Why the Liberals will collapse in the Federal election campaign
This story misses the point: nobody gives a damn about the gaffe, simply because a) O'Farrell is not some gaffe-prone clown and b) it is an aberration and he will work even harder to make it appear uncharacteristic going forward.
The Liberals are a shambles. They are going into the election campaign with an organisation that is unskilled and lacking commitment. When the heat is on they will panic, lash out and be forced to withdraw; or they will simply loll about listlessly, leak trivia and nonsense to turned into drivel, and wait it out until their glorious summer rolls around at some point into the future.
In NSW they've lost a state president which would be no great loss if the state director wasn't an unimaginative dolt, running around enforcing "discipline" and stamping out any sign of initiative - including the fundamental political need to get candidates on the ground, properly resourced, so that people vote for the Liberals rather than just against Praetorian Labor.
In Victoria, ye olde guarde Melbourne has comprehensively had its fingers prised from decision-making in that state, and the Costello-Kroger generation have not stuck around long enough to cement their role as the new generation in command of the high ground (or at least that end of Collins Street where Parliament House and other institutions of power are). Even though he's no fan of theirs, this vacuum leaves Ted Baillieu exposed and will do unless he can win this year's state election and seize command, Kennett-style, but without the arrogance that made Kennett's time so fleeting. The state party is a joke, committed to the self-preservation of nobodies without any sign of determination in fundraising, campaigning, policy development or anything else. All the qualities of the Victorian Liberals have gone, save the conceit left behind from when they ran party, state and nation.
Victorians will vote against Brumby, just enough to undermine what confidence he has left, without replacing him outright. If he is replaced by Hulls, he will be past his best, as risk-averse as Brumby is now but more complacent, owing to the sort of contempt for his Opposition that Kennett had for his. If Brumby is replaced by someone else, they'll botch it too and make the Libs look good by contrast. That's all next term, though.
In Queensland too, the coming federal election is just a dry run for the next state election which the LNP expect to win. Labor MP Chris Trevor is all but begging the LNP to take his seat from him and many of his colleagues aren't much chop either, but they are facing LNP candidates who are lazy, stupid or both. Speaking of which, Peter Dutton will lose his federal seat and should go into state politics, with the LNP better off at both levels. The sort of people who voted for 19-year-old Wyatt Roy because he was articulate are the same people who voted for Bill O'Chee, and learned nothing from the experience. They know that the action is in state politics and that there Labor have the arrogant complacency that undermines the benefits of incumbency, the very quality Peter Beattie spent his time trying to expunge.
You can't blame the party machine for being encouraged by state politics. In 1987 John Howard might have done better (especially if they - we - had known then what we know now) were it not for the coming of Greiner in NSW and the last gasps of the Victorian squattocracy redoubling their efforts against Cain Labor as the main game and vacillating over Kennett, not realising that a Liberal government in 1987 could have sunk Victorian Labor and headed off its 1989-92 economic vandalism. If Bjelke-Petersen had lost momentum in 1986 Queensland would have concentrated its vote for the Coalition better than it did.
Howard was shunned by the state machines and did not reconcile to them. Like John Gorton, he was an antifederalist conservative and for the same reason: being kicked around by the states will do that to you.
Tony Abbott is getting in Barry O'Farrell's way, he's getting in Ted Baillieu's way (in Melbourne, red sluggos are sooooo 2006) and he's not doing John-Paul Langbroek any favours either. The idea of him getting hold of the federal government and doing what Howard did but less deftly - like Phaeton in the sun-chariot - can only appal anyone keen on good government, let alone one better than the incumbents. Top-notch candidates are staying out of preselection contests: with few exceptions, Liberal candidates are chancers who missed out on a winnable state seat and are racking up brownie points, or old lags who have stayed too long at the fair.
Where the Liberals do get candidates on the ground, they choose the wrong ones. The whole idea (insofar as it can be called that) behind putting John Alexander into Bennelong was "to fight star power with star power". What halfwit thinks that Bennelong hankers for "star power"? Nobody who has been both to Hollywood and Denistone would confuse the two. Bennelong voters want political substance: on the rare occasions that people turn to their federal member to fix a political problem, they want it fixed efficiently. The "Bennelong Funnel" aircraft noise issue in the '90s is the primary example of that. McKew had just enough political substance to push out Howard when the swing against him came. Alexander has no more political substance than any other tennis commentator. Again, all that is necessary for dud candidates to get up is for good candidates to get busy doing something else.
Loughnane and Credlin are duds and will be pole-axed by any Liberal leader with the Lodge in his sights. I thought Abbott was crazy to bring back Tony O'Leary to do his media but clearly he is trying to get another source of advice than Team Stupid. Even below-the-radar advisers like Sue Cato aren't what they were, and Abbott's own creation Simone Holzapfel is a proven loser. Abbott is pushing on and having a go, but it is clear that he is drowning in clear air. He can nibble away at Labor in community events but like the beef-witted Collins Street lawyers of twenty years ago he has no idea how to go head-to-head with Gillard, let alone beat her.
Oh yeah, there are other states I suppose. There might be one seat in play in South Australia (please let it be Boothby: the removal of bunion Southcott can only improve the nation's public life), same with Tasmania and the NT. The politics of Western Australia are so foreign it may as well be New Zealand - and yes, it has a fully-fledged state government that can and does offer real benefit (and punishment) for Liberals that is more real and immediate than those on the never-never emanating from the East. There is only one seat in suburban Perth that will swing either way and I can't tell what it is either. The ACT Liberals, chiefly Minchinite dropkicks, will probably lose their Senate seat to the Greens and be stuck with municipal affairs for at least five years (and will fail to learn any lessons from that).
This idea that polls show Labor and the Coalition as a dead heat is stupid. It reflects poorly on the government that such a weak opposition can be taken seriously. The journosphere should be a bit more humble in reporting back to people what they are already recorded as thinking. There wasn't an election held last weekend so the whole pretense is much less useful than the meeja seem to believe.
The only thing that can forfend a Liberal rout is similar incompetence by the Labor machine:
- The re-emergence of Graham Richardson cannot be good for anyone, least of all himself. He will, however, still be around long after Mark Arbib has crashed and burnt.
- Karl Bitar is overrated and will undersell Gillard, and will be of no use in coping with the tectonic shifts in Labor politics going forward.
- Wayne Swan will to Brisbane and run Queensland's campaign himself because he rightly doesn't trust the dolts who almost sent Anna Bligh the way of Kirner and Lawrence.
- Any gains in NSW (holding Robertson should be regarded as a win after the repellent Neal) will be down to the candidates and/or dumb luck rather than the Sussex Street Stuff-Up Squad. For example, Labor's Long March up the north coast will continue and they'll win Cowper, with no Coalition presence on the NSW coast north of Port Stephens (or if it's really on for Labor - Pittwater).
- In Victoria, Shorten will take control and ride the Gillard wave in that state: Victoria should negate Labor losses in one or two other states (is it too much to hope for Sophie Mirabella to be knocked off?). It will be a real test of Victorian Labor's mettle if they can hold Melbourne from the Greens.
- Labor in Tasmania and South Australia have nowhere to go but down, hopefully taking out that cud-chewing sluggard who sat behind Rudd's left shoulder.
- WA Labor have no right to take anything but what time and fate may give them.
Labor are a long way short of perfect and are beatable - but not by the Coalition this time. The idea that an election campaign is a continuation of recent events but with more picfacs is a journosphere conceit, and shows no real understanding of how pivotal campaigns are (usually in unforced errors rather than any deft strategy).