QED

The Comfort of History as May 18 Draws Near

As the old cliché goes, a week is a long time in politics. And as the recent New South Wales State election underlined, campaigns matter. Given that Labor has been ahead in the polls for so long, it seemed Bill Shorten would glide effortlessly to victory on May 18. Mind you, those opinion polls have conveyed the longstanding public disillusionment with the Coalition. It would seem difficult to expect a sudden reversal of fortune in just a few short weeks.

However — and call me an optimist if you will —  I strongly suspect voters will opt for what they see as the lesser evil, a perception bolstered by the narrowing gap NewsPoll’s surveys of public sentiment have found as the election date draws near. The explanation resides in the long period of “tuning out” by many voters, coupled with the ALP being the default beneficiary  of public disenchantment with a Coalition that defenestrates leaders and is wobbly on principles. It is not as if the ALP brand engenders much enthusiasm. Rather, the polls suggest voters have swung to minor parties, some espousing “right wing” policies. At different times we have seen swings to One Nation and, more recently, Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. In the NSW state arena, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers has become a growing force. The common denominator is that loss of support by the Coalition has tended to benefit right-wing populist parties, rather than those of the Left. The ALP benefited to the extent that it presented a small target and its policies escaped close scrutiny.

Whether erstwhile Coalition voters, or, more significantly, millennial voters will have an urge to embrace left wing policies, such as “action on climate change”, whatever that might mean, is one of the major talking points of this election campaign. Scott Morrison is eager not to appear as a “denier”, lest he alienate the “moderates” in his own ranks. The richly funded GetUp campaign is unusually concentrated in the affluent suburbs within Tony Abbott’s electorate of Warringah, where we see a large contingent of affluent professionals, plus the university-educated children of the affluent middle class, spurning the ‘carbon economy’ basis of their own wealth.

I believe Tony Abbott will win the battle to retain his seat, but the campaign underscores both the effect of the Left’s march through the institutions and a partial breakdown of the old socioeconomic  alignment in Australian politics. Here it is instructive to consider where GetUp is deploying its prime offensives aimed at ousting conservatives. While the activist behemoth has launched a massive on-the-ground campaign in Abbott’s seat of Warringah, it seems largely absent from the electorate of Hughes, held by Craig Kelly, a noted critic of global warming hysteria. Are the tradies in his electorate, and in the Sutherland Shire generally, immune to the nonsense which has infected too many of the upper crust on the North Shore? So it would seem. Likewise, GetUp has pulled out the stops in the “doctors’ wives” bailiwick of Kooyong, held by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Meanwhile, Bill Shorten’s ALP is now a large target. On key policies such as taxation, electric cars, the 50 percent renewal-energy goal and other policies which target a huge swathe of the middle class, Bill Shorten and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen have exposed their flank to attack.

There are three elements, including the lessons of history, which should give pause to the conventional narrative of an imminent Labor landslide.

# Scott Morrison leads Bill Shorten by a wide margin in terms of personal popularity. This does not mean Bill Shorten needs to take the lead to win. But there should have been a distinct evening-up over the course of the campaign season. Instead, we see reports of local ALP candidates scarcely mentioning Shorten at all. The overall impression is that Shorten is a drag on support for Labor

# Scott Morrison has emerged as a viable and vigorous campaigner prepared to take the fight to Labor. Apart from the bitter and twisted Turnbull family, whose influence is diminishing as the former PM and his peculiarly obnoxious son, Morrison has both united the Coalition and enhanced the public’s perception of his personal authenticity. On the policy front, it is steady as she goes. This is as good as we can expect. In a more subtle political sense, Morrison is a tribal figure, making it easy for average people to identify with him.

# Related to the first point, the ALP lacks a charismatic leader whose appeal extends beyond the boundaries of the Labor brand. Each change of government from Coalition to Labor since World War II has been marked by an outsized personality leading Labor. In 1972, it was Gough Whitlam. In 1983, Bob Hawke. In 2007, Kevin Rudd answered the casting call. All achieved extraordinary heights of personal popularity. All won against dispirited and visibly tired Coalition governments. In 1972, the Coalition was led by the widely derided William McMahon, who deposed John Gorton. In 1983, Malcolm Fraser had survived a recent challenge from Andrew Peacock. In 2007, John Howard was seen as hanging on past his time to the Liberal leadership.

In the absence of a charismatic leader, Labor has won only by default when the non-labor side succumbs to division. In 1929, the decidely uncharismatic James Henry Scullin defeated Bruce Page after Billy Hughes and a few followers defected over attempts to change the arbitration system. An early election was called and Bruce lost his seat. Labor won in a landslide.

The second example was the booting of Robert Menzies in a coup mounted by some members of his own backbench in 1941. The two independents, who had hitherto supported the non-labor side, switched to the ALP, led by Curtin. Labor subsequently won, by default, the 1943 election. Again, this Labor victory owed most to the discredited state of the non-Labor parties. It is true that Curtin’s stature increased during his time in office — perhaps undeservedly, as Jonathan Huston argued in a recent Quadrant. What needs to be remembered is that Curtin had led the parliamentary Labor Party since 1935, lost the 1937 election by a fairly wide margin to Joe Lyons, and came close to losing his seat of Freemantle in 1940. We also forget that then-prime minister Menzies did quite well in the West, only losing ground in the Eastern states.

So what does all this tell us? To the extent that the Coalition remained divided, with Malcolm Turnbull the main catalyst for that division, Bill Shorten’s ALP seemed assured of a cakewalk triumph. To the extent that Scott Morrison can continue to forge a new unity and diminish Turnbull’s sidelines sniping, the more likely he will be to secure what only weeks ago seemed a most unlikely victory.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but until and unless the tally on the evening of May 18 proves me wrong, I am tempted to regard Scott Morrison as the antipodean Harry Truman, who won the presidential election against the odds and all predictions in 1948. Truman was known as, “Give ’em Hell, Harry”. Let us see what Scott Morrison can do.

9 comments
  • en passant

    Christopher,
    You are such an optimist that if you faced a firing squad you would convince yourself they would all miss …
    Morrison is not “Give ‘Em Hell, Scott”. He still thinks he must toady to the Greenfool vote that believes in the Climate Con, that electricity is some sort of magic pudding conjured up by incantations to the Sun, Wind (and possibly the Moon). Josh of the Environment has funded almost every hare-brained scheme that has crossed his desk. Immigration? Bring ’em all back and give them a stiff talking to – and the keys to a truck, just to see if de-radicalisation has worked. And if not? Well we can always condemn them as lone wolves, mentally ill or just the exception.
    The economy is tanking due to energy poverty, but the job front is being kept vibrant by Government taxes, increasing Government employment (if that is the correct word), Government subsidies, selling off Oz to foreign interests and foreign loans. We have three outcomes: 1. Collapse like the Wiemar Republic, 2. Hyper-inflate like the once prosperous Zimbabwe, or 3. emulate resource-rich Venezuela and welcome poverty as the new normal.
    Morrison is not the Messiah, and he is not a silly little boy either.
    The answer is in voting for every centre-right, ‘minor’ conservative party and independent before holding your nose and putting the Liberal Party 12th on the ballot and not voting Labor or Green at all.

  • sabena

    Christopher,one thing you haven’t mentioned is that ALP leaders historically do best at their first election as opposition leader.Think Evatt,Calwell,Whitlam and Beasley.Only Whitlam won government,but his swing compared to his first election was much lower-2.6% v 7%.
    Whitlam had the It’s time factor going for him in 1972,something Shorten doesn’t have.Changes in government usually occur when there is a strong sentiment to do so-that sentiment is not evident in the election coverage so far.

  • whitelaughter

    Interesting; it is certainly closer than it was a month ago.
    The betting sites are more reliable than polls; larger sample size and people have to put their money where their mouths are. Things have improved for ScoMo:
    https://www.sportsbet.com.au/betting/politics/australian-federal-politics

    though he’s still tailing atm.

  • SB

    “””And as the recent New South Wales State election underlined, campaigns matter.”””
    Yes, in the New South Wales election people voted for a government that collected record revenue from sale of state-owned assets and from stamp duty from the immigration fueled Ponzi scheme and ran a campaign on spending that extra revenue on ‘fixing’ the congestion problems that government itself created – nothing else was on the agenda. Too many voters allowed themselves to be distracted by this pea and thimble trick and that kept everything that matters off the election agenda. That voters are so gullible is the reason that the coalition will win the upcoming federal election. The fact that so many of the forgotten people (no, IGNORED people) say they will vote for minor parties but then give their major party preference to the coalition rather than Labor assures the coalition of a win.
    Meanwhile, in Britain someone IS fighting for the ignored people, and because Britain have first past the post voting it ensures the major parties will be forced eventually be forced to represent their constituents:
    Nigel Farage: “This battle now is not just about Brexit; it’s not just about getting us out of the European Union. It is in fact about sweeping away a political class who serve nobody but themselves. This is about changing politics for good.”
    https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1122179/brexit-party-news-nigel-farage-conservatives-general-election-european-elections-2019
    Shorten is such a poor performer in the media that every time he opens his mouth he loses votes. I note that Albanese and Plibersek are keeping unusually quiet. Are they letting Shorten stumble his way to a loss, after which they will replace him and beat the coalition at the following election? It doesn’t matter either way. It just means we will continue lurching from one bad government to the next.

  • ianl

    From Christopher Carr’s article above:

    >” … a large contingent of affluent professionals, plus the university-educated children of the affluent middle class, spurning the ‘carbon economy’ basis of their own wealth”

    Almost to a man (and woman), my long-standing and respected colleagues from Sydney’s Warringah northside have turned to 1) Green 2) Lib. I cannot gainsay their logic: fear of the magic gas has irretrievably permeated a majority of the population and no rational argument will dispel this, so supporting policies that gift enormous, never-ending amounts of tax and crony price rises to their mid-20’s early 30’s children setting up “renewabubble businesses” is the obvious way to go now.

    They now speak approvingly of Steggal, knowing she will support ALP/Green, and particularly Green, in the Lower House. They want Abbott gone. And these colleagues have spent their lives, as I have, in the very thick of the “fossil fuel” economy.

    Irrespective of who wins on May 18 (and I don’t much care), the impetus for deindustrialisation will continue unchecked. Tis over …

  • lloveday

    A, imo, better guide than Sportsbet is Betfair where you are betting against other people with the operator taking a commission, much like stock-brokers.

    They have a bigger spread than Sportsbet (Coalition currently 4.80 available cf 3.75 Sportsbet – but Sportsbet’s is nett price), and around $1.6 million has been bet, although the displayed figure will show double that.

    https://www.betfair.com/exchange/plus/politics/market/1.127103176

  • Gordon Cheyne

    Come on Morrison, have a go!
    Tell the punters you won’t spend a cent on “climate change” without a proper cost/benefit analysis.
    Tell them their superannuation is protected from sovereign risk: any changes will only apply to future investments.
    Tell them you will reduce immigration until infrastructure can bear it.
    Tell them we will not allow immigrants who embrace doctrines which would do us harm to enter the country.
    We have an abundance of oil, gas, uranium and coal, and so should have the cheapest electricity in the world: why is our economy not booming?
    We have abundant water in the north, and the Bradfield plan to pump it south on the books for decades.
    Why can’t we get our act together?

  • whitelaughter

    ooh, thanks for the link lloveday!

    Gordon, if ScoMo was prepared to do that, the spineless rabble in the party would never have allowed him to be elected.

  • Sos

    Excellent article
    Reminds me why I enjoy this publication

    Congratulations for being totally out of step with the #fake news kissing shortens nether regions
    Totally agree with your smart article

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