Flat White

Labor chased Menzies' forgotten people - and won

24 May 2022

9:00 AM

24 May 2022

9:00 AM

Grief – that was my feeling on election night. It was not a new emotion. Grief has followed me these last two years as I mourned for a Liberal Party that abandoned its base of Menzies’ forgotten people. 

For two years, I watched as stalwarts of the Liberal Party fled to minor ‘freedom’ parties while the Liberal Party embraced big government and Woke agendas. The repercussions of the membership drain were severe, with the most visible impact being far fewer volunteers to man polling booths. 

At the most basic level, without a motivated base, there are no cheerleaders to inspire the swinging voters around them. 

Unlike Labor, the Liberal Party left the lessons from the last federal election’s narrow escape on the shelf. The Liberal Party’s 2019 Federal Election Review recommended a membership and volunteer drive and the development of a list of seats ‘targeted either as winnable marginal seats in the next election or winnable over two election cycles’ with ‘a particular focus in Victoria’. 

In my home state of Victoria, the electoral demographics are rapidly changing. While leftist media has focused on the loss of traditionally blue-ribbon seats like Kooyong, Higgins, and Goldstein to spin a narrative that the Liberal Party must lay down arms in the culture and climate wars, the actual voting data tells the real story.

Menzies’ forgotten people, who he described as ‘in the political and economic sense, the middle class’, are not to be found in the Higgins suburb of Toorak where the average house price is $5 million. They are in the outer suburbs in new housing developments where middle class, aspirational voters reside. Those areas are traditional Labor strongholds, but just as the demographics in Kooyong down to Goldstein have changed, so too have the demographics in Victoria’s outer west, north, and south-east. 

Despite putting candidates in the field just prior to the election being called, and with little campaign effort or resources deployed, the biggest swings to the Liberal Party in the country were in the Victorian seats of Calwell in the west (7.5 per cent swing) and Scullin in the north (6.3 per cent swing). 

There is a reason why the hoity-toity suburbs in Kooyong, Higgins, and Goldstein are no longer voting Liberal (a lesson which we should have learned at the last Victorian state election). The foundation of the Liberal Party, the values at its heart, are not designed for the upper class who can well look after themselves, but first and foremost for the voiceless middle class.

As Menzies said: 

‘In a country like Australia, the class war must always be a false war. But if we are to talk of classes, then the time has come to say something of the forgotten class – the middle class – those people who are constantly in danger of being ground between the upper and the nether millstones of the false war; the middle class who, properly regarded represent the backbone of this country.’

Unlike the Liberal Party, the Labor Party took to heart the lessons of the 2019 Federal election. In their post-election review, it was recommended that, ‘Labor should broaden its support base by improving its standing with economically insecure, low-income working families, groups within the Christian community, and Australians living in regional and rural Australia.’ In effect, in this election, Labor went after the votes of the forgotten people who the Liberal Party seemingly abandoned, and it paid off. 

My hope for the future of the Liberal Party is that it returns to its roots –  that it reclaims its place as the champion of the forgotten people. Those often quiet Australians…

The risk for the Liberal Party is that it continues to turn a deaf ear to its base and takes its cues from the likes of the ABC. Like a shark who has smelt blood in the water, they are trying to pin the Liberal Party’s woes on people like Katherine Deves to push their own Woke agenda. 

A little bit of a reality check – when the Prime Minister called the election on April 10, this was only a few weeks before the preselection for Warringah had been cancelled. The endorsement of his captain’s pick candidates was challenged not once, but twice in court. With anger that a plebiscite preselection had been thwarted, the internal undermining of Deves began, culminating in the leaking of her preselection application which included her home address. 

A target seat like Warringah should have had a candidate on the ground at least 12 months before an election. But here was a new party member with little exposure to internal machinations or Liberal campaigning, thrown in the deep end of a very high profile seat, having to cope with death threats while trying to win votes just weeks out from the election. With circumstances like this, she never stood a chance. 

Deves’ position on women in sports is not a controversial one. When asked in a leader’s debate to define ‘woman’, Albo stated, ‘an adult female’ and ScoMo said ‘a member of the female sex’. Neither would have linked womanhood to biological sex if the focus groups and campaign boffins had told them that this would lose rather than gain them votes. 

Tasmania Senator, Claire Chandler, has been campaigning to save women’s sport for some time now, and even put up the Sex Discrimination and Other Legislation Amendment (Save Women’s Sport) Bill 2022 shortly before the election. Yet no one from the ABC is acknowledging this when noting that in three out of five Tasmanian seats, the Liberal Party vote increased. 

In the next few months, there will inevitably be another Federal Election Review. This time, for everyone’s sake, let us hope that the Liberal Party does not allow it merely to gather dust on the shelf, but rather that it takes heed of the lessons of this election and remembers, once more, the forgotten people. 

Karina Okotel is a former Federal Vice President of the Liberal Party

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