Thommo in Dobell
Labor MP Craig Thomson, one of the class of 2007, is in trouble. His seat of Dobell on the NSW central coast, north of Sydney (AEC profile here), was created in 1984 and held by the ALP’s Michael Lee until 2001 when he was narrowly defeated by the Liberals’ Ken Ticehurst.
The graph below has the Labor two party preferred vote for the seat, state and country over that time. It is adjusted for redistributions; the fact that the orange line is a little over 50 percent in 2001 indicates that under today’s boundaries Lee probably would have held it that year.
Ticehurst’s 2004 re-election was much more comfortable, but sophomore surge and personal vote, where a percent or several of voters supports whoever happens to be the member, would account for much of that.
Thomson won it back for Labor at the 2007 change of government election and, as with other new members in Eden-Monaro and Page, got another swing to him last year. The NSW machine took credit for these results but not, strangely, the seats they failed to hang on to. Let’s give them a bit of the credit, but also more to the sophomore surge.
(In the only other NSW seat to swing to Labor last year, Robertson, MP Belinda Neal had been disendorsed by the ALP. Neal had been well-known in the area as a serial Labor candidate foisted by Sussex Street. It’s possible she suppressed the 2007 Labor vote—which would account for their relatively good 2010 vote. The other NSW seats taken by the ALP in 2007, Bennelong, Lindsay and Macquarie, all in Sydney, swung to the Liberals last year.)
There is talk of a possible by-election in Dobell. If that happens, you would have to favour the Liberals to romp home.
Then the House of Representatives numbers would be 75 all. There seem to be various opinions about the likelihood of a subsequent change of government or fresh elections. (If the first comes about it will probably lead to the second.)
From the Gillard government’s point of view, the important element to consider is: if there is an election, which side will go to it as the government?
Oppositions are always, for the voter, a bit risky. This particularly applies to one led by Tony Abbott.
But if Abbott beomes prime minister before an election, the equation changes. Hey (people would think) Tony actually wears those prime ministerial robes pretty well; thank God the previous mob has departed.
The fear of the unknown would be gone, and the Coalition would, as now, be telling their story about deficits and debt and unbelievable economic irresponsibility, but they would be doing it from positions of authority.
The only comparison that comes to mind is 11 November 1975, when Malcolm Fraser became prime minister and Gough Whitlam was, suddenly, opposition leader again. Perceptions-wise, Whitlam’s sacking vindicated Fraser’s actions, but just as important was the fact that Fraser went to the December election as the incumbent.
If there is to be a by-election in Dobell, and it becomes apparent that a Liberal win would see a change of government, the Gillard government would do well to somehow engineer a fresh general election instead.
Labor would still probably lose an election in 2011 from government. But they might not. They would certainly lose one from opposition.
At any election the stature, the authority of incumbency is always a powerful advantage for governments, even the most unpopular ones. This will apply to the next one.
And once a party loses office it can be a very long time before they get it back.