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  • John McDonnell

The Liberal support base crumbles

The pandemic and the Sydney lockdown have put enormous pressure on the federal Liberal party, and it is beginning to crumble. The rats are deserting the sinking ship.

The first to go was conservative maverick John Ruddick. He has been banging on for years about the need for reform in the Liberal party to give rank and file members more power. He has now defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Ruddick has been followed by Ross Cameron, who has agreed to stand for the Lib Dems in the Senate. Cameron was a minister in the Howard government who resigned in ignominious circumstances. He subsequently became a regular on Sky News ‘Outsiders’ program but was eventually removed for views that were too extreme even for that anti-woke show.

These two defections were irritants but the coup de grace is the defection of Campbell Newman to stand as a Lib Dem senate candidate in Queensland. As Peta Credlin has pointed out, Newman is Liberal party royalty. Both his parents were Liberal party ministers, he was twice Lord Mayor of Brisbane and became premier of Queensland after a landslide victory. He has also been a member of the Liberal party executive.

Newman has become the focal point for a collection of senior conservative liberals, such as Senator Gerard Rennick, who are becoming increasingly unhappy about the way the Morrison government is moving towards the centre.

He has delivered a manifesto that accuses the government of eroding freedoms, engaging in wasteful spending, and deferring to climate change activists.

Government backbenchers are also concerned about the prominence being accorded to the premiers especially the Labor premiers who use their positions to undermine the government. They are fed up with the fact that premiers are involved in making decisions and they are presented with ‘faits accompli’ that they have to go out and sell even though they disagree with them. The danger for Scott Morrison is that these members will shed supporters who are the lifeblood of an election campaign.

In the meantime, Scott Morrison is in deep trouble in Western Sydney, a location where he was hopeful of winning seats.

The ABC’s David Speers has reported on a focus group of soft Liberal and Labor voters he was given access to. Among the comments about the prime minister, Speers reports are:

“He's just MIA when we really need somebody",
"he's wishy-washy and keeps changing his rhetoric",
"it's hard to trust him",
"he bet too heavily on one vaccine and stuffed it up"

— these were just some of the frazzled and frustrated views. Speers continues:

“Worse still, some in the group brought up the infamous holiday in Hawaii during the Black Summer bushfires and Scott Morrison's missteps over the issues of sexual harassment and the treatment of women earlier this year.”

It is pretty clear that the citizens of Sydney are fed up with the lockdown and they have bought Labor’s line that the prime minister is to blame.

According to Speers, when the western Sydney focus group was asked this week if they thought the Prime Minister had a plan, the only response was laughter. Morrison needs to turn that into confidence and hope.

Over the coming weeks, National Cabinet will be trying to reach an agreement on what vaccination thresholds must be met to avoid the threat of shutdowns and border closures. The numbers are in from The Doherty Institute, but finding a consensus won't be easy.

It is likely the carpers will attempt to turn the plan to ease restrictions into more chaos in order to undermine the prime minister. He must exert his authority if he wants to survive.


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