Itâ€™s possible that with Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister, the Liberal/National Coalition avoided a landslide defeat at the hands of Bill Shortenâ€™s Labor. Itâ€™s possible that had Tony Abbott remained as the leader, the Coalition would have been decimated at this yearâ€™s poll. Those who engineered the coup against Abbott and those who voted against him in the leadership spill back in September last year certainly thought that this would be the most likely scenario and only a change of leadership had any chance to avert it. We will never know.
Itâ€™s equally possible that the Coalition would have still won â€“ perhaps more convincingly â€“ without Turnbull. Perhaps, though unlikely, with Abbott, perhaps with someone else entirely â€“ Julie Bishop? â€“ at the helm. Again, we will never know. Perhaps had Malcolm Turnbull done thing differently or run a different campaign, he would not need now be calling and trying to play nice with the crossbenchers. We will never know that either.
We do know two things, even more so in hindsight: the decision to go to a double dissolution election was a costly mistake, and the Coalition campaign itself was at best indifferent, at worst disastrous.
There is certainly enough blame to go around and it goes further back than just the past few weeks or months.
The truth of the matter is that Tony Abbott was not deposed as the leader and as the Prime Minister out of the blue and on a whim. Perhaps the greatest opposition leader the Coalition has ever had he just didnâ€™t translate well into government and into Prime Ministership. Put aside the discussion of policies and politics (too conservative? not conservative enough?), he simply could not make the majority of the public warm up to him, and this state of affairs was not getting any better as the time went on. Furthermore, Abbott presided over a dysfunctional government. Sure, he was being undermined and sabotaged by Turnbull and his supporters, but their white-anting worked because there was enough genuine dissatisfaction in the parliamentary ranks. Tonyâ€™s problem, at least one of them, was not misogyny; quite the opposite, it was his incapacity to say no to Peta Credlin in just about every area of policy and management. But however much damage Credlinâ€™s unelected Deputy Prime Minister act did to the working â€“ or not working â€“ of the government, ultimately the fact that the buck did not stop with Abbott stopped with Abbott.
Soon after Turnbull took over and was basking in the glow of â€œMr 70%â€ popularity was the perfect time to call a snap election and go to the public seeking a fresh mandate with the fresh leadership. I told this much to everyone who would listen. But I also said that Turnbull wouldnâ€™t do it because his oversized ego would not allow him to acknowledge that the honeymoon would not last â€“ despite the fact that it also did not last once before, in 2008-09.
Instead, Turnbull spent his months as Prime Minister watching his approval ratings slowly but inexorably slide, floating a policy balloon after policy balloon and then running away as they got popped one by one, creating an impression of a do-nothing government, which didnâ€™t have any new policies and ideas and was seeking eventual re-election essentially on the strength of Turnbullâ€™s suave, charm and winning personality.
Hence we have found ourselves in a position where the government was calling an early â€“ and a double dissolution â€“ election not from a position of strength, having consistently trailed Labor, or at best been neck and neck with, for months. Yes, the incumbentsâ€™ advantage often comes out during the campaign as the polls tighten, but the starting point back in May was far from optional.
If the political conditions for winning the election were not favourable to start with, the Coalition campaign itself didnâ€™t make it any better:
1) A two-month campaign? Please. Just shoot us now.
2) The branding â€œTurnbull Coalition Governmentâ€ was a sheer egoistical folly at the time it was already clear that Turnbull wasnâ€™t really a great selling point anymore.
3) As one of my elected friends used to say, Wentworth is not a microcosm of Australia. Nimble, agile and innovative probably plays well around Point Piper but everywhere else around the country you sell the Coalitionâ€™s advantage at economic management through bread and butter issues that the average punter can connect with.
4) The public will forgive some wonkiness and tolerate some unpopular policies in the national interest if mixed with some red meat in areas that resonate with the base and the middle â€“ national security, border protection, immigration, cultural confidence. The Coalition did not play enough on its core strengths and advantages in these areas. Turnbull was too cool and too sophisticated for that.
5) The negative sadly works. â€œThere has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australianâ€ might be objectively true, certainly for some people and in some regards, but I donâ€™t think it has felt that way to the majority of people. Turnbullâ€™s elite optimism and sunny disposition were certainly not able to make it so in the absence of more tangible policy wins for the voters. The international situation â€“ both political and economic – is far from cheerful, likewise domestically, and the Coalition simply didnâ€™t do enough to remind the people that in uncertain times like these they simply canâ€™t risk the Labor/Greens circus at the levers of power again.
Where to from now? To a world of a lot of pain and butt-hurt, for the Coalition and for the country. As I said before, the politics in this country have degenerated often into farcical over the past decade and this trend is sadly set to continue. Partly the current generation of politicians hasnâ€™t risen up to the high standard required, but equally sadly the electorate as a whole seems just a bit less serious than it has been in the past. What did I tell you, thereâ€™s plenty of blame to go around, and I havenâ€™t even touched on the political obscenities that have been the Labor Party and the Greens. All that is bad for Australia but good for blogging. God knows, I would much rather the other way around.