14 August 2010

Cracks appear

If Peter Hartcher is right and people have stopped listening to Abbott, and if these sorts of numbers are reliable enough by now to translate into results at the ballot box, let's consider what that means for the Federal Parliamentary Labor and Liberal Parties.

Victoria is the pivotal state here. For Labor, there will be an increase in numbers of those who owe their positions to Billy, Steve & Jules. If that state saves this election for Labor, and if NSW and Queensland decrease relative to the rising Victorians, the whole power dynamic within the Labor Party will change profoundly (but, as Glenn Milne says, more on that later).

For the Liberals, the Kroger-Costello generation will be all but wiped out: Bruce Billson and the overrated Chris Pearce are gone. Tony Smith exposed the policy laziness in the Coalition (thanks for nothing!). In the party's safest seats, we'll see two men in their 60s (Andrew Robb and Kevin Andrews), a dud and a flake (Josh Frydenberg), a harpy without the poise and brains of either Bishop (Sophie Mirabella) and, carrying them all, Kelly O'Dwyer. This is where the jewel-in-the-crown attitude of Victorian Liberals needs to be rethought.

You can't have Mitch Fifield careening around bumping off Jason Wood: the Victorian Liberals need the latter much more than the former. My guess is that, through state politics, Wood has a rosier future than the smarmy non-entity from Albury. Parasites like Julian McGauran and Brian Loughnane can no longer be sustained.

In NSW, Labor stands to lose a number of seats to the Liberals:

  • One (Robertson) was held by the wife of a former State Secretary of the NSW Right.

  • Macquarie and Gilmore are contested by candidates imposed by Sussex Street under the N40 rule - dud candidates.

This bodes ill for the whole mechanism of Sussex Street dropping in on local Laborites with the N40. Labor candidates preselected when Rudd was riding high find themselves in tight if not impossible races today. There was a time when the NSW State Secretary and his Right myrmidons could sweep aside such disgruntlement - not this time. Mark Arbib is in blood so far steep'd that he doesn't know if he's Arthur or Martha, and his homeboys Bitar and Dastyari aren't much better off. In Canberra, it is the ShortCons who will have the whip hand and the Sussex Street gang have few favours if any to call in from the resurgent Vics. Chris Bowen and Tony Burke will have to do some actual work in an environment where enemies are many and friends are few.

For the Liberals, winning candidates include the candidate for Robertson, who'd want to be a corker to counterbalance the two lightweights of a certain age in Louise Markus and Joanna Gash. These aren't quite Pyrrhic victories but they don't portend well for a party needing to rebuild.

The Liberals could have won Bennelong had they not chosen a candidate who, like Arnie Vinick, winces when he has to shake hands with common folk. He just doesn't like people, and it's not my fault that it falls to me to point it out. Just as lovely spring weather comes to Bennelong, a wintry blast in the form an Alexander smile (let's give that rictus some credit and call it a smile) reminds you of a time you don't want to revert to anytime soon. If the public housing thing at Ryde doesn't work for him, one-note Johnny Alexander runs a real risk of being seen as a lightweight.

Where are you hiding, Maxine McKew? Bob Hogg, have you ever won an election by hiding the candidate? Why would you two - and the geniuses at Sussex Street - make a tight race tighter by working a great candidate at less than full throttle?

As to Queensland, Wayne Swan has spoken no truer words than these:

WAYNE Swan has declared emphatically he does not want to lead the Labor Party.

Best not to want something that's already gone, fella. When four to six members of your support base fall away due to your most cunning plans, it's hard to make the case that you're the man to fix things. Those candidates who don't make it back to Canberra are yet more candidates who won't have a vote in caucus to counterbalance the resurgent Vics.

It will be a shame to see Senator Russell Trood not become Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, and even more pitiful to see that tired old buffalo Warren Entsch saunter back to Canberra.

OK, so there are other states and territories but it's one seat here and two seats there and doh-si-doh and take away the number you first thought of. The balance of power of both parties will be settled in the three eastern states.

This is interesting in that it represents a bit of pre-emptive arse covering by those who would reshape the Liberals in Opposition:

Senior Coalition frontbenchers have attacked Mr Loughnane for his strategy, saying he has left Tony Abbott vulnerable with an overly safe advertising campaign. They say that if Mr Abbott wins, it will be "despite Loughnane, not because of him".

I'd be fascinated to see whether the Victorian Libs turn on one of their own and sacrifice him, or whether they stand by him to the very death. I suspect it will be the former. It would be an act of foolishness to run anything but a buttoned-down, low-risk campaign with Tony Abbott as leader - even that hasn't worked, as seen by his "no means no" and the flop of his launch. The next Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia will probably be from Queensland or NSW. The only real candidate would be Mark Neeham, the NSW State Director who would have to dump Barry O'Farrell just as the party gears up to crush State Labor (a dark horse would be Mal Brough, who can't do the king-o'er-the-water thing indefinitely and will have to go into a role where he doesn't threaten Abbott).

The Federal Directorship would, however, be the least of Abbott's worries. Grog spoke true when he said:

For Tony Abbott ... Sure he wants to win. But if he loses I don’t think he loses any where near as much as does Gillard. The expectations for Abbott were so low, that even getting to this stage is a win for him. If he loses does he stay around? I can’t see him wanting to hand over the leadership – for a start the pay is good. Unless things go bad and it does become a big win for the ALP, he’ll have strong support in the party. That said if he loses I can’t see him leading them to the next election.

The Liberal Party does not do low expectations. The Liberal Party does victory, it does government. Abbott will not deliver that in 2010.

He'll face a resurgent Gillard with the wind at her back. Given that he hasn't beat her when she's vulnerable how much better will he do when she's in her pomp and he's cruelly exposed (no, this isn't a budgie-smuggler reference)? Hopefully she'll use this for good instead of faffing, particularly if she can kick the NSW Right hard and often while reshaping the entire ALP for its post-communist, war-on-two-fronts future (not a big ask, surely? :p). Abbott will do the attack-dog thing but there is a real risk that Labor will wake up to him, and that the old mutt will lose some fangs.

By 2012 the no-vision thing will be a real liability and Abbott will have to be replaced. Coalition MPs elected from NSW, Queensland and possibly WA for the first time, will be the first Liberal MPs not to have served in any capacity under the Howard government: they are too few and not necessarily promising. By 2012 these newbies will have found their feet and will start getting toey if Abbott's poll numbers continue to suck as hard as they do.

Hockey will have to challenge Abbott in 2011; hell, he should challenge Julie Bishop for deputy at the end of this month. Playing the loyal deputy will not help Hockey against a proven, irredeemable loser: it didn't help Costello against Howard.

Let's hope the Gillard government does good work with infrastructure and health reform, and possibly education as well. A non-optional extra is a carbon mechanism, preferably a bloody good world-beater that creates lots of jobs and debate. To hope for water reforms and tax reforms is probably to hope for too much, but you've got to do what you can.


  1. Gilmore isn't going to be contested by an N40 anymore - the locals kicked up a big enough stink about the imposition that the anointed candidate had a crisis of conscience and stepped aside. Still, the real reason Gilmore will stay in Liberal hands is the simple old-fashioned fact that the incumbent is so well respected quite apart from (and for some people, in spite of) her party alignment.

  2. Thanks Daniel. Do you still think Matt "Captain Underpants" Brown is setting up this seat for himself in '13?

  3. "The Liberal Party does not do low expectations. The Liberal Party does victory, it does government. "

    This reminded of that great quote from 'The Dish' when the primeminister (would have to be Liberal PM Gorton) said "You know, we've got a saying in the party. You don't fuck up..."
    The local mayor with political aspirations nervously asks "And?" to which the PM replies "That's it."

    There's no sentimentality, no reward for a noble failure in the Liberal Party. In the way they run their politics they are serious Social Darwinists.

  4. Yep, pretty much. The wide boys currently running the ALP think they've captured this spirit, but they haven't.

  5. Will the Victorians get control of the ALP if they lose? Because it seems like the loss would be their fault.

  6. The Vics would point fingers at NSW, NSW at the Vics, etc. I think the Vics have the smarter operators and will end up on top, particularly as I don't believe they'll lose.

  7. Obviously the libs have to get rid of a lot of old wood by parachuting real talent into some of their safe seats. By 2013 some of these characters will be forgetting their lines. But they probably won't. What dills. And they talk of the faceless men!

    Meantime, the left-centre alliance will grow in strength with the greens running flank for the progressive vote and the ALP taking the ball up the centre. The tories are royally stuffed if they lose this election.

    That's the good news. Or is it?