Think The Wentworth Loss Was Shocking? The Blame Game Will Be Brutal

Not the most optimistic Liberal hater -- or the most pessimistic Liberal diehard -- predicted it.

Kerryn Phelps knew she’d have to make history to carry Wentworth, given the swing required of 17 percent.

She got there in a canter. As vote counting paused on Saturday night, the swing was running well over 20 percent.

So who’s to blame?

A protester dressed as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is seen at a polling place at Bellevue Hill, Sydney, Saturday, October 20, 2018.

On the Sky News coverage, Malcolm Turnbull’s former staffer Chris Kenny had no doubt. It was his former boss who deserved the party’s outrage.

The former PM, he argued, had betrayed the party by quitting and forcing the by-election. The ultimate act of treachery.

But defeated candidate Dave Sharma didn’t see it that way -- and nor did the Liberal volunteers gathering for the wake. Sharma got his biggest cheers in paying tribute to Turnbull.

So, was Scott Morrison to blame? He has certainly been punished. He must now try to build a case for re-election while carrying the stench of the voters’ revolt.

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But imagine what the progressives of Wentworth would have done if Peter Dutton was leading the party. The primary vote would barely have made single figures.

One line already being put about in government circles is that the Coalition can afford to lose Wentworth. It cannot afford to lose Queensland.

This is shorthand for the view that if the Coalition can sandbag the Big-C Conservative seats against attack from further right, it will hold up ok even if it loses more socially progressive seats in the cities.

If they truly believe that, they can give up on the pretense the Liberal Party is a “broad church” alternative to unions and the Greens.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) embraces Liberal candidate Dave Sharma prior to his concession speech, at the Liberal Party Wentworth by-election function in Double Bay, Sydney. (image: AAP)

Tony Abbott in Warringah on the other shore of Sydney Harbour holds an electorate that is not so different to Wentworth. Even as he crows at vanquishing Turnbull, might he be catching a whiff of his own political mortality.

The winners’ list is clearly headed by Kerryn Phelps. Others who might reasonably be cheering include Liberal women. The penny must surely be dropping that ignoring women is self-defeating for any party aspiring to lead a country.

And don’t forget National Party leader Michael McCormack.

He’s clearly under pressure, but the Nationals might stay their hand as they contemplate the electorate cost of more leadership chaos.

Among the losers: Peter Dutton. He ran the attack on Malcolm Turnbull, only to fall short. He now faces a Parliament where the numbers become more hostile to him, if Labor tries again to refer him to the High Court over his ChildCare Centre interests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (centre), addresses the Liberal Party Wentworth by-election function, as Treasurer and Deputy Liberal Leader Josh Frydenberg (left) and candidate Dave Sharma look on, in Double Bay, Sydney (Image: AAP)

The blame-finding is already underway within the government and will not end quickly. The first voting trends were barely in before Liberal Moderate Trent Zimmerman claimed they show “we need to do more on climate change.”

The most obvious loser was Liberal candidate Dave Sharma. But the former Ambassador with the famously big brain emerged with his dignity largely intact.

His concession speech was gracious in the extreme. He praised Dr Phelps, the former AMA President, as a “formidable Australian” who has already given much service to the country.

Showing he was a mile removed from the customary nastiness of politics, Sharma then pledged to do “whatever I can do to support her” in her new role as Wentworth MP.

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It was the act of a genuine diplomat. If he gets another run in less hostile times he will serve the nation well.

But on October 20, 2018, he was roadkill.

While the Liberal Party tries to avoid being slaughtered en masse in the real contest just a few months away.