C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Reading the Entrails (After the Bloodbath)

As opinion polling has predicted for the past 12 months, Howard's Liberal Government have been comprehensively repudiated by the Australian public.

The Liberals and their acolytes will need some time to pass before they can examine this result honestly. We can expect that, in the near future, only a few will have the intellectual cleanliness to admit that this election result was not merely a result of a bored electorate wanting a change. It was not simply a consequence of people thinking John Howard 'too old', and preferring a younger candidate.

Rather, Howard was lucky to have won 4 elections. Lucky in 1998 that he held onto marginal seats, after losing the popular vote. Lucky in 2001 that certain events (9/11 and Tampa) allowed the Libs to grimly hold on. And lucky in 2004 that Labor's Latham was perceived as unelectable.

Without world events or Labor implosions to assist, the Liberals never looked like the 'master politicians' that the News Ltd media think them.

Secondly, of all the reasons people have for voting against the Liberals (health, education, climate change), industrial relations is the single-biggest issue to distinguish this election from previous years'.

Many people, both on the left-leaning blogs, and elsewhere, argued that the polls pointed to a Lib defeat as a result of the 'doctor's wives' demographic. That is, the 'small l' liberals, also known as 'the Wets', would abandon Howard in the 2007 election as a result of the Liberal Party's social conservatism. It is well-known that the party is in thrall to far-right nutters and factional warlords in the NSW right branch. This, it was presumed, was driving the swing.

This hypothesis, in retrospect, was never entirely convincing. For instance, it did not account for why it was precisely in 2007 that the Wets would reject Howard, having presumably voted for him previously, when what we may politely term his 'social conservatism' was amply on display. It also failed to account for why, in this political climate, economically conservative and socially progressive parties (such as the Dems) could get no traction. As Robinson noted on the ABC site, 'liberalism' has been dead in the Liberal Party for some time now.

In contrast to this, I suggested a few weeks ago that there was a class-based analysis to which we could subject the polls. Namely, through his IR laws, Howard had declared economic and industrial war on Australia's poorest, many of whom would have been his erstwhile supporters. This suggestion did not find favour among some who encountered it at Larvatus Prodeo.

I suggested that if the Wets were driving the swing, then 'we should see big swings in seats such as Wentworth, Kooyong, Higgins, and Goldstein, among others'. If the class hypothesis were correct, then I predicted we might see major swings in places such as Corangamite, or McEwen.

Naturally, we cannot rule out the possibility of both options being at least partially correct. Nonetheless, I think the Workchoices/working class rebellion hypothesis goes the farthest in explaining the election result.

The results are not entirely counted at this time, but let us look at some of the figures thus far. The Wets' heartland in Wentworth appears to have recorded a 1.1% swing to the Liberals so far. North Sydney recorded a 4.8% swing to the ALP, in keeping with a trend that began at the 2004 election, and Goldstein experiences something similar (4.5%). Kooyong recorded a very minor ALP swing (0.7%), as did Higgins (1.9%).

How did the 'battlers' fare? Corangamite fell to the ALP (6.8% swing), and McEwen is poised to fall (6.6%). LaTrobe has recorded a similar swing (6.1%), with Holt voters changing their tune in a big way (11.1%).

Looking at individual polling booth results also yields some interesting analysis. For instance, in Kooyong, many of the wealthiest neighbourhoods (Hawthorn, Kew, Surrey Hills) actually recorded minor swings (1-3%) to the Liberals. In McEwen, for instance, outer suburban booths in 'mortgage belt' areas (Diamond Creek, Mill Park Lakes, Mernda) all recorded sizeable swings (6-10%).

Once final results are in, further analysis will be possible, but at this point, I think it is fair to conclude that Australia's working class has rejected the Liberals' cynical IR policies in a stunning fashion. We may also be approaching the time when we view 'liberalism' as increasingly irrelevant to Australian politics.

Any thoughts from readers on the electorates they know would be greatly appreciated.