and his son, who are known as “Bush 41” and “Bush 43”, as they were the 41st and 43rd US presidents.

But it was Howard himself who during the evening provided the answer, referring to Tony Abbott at one stage as ‘28’ and himself as ‘25’. And so, like the Bush family, we Liberals will forever have ‘John 25’ and ‘Tony 28’.

So it’s “Tony 28” to the inner circle.

There’s another great nugget in the column about Abbott’s love for man-hugs, which the prime minister-elect was handing out on the night:

It is not commonly appreciated what a sensitive, tactile sort of guy Tony Abbott really is. For me, this manifests itself in his addiction to man hugs. Most of the men in his office and his senior male colleagues just go with the flow and are regular recipients of an affectionate bear hug. Early on, I cut a deal to be exempt until 10pm on election night. As it turned out, I was able to inform our new Prime Minister he had a majority in the House of Representatives at about 8.45pm. My resistance weakened and I was rewarded with a memorable Abbott bear hug.

Loughnane’s diary entry is here.

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