The following article originally posted on Spectator
At face value, the 2022 federal election is a run-of-the-mill change of government election. In the post-Menzies era, the average span of a federal government is three terms, so it’s not unusual for voters wanting to give the other side a go at this point in the electoral cycle.
The two-party preferred result was also typical. In the past 40 years there have been four elections where the opposition has won. In 1983 Bob Hawke won with a two-party preferred of 53.2 per cent. In 1996 John Howard won 53.6 per cent, in 2007 Kevin Rudd won 52.7 per cent, and in 2013 Tony Abbott won 53.49 per cent. Anthony Albanese looks to have won around 52 per cent. So far, this is situation normal. But the 2022 federal election is highly atypical. The political chessboard has been scrambled. Since Federation, the wealthy electorates of our capital cities have been loyalists to the Liberal Party and its predecessors. When Tony Abbott lost Warringah in 2019 it was considered a one-off, but now we know it was a harbinger of a crisis in the heartland.
The golden rule of politics is ‘never betray your base’ but the Liberal Party now finds itself asking a more fundamental question, ‘what is the base?’ Non-metropolitan Australia continues to overwhelmingly vote for the Coalition, but in highly urbanised Australia, a party of government needs a city base.
Some argue the solution is for the Liberal Party to win back its heartland by moving left. The first problem with that strategy is that independents are notoriously hard to dislodge – they can attend a helluva lot more community events because their diary is not packed with endless party meetings etc. The bigger problem is that the heartland may well be lost. In the United States, the most expensive zip codes voted Republican throughout the Cold War but have since inexorably drifted left and now vote Democrat as reliably as the ghetto.
Anyway, how much more left-wing could the now fallen ‘Modern Liberals’ have been? They threatened to cross the floor over a Net Zero carbon economy and forced a prime ministerial capitulation. A few months later, most did cross the floor over transgender rights all in the hope they’d bought an insurance policy against Woke independents. They still got steamrolled. Those arguing the Liberal Party needs to move left need to spell out the policies they have in mind (which they can’t without sounding identical to Labor).
Others say the future Liberal heartland should be the former Labor Party heartland. There are encouraging signs that, electorally at least, this could work.
The federal seat of Lindsay is based around Penrith on the far western edge of Sydney. During the Hawke-Keating government, Lindsay was safe a Labor seat. It then became one of the most contested marginal seats in the nation, but on Saturday, Lindsay’s lack lustre Liberal MP won 56.5 per cent with a 1.2 per cent swing in her favour. During the Howard era, the federal seat of Banks (Hurstville-Bankstown) was a reliable Labor seat. It too is now a reasonably safe Liberal seat. A former Liberal and anti-lockdown campaigner, Dai Le, won the federal seat of Fowler which is Gough Whitlam’s former stomping ground. During the Howard era, ethnic Australians voted overwhelmingly for the Labor, but these communities find the woke agenda anathema and are increasingly demonstrating they are far from rusted on Labor.