23 October 2004

Only three seats but look at the vote

Those five are: NSW - Cunningham, from the Greens, a seat embracing Wollongong, lost in a 2002 by-election under Crean's leadership; Parramatta, from the Liberals' Ross Cameron, a self-anointed adulterer; and Richmond, on the North Coast, lost by the Nationals' Larry Anthony; and the Liberal seats of Adelaide and Hindmarsh in South Australia.

The eight seats the Liberals took from Labor are: Bass and Braddon in Tasmania, both seats embracing the top half of the island state; Hasluck and Stirling in Perth; Wakefield and Kingston in Adelaide; Greenway, in Sydney's western suburbs; and the new seat of Bonner, east of Brisbane city.

Labor went into the election with 63 seats - not 65, as keeps being misreported (Labor won 65 at the 2001 election, but lost the Cunningham by-election and the outer Melbourne seat of McMillan in a redistribution of boundaries). Labor comes out of it with 60, to the Government's 87 - 75 Liberal, 12 National - and three independents in a legislature of 150. That is not the disaster constantly repeated. Beazley, in defence of Latham, has said twice since polling day that Labor's 'grave' electoral position a month before the leadership change from Crean last December was the potential collapse of 30 seats to the Government.

What is sobering for Labor, despite the small net loss in seats, is the massive gap in the primary vote this election between Labor and the Coalition. At the close of counting on election night, Labor's national primary vote stood at 38.3 per cent, a bare half per cent above the 37.8 per cent Labor gained in Beazley's second losing election three years ago, a level of popular support which ranked as Labor's worst federally since the 1931 election that killed the Scullin Labor government after just two years in power.

However, in the two weeks of continued counting, Labor's overall primary vote went on sliding until, by close of counting on Wednesday this week, it had fallen to 37.79 per cent, eclipsing the 2001 vote achieved under Beazley's leadership. By Thursday night that figure was 37.71 per cent, and early yesterday afternoon had dropped to 37.65 per cent. No federal Labor vote in the past three-quarters of a century has registered such a poor standing.

And in another first since the formation of the Liberal Party 60 years ago, the count of the Coalition popular vote this election, by mid-morning yesterday, exceeded the Labor primary by a clear 1 million votes - 5,303,170 votes (46.5 per cent) to 4,299,220 votes (37.65 per cent). The only comfort for Latham in the figures is how strongly the disparity emphasises that Labor's marginal seat campaign, however much it has been derided, was able to keep actual losses to a minimum.

This is better than the other SMH report I've blogged, but not by a lot.

Yes, a net loss of 3 seats is not a train wreck.

Yes, Labor's primary vote is collapsng on the same trajectory as 2001.

The serious question is where those primary votes are going. If they were just going Green or Democrat and then coming back to Labor as second preferences there would be no problem as long as Labor continued to outpoll the Greens and Democrats. Clearly that is not happening.

We've just had a campaign that resembled 2001 in ignoring the values issues like mandatory detention, indigenous matters, and the war. Voters lost in 2001 have not come back. Hw long does Labor maintain this losing streak with campaigns and platforms that do not succeed?

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