The Rotten Right Of The Liberals Is Getting Its Comeuppance
The Wentworth by-election was a disaster. The landslide Victorian election loss is even worse.
From Brighton to Bondi, Bronte to Ballarat, the past month has been dismal for the Liberal Party.
A damaging loss in the blue ribbon Wentworth seat that has left them clinging to minority government; a belting loss in Saturday's Victorian state election that catapulted Daniel Andrews and his Labor team back into power with a historic swing.
At the heart of it an increasingly toxic hard-right wing of the party -- warriors seemingly more concerned with waging cultural battles and stymieing any progressive policies than delivering positive outcomes for the country.
The ones who saw Malcolm Turnbull battling on at a slight poll disadvantage to Labor, and took their shot to blast the moderate man from office -- an act of self-sabotage so severe it might cost them the election.
You know the names -- Dutton, Abbott, Abetz, Sukkar, O'Sullivan, Macdonald. Men who have built careers on sowing division and discord -- scare tactics and fear-mongering about crime or terrorism or refugees, or all three at once.
Many are seeing the Wentworth and Victoria results as a pure and simple repudiation of this rotten wing of the party, who would push for the Liberals to lurch further right.
It's a thought that has been sensationally confirmed by even the Liberals themselves, with a clutch of extraordinary, frank, blunt statements from some party members in the wake of historic swings in Victoria over the weekend.
"I think you saw a heartland and voter base, who turned around, and said to us ‘we’ve had enough'," Tim Wilson, the Member for Goldstein, said on Monday.
"I sat there on polling booths, and every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate or the deposing of the prime minister... they are a forward-looking, modern liberal community, and they sent us a message, very clearly."
Liberal senator Scott Ryan, the Senate president, was even more blunt as he gave a rare interview on ABC radio.
"I am sick of being lectured to by people who aren’t members of the party, by people who have never stood on polling booths, about what it means to be a real Liberal,” Senator Ryan said.
“Our voters sent us a message. Liberal voters want us to focus on their issues.”
"They don’t want views rammed down their throats and they don’t want to ram their views down other peoples’ throats, and that has historically been the Liberal way.”
These are about as extreme a repudiation as you'll see politicians give about their own party in 2018.
Translated from diplomatic pollie-speak into plain English, it says the more moderate wing of the party is incredibly worried about the effect the right-wing bomb-throwers are having on their chances of electoral success -- that even inside the tent, the Liberals are worried.
Couple this with the hints dropped by the likes of Sydney MP Craig Laundy, who has been not-so-subtly needling the Sky News 'after dark' personalities and their divisive and destructive calls for the Coalition to go all-in on negative politics, it's clear that a festering divide has ripped open inside the party.
Andrews built his campaign on "delivering", whether on infrastructure or education or social policy -- Liberal leader Matthew Guy dwelled on law and order, fears about terrorism, crime, gangs.
Scare tactics aren't working anymore.
The parties raising positive policies are leading in the polls and have won the recent elections -- that should send a message.
Elections in Australia aren't won on the fringes -- they're won in the middle. For every One Nation voter the Liberals could win back by demonising migrants, Muslims or criminals, they'd lose two from their centre ranks.
Recent flirtations with Pauline Hanson policy have seen the Liberals, supposedly a centre-right party, leave a yawning gap in the middle of the ideological spectrum -- and Labor has willingly jumped in to gobble up votes.
This is true 'line in the sand' for the party of Menzies and Howard. They either go hard with what they've been doing, the strategy that has paid them no dividends in Wentworth or Victoria, or they radically realign their priorities ahead of the expected May federal election.
It's clear that business as usual won't work -- they're down in the polls, and their current M.O. is electoral poison.
There are still some who want the party to go even further right, to stake out a true contrast to Labor -- others want to see the party soften some of its policies.
Either option will leave a number of people, both inside parliament and among the media ranks, disappointed and angry.
Expect some big changes in messaging and strategy after the Christmas parliamentary break, with January to mark the unofficial start of what promises to be a bruising 2019 campaign.