20 October 2020

Coe accepts responsibility but another election loss exposes deep party divisions

| Dominic Giannini
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Alistair Coe

Liberals leader Alistair Coe fronted the media for the first time since losing the election. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Prominent Liberal insiders have taken a swing at leader Alistair Coe and the party’s conservative wing, saying that the party “ran the campaign that Alistair wanted” and are “blaming everyone but themselves” for the election loss.

Mr Coe fronted the Canberra media this morning (20 October), three days after the election to defend the party’s performance.

“As leader of the Liberals I take full responsibility for the result on Saturday night,” Mr Coe said.

“It is tough. It is very tough. I and many other people in Canberra were devastated by the results.”

Party president John Cziesla wrote to the ACT division this week, citing “vitriol abuse and unionist intimidation” on the campaign trail and describing Mr Coe as the hardest-working leader in the Party’s history.

But several Liberal insiders have told Region Media they suspect candidates were given selective information about polling during the campaign’s last weeks. It’s understood that some frontbenchers were also not shown actual numbers, but were told everything was going well.

One internal poll is believed to have put the Liberal primary vote at 47 per cent in Brindabella. The party is currently sitting on just over 38 per cent in that electorate.

“Mid-way through last week, many in the Party believed they were a shoo-in. You’d have to ask whether candidates were shown accurate polling or whether it was manipulated to make them believe they were winning,” one source said.

“[Josh] Manuatu executed the campaign but it was exactly what Alistair wanted. Alistair has a very high regard for his own campaigning ability.

“They are essentially living in their own world.”

Mr Coe raised more questions than he answered in his first press conference since the party’s sixth straight election loss, refusing to say whether he would step down as leader.

He continuously repeated that “I will do everything I possibly can to support the Liberal Party be in the best possible position over the weeks, months and years ahead”.

He congratulated Josh Manuatu for running “a very professional and slick campaign”.

READ MORE How the party room battle defeated Liberals’ chances of winning an “it’s time” election

“By all accounts, it was the best campaign that the Canberra Liberals have ever run. I think it is the benchmark of professionalism. We will, of course, do an analysis of the campaign, of policies, of every aspect.

“After you have lost an election, changes are required. That is very obvious and those changes will happen. We also have to make sure we make the right chances and do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

He would not confirm whether he would step aside from the leadership when asked if he should be held to the same standard he put in place when rolling Jeremy Hanson after the 2016 election loss.

“It is clear that with one or two minor parties, we have been disproportionately hit hard. There are still a number of seats in play,” he said.

Alistair Coe

Liberals leader Alistair Coe refused to confirm whether he would contest the leadership. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

“Let’s put this into perspective: it is a 3 per cent swing at this stage and I have no doubt that this will narrow considerably in the coming days.”

An internal party email sent to members from President John Cziesla said that “abuse, intimidation from unionists and, sadly … several cases of cars being vandalised” also influenced the result.

“I would also like to thank and acknowledge Alistair for his leadership and hard work over the course of the campaign and the last four years,” the email said.

READ ALSO Stunts and slogans: Coe’s campaign was just a house of corflutes

“I don’t think we have ever had an assembly parliamentary leader who has worked so tirelessly over the course of a campaign, nor one against whom so much vitriol was directed.”

A post-election survey of voters is underway and the party’s management committee is meeting today to finalise the details of an independent review.

Mr Coe rejected criticism from former party leader Gary Humphries that the party was controlled by its conservative faction.

“I am not sure where his expertise on this subject really comes from. He, of course, unfortunately, lost the election in 2001, 41 to 31,” Mr Coe said.

He also rejected allegations that campaign resources had been diverted to conservative candidates like Leanne Castley in Yerrabi in the final weeks to shore up his position as leader.

Depending on final results, the party room is likely to include three moderates (Mark Parton, Elizabeth Lee and Nicole Lawder), three conservatives (Mr Coe, Elizabeth Kikkert and Leanne Castley) and two potentially undecided votes (Giulia Jones and Jeremy Hanson).

Mr Coe ended the press conference when he was asked whether he had plans to challenge ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja for pre-selection ahead of the next federal election.

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My latest theory is that Coe & Co simply want to remain in opposition. Afterall, it’s a very cushy job, pulling in a lucrative salary with all the added assembly benefits, for doing little apart from complaining . Why swop that for the stress and hassle of government? Having Coe remain as Liberal leader obviously suits Labor just fine. So much so that he could as well be a Labor plant.

There was nothing wrong with the campaign – how it was run and organised, how tirelessly it was worked at, how thoughtfully-placed the damn corflutes were – the problem was with the platform the campaign was selling. When I got the card in the mail that promised they’d both reduce taxes and improve services, that absolutely everything would be better, I burst out laughing. I bet I’m not the only one. Their promises were just not credible. This is Canberra, for God’s sake – we’re cynics.

So, they ran a “professional and slick” campaign and are bewildered by the loss. That’s what happens when you measure input, when your metric is how hard your workers are working rather than if what they are doing is worthwhile.

Next time, Libs, promise a boring government that will keep most things the same, but get rid of some of the dumb stuff that inevitably creeps in when a government has been in power for a long time. The main reason to change government is to clear the weeds.

HiddenDragon8:48 pm 20 Oct 20

Just by way of perspective, in the nearly 46 years since Washington DC gained self-government, that city has only elected Democrats as mayor – a Republican ran in 2006 and was rewarded with 6.1% of the vote.

There may well be demographic factors beyond workforce composition at play in that striking reality, but it’s worth noting that the adjoining states of Virginia and Maryland elect Democrats and Republicans as governors, so there’s probably a powerful (and fairly unsurprising) message about the strong tendency of people who are on, or not far from, the public payroll to vote for parties of the left.

When they’ve worked through the various stages of grief, the best option for the ACT Liberals might be to go on a unicorn hunt, in search of politicians of the right who have found a formula for repeated (not flash in the pan) electoral success in polities dominated by “white collar”/knowledge industry workers.

After he’s fully recovered, they might also see if they can get some survival tips from Alexei Navalny.

I don’t think they remotely need a “unicorn” to win in the ACT, they just need a sensible offering made by more politically central candidates.

If you consider both social and economic factors involved, how do the current Liberals measure up?

Their background and position on social matters is clearly dominated from the conservative factions of the party. Canberra is a more socially progressive city so this was an instant obstacle for them to overcome.

The economic policies put forward by the local Liberals were then from the magic pudding school of economics. There was no coherent direction and many of their policies directly went against their actual messaging.

Even centre right voters would have not looked kindly on their offerings and anyone leaning left would have already been turned off by their social conservativeness.

So no unicorns needed.

Just a party with a majority of socially moderate candidates proposing sound economic policies actually backed by solid costings.

There are many thousands of voters wanting change, seems due to the woeful Liberal offerings, they voted Green instead.

HiddenDragon7:36 pm 21 Oct 20

It’s 22 years since Canberrans elected a (minority) Liberal government locally, and 25 years since they last elected a Liberal (Brendan Smyth) to the House of Reps – in a by-election – and then kicked him out in the 1996 general election, which was won by the Liberals in one of the largest landslides in recent history.

In six of the eight subsequent general elections, Australians have elected LNP national governments, but the only question in Canberra has been how much the Liberal candidates will lose by in the Reps, and whether Labor or the Greens might snare the second Senate seat.

In other sub-national jurisdictions Liberal (and Labor) governments have managed to win elections with very ordinary leaders, and notably flaky policies, but here in Canberra, the Goldilocks answer is always Labor/Green – again, in spite of the true ordinariness of what has often been offered.

Join the dots, Chewy, this town is not interested in capital “l” Liberals – which is what it is absolutely entitled to do in a democratic system – but there’s little real point in pretending otherwise. If you had any particular ideas for winning policies for the ACT Liberals which fitted your formula, you could have responded to my more recent comment on the other thread where you are disputing my views on the nature of the ACT electorate –

https://the-riotact.com/stunts-and-slogans-coes-campaign-was-just-a-house-of-corflutes/412801

Hidden Dragon,
I’m not saying that the Liberals would be in power for equal amounts of time as Labor in the ACT, I’m saying it’s not remotely impossible to win.

Obviously the ACT is a more left leaning and naturally gravitates towards the ALP. But look at voting patterns in each election and you can see significant swings in the electorates at each one (towards and away from each party).

This shows there is a large swinging voter block that if harnessed would see a Liberal government.

The ALP has been in power 19 years, there were clear signs of an “It’s time” trend growing and that incumbency has led to arrogant actions from the government that are putting the electorate offside.

The fact that the Greens have seen a large swing to them (along with other minors) whilst the ALP vote was stagnant shows you that a large number of people wanted change.

The problem is clearly the Liberal party, the make up of its dominant factions locally and the beyond silly policy platform they put up.

I’ve also replied to the other thread now , hadn’t seen your comment.

The problem for the liberals with the swings you mention is that Hare Clark is used in ACT elections.

Why this is a problem is due the need to vote for individuals and not parties, this makes it hard for parties to direct preferences to preferred candidates to get them over the line. So where you might have a large swing if they are all to the same person and then once that person is elected their excess vote is redistributed at a lower value.

A good example of this can be seen in Gininderra where Labor got about 22,000 votes in total, the Liberals 15,000 but two seats each. The issue being Yvette Berry and Tara Chenyne both had strong first preferences and when their quota was reached the excess vote went to Ramsay at a devalued rate. Whereas as the liberal vote wasn’t as strong they didn’t have as many devalued excess votes but had more full value preferences from excluded candidates hence Cain got up.

This of course effects all parties the same but the point I guess I am making is a swing needs to be to all candidates to make a big difference to the result and secondly to get the 3rd seat in at least 3 out of 5 electorates which is what is needed to form majority government is very difficult for both the major parties. Labor can almost be certain to be able to partner with the greens but the Libs really have no one unless a few right wing minded independents get up, which again is very difficult.

JC,
The opinion you’re putting forward seems to be that the Greens will always get enough of the vote to put Labor over the line. What I’m saying is I don’t think that’s remotely true.

I think the Greens vote is far more a reflection of the woefullness of the Liberals rather than any true lurch to the left by the electorate.

You are right though that a minor centre right party would assist the Liberals if they were populist enough to either win seats themselves or direct enough preferences.

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