The only thing more interesting than state-level political history is state-level alternative political history. That’s why I’ve written the manuscripts for a series of eight gripping novels called The Winter on Spring Street Chronicles, an epic alt-history saga which dares to answer the “what if?” questions nobody has given enough of a shit about to answer before. Though the strongest manuscripts, in my humble opinion, are ‘Part V: Et Tu, Kennett?’ and ‘Part IV: Joan Kirner – Black Queen’, the following hypothesis is drawn from draft notes for Part VII, ‘Whither Napthine? – The Vet Who Never Was.’
My theory is thus – losing the 2010 election was the best possible long-term outcome for the Victorian Labor Party. “Why would you think that?” I hear absolutely none of you ask. Well, if John Brumby had won in 2010, by this Saturday’s election Labor would have ruled Victoria for fifteen years. That’s a devastatingly long lifespan for a government in modern Australia. Queensland and NSW had Labor governments come in around the same time that Victoria did, but theirs lasted for four terms rather than three, for fourteen and sixteen years respectively. By the time they were finally voted out, both of those governments were plagued with notoriety, factionalism and corruption allegations. The elections were bloodbaths. In the Queensland Parliament, Labor now holds nine out of eighty-nine seats. In NSW, which has had six Premiers in nine years and more political corruption than a middling banana republic, the Labor Opposition leader John Robertson is currently polling at 22%, making him less popular than some cancers.
But in Victoria it never got to that stage, and Labor and the electorate had more of a conscious uncoupling than an explosive divorce. They retained respectable approval ratings and left the new guys with the narrowest slither of a majority possible, which meant that the Coalition had to deal with professional lunatic Geoff Shaw to get legislation passed. The Government has since suffered a swift and bumpy decline. Last year unpopular seven foot aristocrat Ted Baillieu was knifed as premier, allegedly at the hand of backroom Svengali and human bulldozer Matthew Guy. The Liberals now looking down the barrel of a five percent swing at the election on Saturday, which would fling them out of office after a single ignominious term.
First term Governments are as rare as Mews, but what makes this even more remarkable is that Labor is lead by Daniel “Andrew Daniels” Andrews, the kind of first-term-in-opposition patsy nobody really expects to get elected (remember Brendan Nelson? Precisely.) Although he recently abbreviated his name to “Dan” to get down with the millennial, this failed to disguise the fact that he has all the charisma of a foot.It’s often said that in Australia parties don’t win elections, their opposition loses them. If Victorian Labor had been victorious in 2010 by now it would be decrepit and reviled, tearing itself apart and preparing for a generation in the political wilderness. Instead it’s stretching after a four-year siesta and preparing to cruise back into office.
This reveals something very strange about our defacto two party system. When the inevitable swing of the pendulum means that it can be strategic for one of our two choices to lose, you’ve got to wonder how much democracy we have.