The autumn of our minor discontent: or 24 thoughts about the election


(Cover pic idea shamelessly stolen from Iowahawk, who captions it “Australian election summary”)

1. I was wrong about this election. I’m somewhat comforted by knowing that so was everyone else. More about that later, but just wanted to put it on the record first.

2. 2019 is a repeat of 1993: an unloseable election lost by the opposition, which spooked too many people taking about tax.

3. It would, however, be too far to also call it “the victory for the true believers”, since I’m not sure what the Liberal Party believes anymore.

4. That’s probably a bit too facetious and negative, but as an old friend said to me last night, if the Liberal Party can achieve this result while having been so shit, imagine what it can achieve if it starts standing for something again. Hope the party learns the right lessons (no pun) from last night.

5. The government arguably did not deserve to be reelected based on its pretty mediocre past six years in office. The opposition certainly did not deserve to be elected based on its program and policies.

6. Others, like Tim Andrews, see a better news in it all: “The Australian Labor Party ran on higher taxes, higher spending, more regulations, and destroying our economy with carbon taxes. This was – for the first time in over two decades – a clear election, a clear choice about ideology and the future of Australia. And despite all the polls, despite the left outspending the right by millions, the Australian people did what no one expected and rejected the odious big government narrative. This is huge.”

7. Tim is perhaps more objective and less jaded than I am. If he’s right, there’s plenty more work to be done to build on these foundations.

8. From the other angle, despite of what you will hear frequently over the coming days, this is not a victory for racism, bigotry, populism, Trumpism and so on. No amount of money could turn Clive Palmer into Trump, and Australian political system simply is not prone to those sorts of phenomena. And if you think that ScoMo is some sort of a maverick you have been drinking too much “potato head bad” Kool-Aid.

9. Speaking of ScoMo, kudos to him. I still just can’t warm up to him, but he has done the near impossible. Even if the impossible in this case was essentially just holding by the seats of the pants to the 2016 marginal position. A lot of movement every which way totaled up to not much overall actually.

10. Shorten, by contrast, was probably the biggest drag on the Labor vote. People just couldn’t get to like him and trust him. Anyone else would have likely won it for Labor, and won it handsomely.

11. The opinion polls – up to and including the exit polls – simply did not pick what happened last night. There will be a lot of justified questions being asked in the near future about what went wrong and to what extent polls are reliable any more as a barometer of the popular opinion.

12. At the same time, something has clearly shifted across the electorate in the last few days of the campaign. Possibly some of the undecideds simply couldn’t overcome their doubts about Shorten and his agenda. The government wasn’t loved but it wasn’t loathed enough to balance the fears about what Labor might do to Australia again, particularly under an unlikable and unprincipled leader.

13. I was right though about one thing, and contrary to the popular wisdom of the past three days: Bob Hawke’s death had no pro-Labor impact on the vote. The truth of the matter is that most people under 40 don’t have memories of Hawke’s Prime Ministership. The younger demographic in any case quite overwhelmingly votes for Labor and the Greens anyway. If anything, Hawke’s passing away might have actually – and controversially – had the opposite effect, in that it reminded the older voters how inferior Shorten’s Labor was to Hawke’s.

14. It’s also time enough to acknowledge the increasingly prominent phenomenon Australia now shares with the UK and the US: “the shy Libs”.

15. Allow me briefly to yet again quote someone else than myself, namely the senior adviser to Ted Cruz’s 2018 primary tilt:

To which the managing director of the Thiel Capital replied:

16. There will be no doubt many debates in the future as to why the right of centre voters are increasingly “shy”, but there is no doubt that the phenomenon is real. I can’t speak about the opinion polling, but I saw it very clearly on the election day itself. Judging by the demeanor of voters and their reactions while confronted with party workers handing out “how to vote cards”, I would have guessed that Labor and the Greens took three quarters of the vote on my polling booth. But when we actually counted the votes, the two-party-preferred vote between the Liberals (or the LNP) and Labor was less than 12 votes of 2000 cast. The only reason why I didn’t despair during the day was because I have seen exactly the same phenomenon three years prior. Ironically, it seemed even worse yesterday while the result was actually marginally better.

17. One good thing about this election looking for a long time like it’s going to be a massacre is that it prompted retirements of a large number of MPs, most of whom should have retired. There is always a need for new blood.

18. Tony Abbott, on the other hand, said in his concession speech that he prefers to be a loser rather than a quitter. As he is entitled to, but I respectfully disagree. We need more quitters in politics. People need to know when their time is up, but very few have the strength of character to achieve a good dismount. Personally, I believe it would have been much better for Tony had he retired; instead he suffered a defeat at the hands of a woke cult of an independent, only slightly less ignominious that John Howard’s defeat in 2007 while a sitting Prime Minister.

19. So I’m sorry for Tony but not too sorry. I’m also comforted by the knowledge that that other hate figure of the left, Peter Dutton, has survived quite nicely in his electorate despite concerted efforts but pretty much everyone under the sun to get rid of him.

20. And while I did not like Bill Shorten as either a man or a politician (unlike, say, Albo or Chris Bowen), I do feel sorry for him on a human level. To have worked for so long for something that towards the end seemed like a certainty within one’s grasp only to see it inexplicably slip away must be a shattering experience.

21. But than politics in general is a cruel game. There are no prizes for coming second or third; whether it’s candidates or their supporters, most of those most deeply involved on the election day will end up at best disappointed. The only consolation is that if you stay involved long enough, the peaks and troughs tend to even out. But not completely and not for everyone. I might not agree with most and wouldn’t want to see them in positions of power but I do feel for all those who pour their hearts and souls into the game, in many cases perhaps too much.

22. I would dearly love to believe that after this election we won’t hear of and from the whole Turnbull clan for a very long time. I’m pretty sure thought that I will be disappointed.

23. It would also be nice if another lesson learned by the Liberal Party from yesterday was the fatuousness of the newly dreamed up concept of “modern Liberals” or the belief that the party’s heartland and base now lie in Sydney’s harbourside suburbs. Just be fucking Liberals, without any qualifiers. Of course political parties evolve and the Liberal Party of today is not the Liberal Party of Menzies or even of Howard, but there are still some core ideological beliefs that should well distinguish the party from Labor and others. Less managerialism, please and more reconnecting with voters by translating liberal principles into language that appeals to the silent majority.

24. Lastly,  let’s remember that no matter how annoying our political system often gets, there are many people around the world who would give their left testicle (or ovary) to be able to choose the people who will disappoint them in government.