Last Sunday I tried to explain in my Commentary why the Coalition lost the Victorian election with such an unexpectedly large swing to Labor (I then thought it was a 5% swing but it now appears closer to 6%) and this loss was immediately followed by a Newspoll showing at the federal level that Labor is ahead on a TPP basis of 55/45. While this is the same as in the previous Newspoll, and Morrison’s personal rating as Better PM actually improved to 46/34, it confirmed that the Coalition would almost certainly lose the Federal election, which Morrison has now set for March. I concluded my Commentary by saying that “whether at the federal or state levels this result is a reflection of the failure of the Liberals to distinguish themselves from Labor”.
There is no doubt that this failure largely reflects the views of Turnbull, who first tried to be head Labor but was rejected there and, despite his leftish views, was accepted as a member of the Liberals. Then, after his second period as leader and then obtaining the PM position since 2015 after defeating Tony Abbott in an internal challenge, Turnbull himself was defeated in a internal contest by Morrison in August which actually arose from a challenge to Turnbull by Dutton. In effect, that challenge indicated that a majority of the party had reached the conclusion that, after a sequence of negative polling throughout his PM-ship, Turnbull’s views would not be accepted by the electorate at the federal election.
I have written in previous Commentary that since taking over Morrison has either not outlined his views on most major policy issues or outlined them only half-heartedly. This has kept the Coalition’s polling at low rates and uncertainty about what the Coalition stands for. Moreover, Turnbull continues to attempt to influence policies and individual MP’s attitudes on particular issues. This has led to suggestions that he should be expelled from the party and there appears to be a basis for doing that (see Turnbull to be Expelled? and Turnbull v Liberal Party). As Andrew Bolt argues, “It’s not just that Turnbull is angry with the Liberals for doing, in his opinion, the wrong thing in dumping him. Psychologically he badly needs the Liberals to now lose to prove to himself that he was right and good and loved (see Bolt on Liberal Party & Turnbull).
It appears however that Morrison has now realised that, for the Coalition to defeat Labor under Shorten, he must return to emphasising the traditional important elements in an election, such as the budget (see attached Morrison v Shorten). As David Uren points out, “the Coalition managed to restrain spending under the tight rein of finance minister Mathias Cormann with growth of about 2 per cent above inflation, despite the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and increased defence spending. The revenue turnaround began in the second half of last year and has gathered pace. Company tax revenue was boosted by a surprise leap in coal and iron ore prices while business profits elsewhere in the economy strengthened. Deloitte Access Economics tips company taxes will reach almost $100bn this year. Capital gains tax revenue is also coming back. Treasury now finds its forecasts are unduly pessimistic” (see Budget Outlook).
However, for Morrison to improve polling and stand a chance at next year’s election he must do two things:
- Make a public statement saying that, while he recognises that Turnbull attempted to attract votes through the policies he pursued, he is no longer PM and those policies need to adjusted to the new political environment;
- Indicate also that an energy policy based on NEG is no longer acceptable (Morrison has already stated this) and that the Morrison government will modify its emissions/renewables polices so as to ensure that it establishes a situation where electricity prices will fall.
But at the moment it looks highly unlikely that he will make the necessary changes to energy policy to allow prices to fall. As pointed out by David Uren the policy apparently being pursued for consideration by party members next week reflects “surely none as bewildering as a Coalition leadership deciding the solution is to give the Treasurer unfettered powers to force the break-up of private corporations, dictate their prices and order them to enter contracts against their will” (see Uren on Energy Policy). This would be a disaster in effecting the de-facto nationalization of the electricity industry and as such would likely lead to lower polling.
One final word. The attempt by some female politicians in Canberra, including one minister, to suggest that the Liberal Party is treating women badly does not stand up to careful consideration. Their failure to nominate any supposed offenders indicates the accusers have allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the emergence of increased feminism. They also appear to overlook that politics involves exchanges which will, in some cases, cause offence – as it does with exchanges between men (see also Bolt on Liberals Problems on Women)