It’s just gone four in the morning as I type this, and in my home state of Victoria, there’s still ten seats left to call in the election – which doesn’t really matter because even if they won all ten of those seats (and that seems unlikely), the Coalition would still be another ten seats short of winning the election.
If you’re a member of the Liberal or National Parties, or a voter for either of them, it’s hard to disagree with the assessment of now-former Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto, that “something has gone horribly wrong” for the party. Because it truly has. This is one of the worst defeats that the Coalition has ever suffered in Victoria. Hell, it’s one of the worst defeats any party has suffered since Victoria became a state in 1901.
Looking at the campaign the Liberals ran, which mostly featured going hard on “Loranorda” (to be fair, traditionally a conservative strength), and very little else of substance – most of their other election promises were either obvious matches of ALP promises or things the public had already clearly rejected – I’ve wondered repeatedly if they weren’t trying to throw this election.
After all, the Andrews Government in Victoria has had its stumbles, but has mostly succeeded in delivering its promises, and beginning the long hard struggle to pull the Overton Window of Australian politics back towards the centre. It’s delivered big on infrastructure, ticked off a wishlist of assorted left wing bêtes noires and shown itself to be a government with a vision (something sorely lacking in Australian politics since about 2008). Even with fair winds and following seas, the LNP Opposition would have had its work cut out for it – and neither wind nor sea has been helpful. Not to mention that Victoria is, traditionally, one of the most progressive-leaning of all Australian states – and especially so in recent years. If you were going to pick an election to throw, this was one where you could do so without it having to be obvious you were doing so.
Sadly, doing things well requires competence, and competence is not a quality that most political parties select for (factional purity usually being considered more important than, for example, being able to speak articulately, let alone being good at one’s job). The current Federal Liberal government is sufficiently bad at being a government, or indeed, a political party, that one could be forgiven for forming the impression that they think own goals count towards their score.
On the plus side, if you’re some master puppeteer sitting in your smoke-filled room and making your meat marionettes dance, you could hardly ask for a better selection of what the KGB likes to call “useful idiots” to serve your ends. Which raises the question of what the ends are. Looking at how the last year has played out for the Liberal Party, my assumption is that someone was specifically attempting to discredit the standard conservative fear-mongering “crime is out of control” meme – possibly among others – which means that it pretty much has to be someone on the more centrist wing of the party, because it’s obvious that the far right is calling almost all the shots these days. This election defeat is black eye for that faction, because it’s a clear rejection of almost everything they stand for.
Where this theory falls apart, of course, is the lack of anyone who could visibly be behind it all. I mean, this would actually be a fairly small conspiracy, maybe a half dozen people at most – just very positioned to exert leverage, but who could they be?
It’s obvious that there’s virtually no one in the Parliamentary party at any level who could be trusted with this (maybe Pyne, Bishop or Porter – and yes, I know Porter’s stated factional loyalties do not this way tend, but Porter is more devious than he gets credit for, and he very clearly sees himself as a future PM), and the pickings are not that much better outside of it. If Michael Kroger or Jeff Kennett had been in on it, for example, they’d have kept lower media profiles. Turnbull is a possibility, not least because his ousting before the scheme could come to fruition fits very well with the current LNP’s inability to escape sad ironies, but as Prime Minister, he had more direct options open to him until recently. And if Matthew Guy himself was in on it – and that would go a ways towards explaining his apparently permanently dyspeptic expression – he’s just fallen on his sword for no reason at all.
In short, while there are some potential candidates, there aren’t enough to pull this off, and few of them seem plausible at a close examination.
And finally, of course, a conspiracy like this would require a political machine capable of long term planning, a capability which the mnodern Coalition has repeatedly shown itself to lack.
There’s no grand conspiracy here, just new lows of incompetence and wishful thinking. Roll on next year’s federal election, I guess.