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If Guy becomes Liberal leader, he will need to make some changes

The electoral pendulum (courtesy of Antony Green) based on the redistribution indicates there are nine Coalition seats on margins of less than 2 per cent compared to only three Labor seats that are so narrowly held.

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Come the election, the Coalition will also be up against the longer-term rhythms of Victorian politics. Since the 1980s Victoria has consistently broken to the left-of-centre as reflected in its voting pattern both at federal and state elections. And here there is something of an incongruity in the Liberal Party turning back to Guy as leader.

He and his chief supporters are aligned with the conservative end of the party. Nothing better illustrated this than Guy’s approach to the 2018 election when he campaigned principally on an aggressive law-and-order agenda that was revealed as being hopelessly out-of-step with the lived experience of the voting public.

In that sense, there is a question about whether Guy will be able to reinvent himself between now and the election to become a more rounded leader who is better attuned to the aspirations of Victorians.

History is full of examples of leaders who, while uncompetitive in their first incarnation, have gone on to success by learning from past failure. Adversity has, in other words, nourished leadership growth. Does Guy have that capacity?

At the same time, there are opportunities for Guy and the Coalition over the next year. Presumably, the worst of the pandemic will be finally behind us come 2022 allowing an overdue refocusing on other issues.

Presumably, the worst of the pandemic will be finally behind us come 2022 allowing an overdue refocusing on other issues.

Presumably, the worst of the pandemic will be finally behind us come 2022 allowing an overdue refocusing on other issues.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Only with the settling of the pandemic will we truly be able to understand its political and economic consequences. While it has been interpreted as a gift to incumbents that effect will eventually wear off.

Premier Daniel Andrews’ dominance of the state political scene, which has been dramatically magnified by COVID-19, has a downside in that it seems to have strengthened the centralising dynamics in his government.

The concentration of power in a relatively small circle brings with it the risks of overreach and hubris. There are signs of this in the belligerent and dismissive streak to some of Andrews’ recent pronouncements.

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The fact that the Labor government will be eight years old by the time of the election should also provide a fertile line of attack for the opposition. The “It’s time” factor will come into play, as will question marks about Andrews’ future.

Equally, whereas in 2018 the Andrews government’s can-do activist approach proved largely invulnerable to criticism, there are now signs of a fraying of its agenda, not least in delays and cost blowouts associated with its gargantuan transport infrastructure program.

For Guy and the Coalition to exploit these chinks in the government will depend on it presenting as a credible moderate force.

Paul Strangio is a professor of politics at Monash University.

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