Winners write the history. Well, sort of. In politics there are always history wars.
In his post-election narrative today, Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane, reporting on the fourth national campaign he has run, argued that positives had driven the Coalition’s victory.
Tony Abbott wore the “Mr Negativity” label during much of the last term, but Loughnane said he “wasn’t negative” but was presenting “a very clear cut-through alternate to Labor’s policies. People knew exactly what our priorities were”, and that resonated with “the mainstream of the community”.
Political commentary on elections tended to dwell on negative campaigning, Loughnane said, often missing significant changes occurring.
“The focus of successful campaigns around the world over the last decade has increasingly been on the positive rather than the negative. This is certainly the case with the Coalition.
"To emphasise our positive alternative was a key strategic decision we took early on in our campaign preparations and it drove much of what we did. But because of the chaos in the Labor party much of the commentary missed this important development,” Loughnane told the National Press Club, in an address partly based on the party’s post-election survey.
“The community wanted something to vote for, not just against.
"The Coalition’s positive plan, strong leadership, united team and outstanding candidates, together with a clear strategy which was followed throughout the last term with great discipline, drew strong community support. It is why the Coalition won the election rather than Labor losing it.”
Loughnane identified Abbott’s budget reply speech in May as “the moment he came to be seen in the community’s mind as an alternative prime minister, rather than simply leader of the opposition”. He also underscored how containing the losses in the 2007 defeat had enabled the Coalition to rebuild quickly.
While many Labor figures and commentators believe Kevin Rudd saved much “furniture”, Loughnane said that irrespective of who the leader had been “I think the result would have been pretty much the same”.
Loughnane’s “essential thesis” about Labor “is that leadership is not their core problem”. He claimed that Rudd’s and Gillard’s leadership had marked the end of the Whitlam era of Labor seeking the middle ground.
“In common with a number of centre-left parties around the world, Labor has retreated to a mix of pre-Whitlam class war prejudice and inner city trendyism, overlaid by factional warlordism. They are internally obsessed, schizophrenic on policy and completely disconnected from the community.
"Leadership is therefore just one of the challenges facing Labor. I believe Mr Shorten understands this but his capitulation to the left of his party in order to gain the leadership has compromised his authority from the start.”
Among key statistics Loughnane highlighted were
.. The average two party preferred swing in the 17 seats that the Coalition won from Labor was over 6% - close to double the national average (3.6%).
.. This was the first time the Coalition had received a majority of the two party preferred vote in every state since 1977.
.. In 2013 Labor received its lowest primary vote since 1903.
.. Labor’s primary vote under Rudd in 2013 was 10% lower than it was under Rudd in 2007.
.. The Greens Senate vote of 8.6% was the lowest since 2004, when it was 7.7%.
Loughnane has joined the growing chorus of political players who want changes to electoral arrangements in the wake of the success of micro parties at the Senate election.
“It is now almost 30 years since the last major change to our Senate voting system. It is therefore an appropriate time to review the operations of how we elect the Senate.
"The large number of candidates for the Senate in some states clearly created confusion. The distortion surrounding deals on preferences between some micro parties produced results which did not reflect the will of the people. The inconsistency with which parties are permitted to change their names created brand confusion for voters. The need to strengthen the enrolment and voter identification rules is also clear.”
Earlier today Labor’s Bob Carr, announcing his retirement from the Senate, said something needed to be done about the upper house voting system; to see the current system giving “over-representation to pocket handkerchief political effusions is pretty strange”.
The parliamentary committee on electoral matters will review a range of issues arising from the election, including those relating to the Senate.
Loughnane admitted that the Coalition had to look very carefully at the reasons for the large vote for Clive Palmer’s PUP, and expressed concern at its huge spending.
Labor’s national secretary George Wright will give his election post mortem next week.
As participants pick over the election’s entrails - and votes are still being recounted in Fairfax, which Loughnane expects Palmer to win, and for the Senate in Western Australia - Abbott mused on juggling his old and new lives.
Defending his continued fire fighting, he admitted his security detail was not very happy about this extra curricula activity, which saw the PM doing a shift of backburning last weekend.
“I’ve explained to them that we don’t go out there to take silly risks … I’ll be with the crew and I’ll act under the instructions of the deputy captain and other officers.”
Asked on 3AW whether he should be taking such risks, Abbott said they were well within the bounds of what was acceptable.
“Even as a prime minister, you’ve got to be a human being first and it is a normal part of a normal Australian life to serve in various community organisations … I will do my best to continue to be a citizen as well as a prime minister.”
Listen to Christopher Pyne on the Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, available below, by rss and on iTunes.