JOHN MENADUE. Wentworth wipe-out!

The only surprise in Wentworth was the scale of the Liberal Party collapse. Spin and marketing by the Prime Minister was easily recognised.  The poor product could not be hidden.

Within twenty four hours of the debacle both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer told us that there would be no change of policy,particularly on climate change. They both have tin ears.

The outstanding result for Kerryn Phelps shows once again the reservations electors have about the performance of our major parties.  Their vote continues to decline. Strong independents in safe Coalition seats could have a field day at the next general election.  

Scott Morrison is supposed to be an expert in marketing.  We saw little of that in Wentworth.  It wasn’t just the Liberal Party, but Scott Morrison personally who scored some major own-goals including the Jerusalem embassy fiasco.  He will still not face up to climate change and the cruelty of his Nauru/Manus policies.

Coming on top of his ambiguous role in the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull it was no surprise that the Liberal Party vote fell by 19%.  And that was despite the Liberal Party’s generous benefactors throwing massive resources into the Liberal campaign.  Where I live in the electorate, we were overwhelmed with advertising for Dave Sharma in the streets ,in the post and online.  We received five robocalls in the last week from John Howard, Dave Sharma and Julie Bishop.

Given the rejection of the Liberal Party, it was surprising that the ALP and Green vote fell by about 6% each.  This was despite both having good local  campaigns and candidates, particularly Tim Murray for the ALP.  But Sussex Street did appear to be running dead, hoping for the ALP to finish in third place with its preferences then going to Kerryn Phelps.  It is also likely that many ALP and Green supporters voted tactically and directly for Kerryn Phelps rather than relying on preferences being distributed to her.

Bill Shorten was all over the Braddon, Longman and Fremantle by-elections, but was missing-in-action in Wentworth.

What was  disappointing was the spiteful and petulant response of Scott Morrison when it was clear that the Liberal Party had lost in Wentworth.  This petulance was unfortunately also repeated by Josh Frydenberg and Trent Zimmerman.There was no sign from any of them of taking responsibility for the mess or of being out of touch with the electorate.  There was no mention of reviewing the policy albatrosses that hung around the government’s neck, including climate change and refugee policy.

Resentments within the Liberal Party must have been bottled up during the Wentworth by election. Will that now break out between the right and left factions?

The only thing that Scott Morrison really seemed determined about for the future, was that he would step up the personal attack on Bill Shorten and the ALP. Scott Morrison showed that at bedrock there is not much that is positive about Liberal Party policies. It is about opposing and attacking the ALP. That has been the case since the ALP was formed over 120 years ago. It is the one thing that holds the Liberal Party together.

It is clear that in the next few months the government will try to change course from the calamity of the last few months and get back to what it considers its strengths – the economy and how good Liberals are at managing it.  But there are two problems with this. The first is that despite the marketing, there is no evidence that the Liberal Party is a better economic manager. See ‘JOHN MENADUE. The facts don’t show that Liberals are better economic managers‘ in this blog)

The second problem is that despite 23 successive years of economic growth, there is widespread concern that the economy is not working for everyone. There is a growing and widespread sense of unfairness and inequality.  The neoliberal ideology that the Liberal Party claims has passed its use-by date.  The economy is not an end in itself.  Its purpose must be to serve society.  But so much of Liberal ideology and for its wealthy commercial backers  it is  only the economy that  really matters.  The assumption that what is good for the economy is good for society is just not true.  And the electorate is coming to understand that very clearly. They understand what John Curtin used to call ‘the social question’ (See recent post by Bernie Fraser, ‘Neoliberal failure, putting the economy ahead of society‘.)

The success of Kerryn Phelps is likely to encourage many strong local candidates across the country. They will see opportunities to run in what were formerly regarded as safe Coalition seats.  We saw it earlier in seats such as New England and Lyne, and more recently in Indi, Mayo, Wagga and spectacularly in Wentworth.  The Coalition collapse in Wentworth could be repeated in many safe Coalition seats.  It would be helped if Barnaby Joyce lent a hand!

But lets look on the bright side.It would be worse with Peter Dutton.

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John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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