Political parties that lack professionalism can only win by luck. On the evidence from the McPherson preselection, the Liberal Party should hope it has a lot of luck, because it is completely lacking in professionalism. The whole thing was a debacle from start to finish. Here is a list of the basic errors made by both the parliamentary Liberal Party and the LNP organisation (and as the LNP is a division of the Liberal Party, they are the same thing).
- Allowing Dutton to vacate Dickson. This is the least serious as there is a good case to be argued for allowing members with skills to swap seats to preserve their parliamentary careers. This argument is mitigated by the small negative margin that Dutton faced in Dickson (notionally just over 1% to the ALP), and the incompetence in finding him a new seat.
- Not sorting out the power brokers in McPherson properly. Apparently Margaret May had agreed to go, but like many federal members she did not control her area. This appears to have been under the influence of two women: state politician, Jan Stuckey, and ex-state politician – Judy Gamin. Neither supported Dutton’s move. In fact Gamin wrote a blistering email to Party President Bruce McIver which was leaked to the Gold Coast Bulletin opposing the move. You cannot make a gift of something to someone if you don’t own it.
- Dutton seems to have taken his success more or less for granted. While a number of the less-favoured candidates were campaigning by phone, email and in person Dutton appears to have been conducting his campaign via the pages of the Gold Coast Bulletin. That’s not how you win internal votes. Added to that he attended a shadow cabinet meeting in Adelaide in the last week, demonstrating that he had his priorities completely wrong. To be a power in Canberra he needs a seat.
- Lacking control of the management. State President Bruce McIver was apparently party to the deal to move Dutton, yet the state executive members who attended the preselection actually split against Dutton. So, not only couldn’t he deliver on the ground amongst the rank and file, but the management of the party wasn’t onside with the move either.
- Malcolm Turnbull and the federal party should have been involved before the preselection, not after. Turnbull would object that he provided a letter of support to Dutton, but nothing beats hitting the phones and talking to preselectors and power-brokers. In the event Turnbull has now issued an edict that Dutton must be found a seat, putting his own credibility on the line for something over which he has no control. Federal leaders are best delivering these sorts of edicts behind closed doors rather than via doorstop or media release.
- Allowing the LNP merger to go ahead in the first place. A demonstration as to how damaging this has been is the claims that Dutton lost because he was a Liberal. This is completely nonsensical given that one of the camps opposed to him centred on former Liberal Jan Stuckey who was supporting former Liberal Party adviser Minna Knight, but demonstrates how poisonous relations within the party are. And has anyone any idea how Barnaby Joyce knows which side of the bed to sleep on at night. One minute he is pushing the National Party to differentiate or disappear, the next he is laying the law down to Turnbull on a Liberal Party preselection. This is the sort of cross-dressing that the camel masquerading as a horse called the LNP facilitates. This will provide great fodder for the ALP in Queensland at the next state election.
The only way the party is going to save face from this is to organise a seat for Dutton. That won’t be easy. Dutton is being picky – he apparently won’t consider Wright which is a neighbouring seat to McPherson and notionally Liberal. In which case, the options are to get Peter Slipper or Alex Somlyay to vacate their Sunshine Coast seats. Both have been in parliament long enough to qualify for their pensions, so might be amenable, and neither is likely to get significant promotion in the future. However, they have to be persuaded because under the LNP constitution they were automatically re-preselected for their seats for this election. This was a deal that was done to get the merger done and keep sitting MPs onside.
As they say, if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country. The Liberal Party at all levels desperately needs a dose of competence. Not sure where they can buy that!