Tuesday February 20, 2007
Malcolm MacKerras is always entertaining; it is always as much about him, Malcolm, as it is about the substance of the matter. Hence, the “MacKerrras pendulum” (i.e., sort House of Representatives by two-party preferred vote share, which makes a nice picture with 150 Commonwealth electoral divisions). And this recent effort in Crikey:
Let me be the first pundit to predict that the Liberal Party will lose this year’s general election as a whole, and Bennelong in particular.
Not just the first para, or first sentence is self-referential, but the 2nd word…
Anyway, Malcolm goes on to reason that if the national tide is running against the Liberals, then Bennelong voters will move to dump Howard (which strikes me as a tautology, but we’ll return to that in a moment). Malcolm imagines (hears?) Bennelong voters reasoning as follows:
The defeat of the Howard government will be generally predicted. In that circumstance what are Bennelong electors to do? They could say to themselves: “Let us return Howard in Bennelong to show our gratitude to him. Of course, we know he will, upon the defeat of his government, immediately resign his seat and cause a by-election which Labor will win.”
Alternatively, they could (more sensibly) say to themselves: “We know the Howard Government will be defeated. Why do we not kick Howard out of Bennelong also? That would save the cost of a by-election. Let us save that cost and save the Liberal Party the embarrassment of that by-election loss”.
That last sentence is wonderful. Apparently Malcolm imagines Bennelong voters preferring to humiliate Australia’s 2nd longest serving Prime Minister (i.e., Howard loses his own seat), so as to avoid the “embarrassment” to the Liberal Party if they were to lose any subsequent by-election…
There is another possibility, and that is that Bennelong voters behave in accordance with Malcolm’s much-vaunted model of uniform swing, and turf Howard out along with a bunch of other Liberal incumbents. [Incidentally: it might be interesting to look up the margins carried by incumbent prime ministers into Federal elections (and opposition leaders, for that matter): I'm guessing that Howard's margin in Bennelong, 54.1% 2PP (a "notional" or estimated 2PP margin, after some minor redistricting since the 2004 election result of 54.3% 2PP) is not the smallest ever carried by an incumbent prime minister.]
Moreover, Malcolm’s prediction is a difficult prediction to test. Suppose Howard loses Bennelong and the Libs lose the election. Is this because Bennelong voters engaged in the fanciful kind of reasoning Malcolm suggests? Who knows? We might see if the (presumed, pro-ALP) swing in Bennelong is bigger than the swing in similar divisions, but this could happen for any number of reasons. In 2004, Bennelong and neighboring seats on Sydney’s North Shore swung against the government way more than the NSW average; see here [digression: it is tough to know what to make of this re 2007 -- are these seats trending ALP faster than, say, the NSW average, or will regression-to-the-mean kick in and mean that those seats swing less than they did in 2004?].
On the other hand, Malcolm could be wrong in at least 3 ways: the Libs win the election, or Howard wins Bennelong irrespective of the election outcome, so Mumble is right, Malcolm is sticking his head up here (see also Bryan Palmer’s take), and he deserves kudos for that. “Kudos…”
Finally, there’s a bit more from Malcolm I can’t let pass without comment…
If Howard had any sense he would have resigned the office of Prime Minister last year – as I advised him to do. He could then have retired from his seat this year, following the example of John Anderson.
The self-aggrandizing aside, Malcolm is right there. Howard is in a bit of a pickle, with his legacy to history at stake. Howard has certainly left it too late to ride off into the sunset, with the next election coming up this calendar year (or constitutionally/technically, Jan 19 2008 at the very latest). Rudd is not showing the same intemperateness that seemed to be Latham’s undoing. Howard wheeled in Latham, and may yet do the same to Rudd; witness Howard’s “each-way Kevin” line on Rudd’s Iraq pronouncements, and the claims that Rudd is sabotaging the water deal with the states. More gazing at polls and/or betting markets for a while yet…