It takes a brave pundit to predict the outcome of the Wentworth bi-election just days before the votes are cast, but the actual outcome, either way, will be less interesting than the swing away from the government, the fallout from which, will be what determines its fate between now and next May.
A loss in Wentworth will mean the loss of the government’s one seat majority in the lower house. That, as proven by Julia Gillard, is manageable, depending on PM Scott Morrison’s negotiating skills.
Mind you, Scott Morrison is no Julia Gillard when it comes to securing passage of vital legislation through a hung parliament, but having said that, the government could survive a loss as it limped toward a May 2019 general election.
A narrow win in Wentworth, however, throws up a far more interesting situation. The government would retain its paper-thin majority, but at what cost to morale?
The ramifications of falling from what was a 17% comfort zone to a 2-3% nail-biting margin or thereabouts, is a frightening prospect for a party that has dozens of seats sitting on much smaller margins.
While a loss would precipitate a tremor of a most significant magnitude through the entire party, a narrow win would be just as scary, as various members are forced to consider their individual fates in a not-to-far-away general election environment.
For many, it would be the beginning of a downhill slide in confidence and poise from which they would be unlikely to recover. Morale would sink, blame would be apportioned, infighting would escalate and there would be very little effective governing of the nation going on.
One might envisage the press finally beginning to read the tea leaves and paying more attention to Bill Shorten and his highly visible team. Labor, in such a scenario, would begin to dominate the agenda. For the past two years, following their narrow election loss, Labor have barely put a foot wrong.
Various polls have had them as the preferred government for all that time. For the most part, they have been a model of discipline and attention to detail. They have been conspicuous in their policy development announcing well costed, highly detailed initiatives at regular intervals.
Doubtless the anti-Labor forces in the media would soon bear down upon them, spruiking doom and gloom for the nation as they continued to rant and rave, doing whatever they could to bring Bill Shorten to heel. But when you think about it, they have been doing that now for the past five years with little or no impact.
And they have done it because they have nothing to celebrate in their own camp, in the way of any Coalition government achievements. After five years, there is nothing of substance about which either they, or their government, could boast.
The Coalition is, and always has been, a policy vacuum. One suspects that the voters in the Wentworth bi-election have already worked that out and will effectively anoint them as lame ducks.
Let’s wait until Monday until we draw any definitive conclusions about the government’s fate, but the fallout from a loss or a narrow win, won’t give any of them any joy.