After the landslide
What happens if Labor and Voices candidates win?
The Liberal Party is fighting for its life. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's failures are too numerous to count, they have directly affected too many voters, and he has apologised too little and learned seemingly nothing from them. Worst of all, his missteps have combined into an even larger problem; there is a widespread perception that he is simply incapable of doing the job, and an almost universal feeling that he can't be trusted. Just one of these two factors was enough to bring down John Howard in 2007.
Morrison is effectively fighting on all fronts. There are old wounds in the electorate that have not healed, new disasters handled inadequately, massive rorts that beggar belief, leaks from those who want his job, and an ongoing string of scandals barely swept under the rug, let alone handled with authoritative leadership.
Beyond the challenge of holding off Labor and Albanese, who is cutting through to voters with a clear and optimistic platform, despite what Canberra's journalists say, Morrison's woes extend much further. Thanks to the well organised campaigns of grassroots independents, backed by Climate 200 and Voices groups, previously safe Liberal seats are now under serious threat.
Huge grassroots campaigns in Kooyong, Goldstein, Wentworth, and North Sydney are attracting far more volunteers and energy than the incumbent Liberals, and polls suggest that, based on climate change being a central issue in each seat, there will be several new independents in Federal Parliament after the May election.
Let's assume that several trends continue:
1) Morrison continues making mistakes, offending voters, and cannot recapture enough support to make up for three years of losses
2) Labor's promises for stronger action on climate change and a retrospective Federal ICAC with teeth continue to be incredibly popular issues for voters
3) The media's attacks against Labor continue to be ultimately ineffective at changing the election outcome
4) Voices independents campaign well at a grassroots level and win several seats
5) Polls continue to be as accurate as they have been in the last three state elections and Morrison fails to close the enormous gap
6) Labor wins the election;
Australia's political landscape will be unlike anything we have seen in post-war history. Labor will have won power with a climate change agenda, independents will have seized some of the safest Liberal seats in the country, but something even more consequential will have happened. The Liberal Party as we know it will have been destroyed.
Without a heartland, without a popular ideology, a party is no longer competitive. When the dust settles after the election, things will only get worse for the remaining Liberals, with infighting and power struggles erupting as factions fight for control of what is left of the party. There is no clear ideological successor to the doctrine that has led the Liberals since John Howard steered the party towards greed and climate change denial. It will be chaos, and it is not even clear that a massive party can change its entire DNA.
Meanwhile, imagine that Labor simply achieves its core election promises during its first term of government and nothing else. By 2025, Labor will have created a Federal ICAC with teeth, made childcare affordable, created real wage growth for the first time in a decade and provided certainty about action on climate change, stimulating massive growth in both government and industry projects.
If Labor is smart and allows Voices independents to co-author high profile bills that become defining climate policies, each Voices independent can go back to their electorate during the 2025 campaign with clear proof of what they have achieved, validating each vote that has been entrusted in them, and present a new set of promises with an established level of trust and commitment to local representation that was not present in the previous Liberal representatives.
How could the Liberal Party win enough seats to form government in 2025? Recent history shows that popular independents are re-elected. If, as I mentioned above, Labor has shared some of the spotlight on climate achievements, the independents would be safe. Labor would have fulfilled its core promises and demonstrated that it can get Australia moving forward after a decade of divisive paralysis.
If Labor and the Voices independents achieve their core promises, I can not see the Liberal Party winning enough seats to reclaim government in 2025. More crucially, the Liberal Party could not win government again until it had fundamentally changed its entire identity and ideology. The possibility of this remains deeply unknown.
Remember, this is the party that worships the ideas of Menzies, a Prime Minister who last governed in 1966. At that time, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was a decade away from creation. Execution was still a legal form of punishment in Australia. The world has changed dramatically since Menzies occupied our highest office.
What would the Liberal Party become? A party of Pentecostals and angry white men left behind by decades of progress? For conservatives, what comes now that Neoliberalism has failed, as evidenced by interventionist western monetary policy during the pandemic? These questions do not even touch on the existential demographic problem for the Liberal Party - the unprecedented population bulge of the baby boomers will be gone within a few elections. The Liberal Party's base, older Australians, will no longer have a disproportionate say in our elections.
It is disappointing that none of the above is being discussed by our political journalists, who focus on the horse race journalism of candidates as sporting competitors, and who is winning. There are much more interesting and important things to discuss.
There is a growing feeling that the coming election is the most important in a generation. Only a fool would argue against that. Still, there is another feeling, not reported in the press, but widespread among the community. There is a sense that things must change. This election could be the end of something that has stopped working. Even better, it could be the start of something new.