Politics

The Victorian election, the middle class and the Liberal Party

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Red victory! Labor voters rejoiced at the recent Victorian election (Screenshot via YouTube)

Michael Galvin breaks down some of the reasons behind the Liberal Party's loss at the Victorian election according to electorates.

AS EVEN CASUAL OBSERVERS of the recent Victorian election would be aware, the Liberal Opposition was comprehensively routed by the Labor Party, ably led by Dan Andrews. In public, Andrews comes across as the man for whom the phrase “firm but fair” would seem to have been invented. It also helps that Dan the Builder takes a boy-like pleasure in constructing things, like railways, tunnels and bridges and it would be impossible to spend any time in Melbourne these days not noticing how much work is going into basic public infrastructure — and not a moment too soon.

The size of the Labor win in terms of electoral seats is impressive — so impressive that it can give a misleading and confusing impression of what actually happened at the election. A few things are worthy of note and collectively add up to very bad news for the Liberal Party’s continuing existence in Australian politics. Let me explain.

Overall swing to Labor

On the latest figures I have seen, the overall swing to Labor statewide was less than 5%. (By historical standards, this is a very solid swing and should be acknowledged as such. However, it is nothing like the size of recent swings against the Liberals in federal seats in Queensland and NSW this year.)

A closer look at the figures reveals, with some exceptions, that a series of at least five quite different political dynamics was taking place in the one election. Let us look at them, leaving the most interesting and dangerous “micro-election” for the Morrison Government to last.

1. Labor heartland swing

Less swing than the average for the state. But when you’re getting over 70% of the vote already, there’s not room for much more of a swing to Labor.

2. Nationals heartland

Hardly any swing to Labor. In fact, a slight swing from Labor to the Nationals in several seats, except the one they lost to an independent in Mildura. If these seats represent the fabled conservative base that Sky After Dark incessantly talks about and Peta Credlin comes from, then this election was not a repudiation of the conservative Right at all. The problem, of course, is that this kind of seat covers such a small proportion of the Australian electorate.

3. Green/Labor contests

No dramatic swings to Labor either in these seats. The result is more or less status quo, if not a little disappointing for the Greens.

4. Swinging seats

While these all stayed with Labor, the swings were variable. Some were around the state-wide average, while others were considerably more.

5. Liberal heartland swing

This is the most interesting aspect of the whole poll. Swings to Labor were truly dramatic and unanticipated. 

Picking Hawthorn as an example – because it is so blue ribbon Liberal and because it had a decent Liberal MP in John Pesutto – the swing was over 10%. Labor (in the form of candidate John Ormond Kennedy, a former teacher now living in a retirement home) is ahead as of Sunday 2 December by 164 votes and may well take the seat.

All credit to Kennedy in Hawthorn, but I think he is the aberration here. The Liberals’ lead in the other heartland seats was so great that it is extremely unlikely that most of those who switched from Liberal to Labor were actually voting for a change of local member, let alone the re-election of a Labor Government. They had what they thought was the luxury of a protest vote and acted against the Liberals accordingly. And nearly all of these “blue ribbon” Liberals were indeed re-elected, despite the massive swings to Labor in their electorates. While the Greens vote didn’t change much, the swing to Labor was double the state average.

What does this tell us? The point is as obvious as the nose on your face, but many prominent Liberals and the Right-wing commentariat have spent a week denying it, continuing to dig themselves into a deeper hole. Liberal voters in their tens of thousands were not voting for the Greens, or for Labor. They were voting against something — they were making a statement.

And what might that statement be?

According to media reports, Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer summed it thusly — the Liberals have a triple problem: a “women problem” (sic), a homophobic problem and an energy/climate change problem. This does seem to sum up the situation pretty well. The hard-Right – the Conservative mob that Abbott represents and regurgitates – have prevented any progress on these issues in the Liberal Party for a long time and still do. And huge numbers of Liberal voters are now repulsed by it. Metropolitan Liberals have reached a breaking point.

And it is already painfully, almost comically, obvious that Morrison doesn't have a clue what to do about it. Probably because, lodged deep inside his heart and brain, none of these three problems are problems at all. Morrison is too superficial to understand these issues beyond thinking that a bit of marketing spin will do the trick. 

We may have had worse Prime Ministers. A name like Abbott comes to mind. But rarely have we had one as shallow as ScoMo, or as prone to pointless thought bubbles that pop as soon as they are uttered. That he would have lent his own credibility to an attempt to save Craig Kelly in NSW over the weekend, thereby screwing up any possible political capital for himself from the G20, tells us all we need to know about the positions outlined by O’Kelly a week ago. Morrison will never get it.

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