If the weekend’s Victorian state election made anything totally clear it was that if you want accurate information about a likely election outcome it is probably best not to turn to most of the pundits or the media.
Right up until the last minute most of the media was saying the election was too tight to call and the result may not be known until a week or so after the election, despite the last minute polls suggesting the probability of Labor winning was at least 60% and possibly higher. Indeed, the only part of the speculation which was vaguely right was that a few close seat results won’t be known until later in the week.
The online newsletter, crikey, had the honour of being home to both the most accurate prediction and the one widest of the mark. William Bowe, the Poll Bludger, http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/11/28/poll-bludger-the-top-five-victorian-bellwether-seats/ , got it right and even forecast the probability of Labor winning at about 90%. Charles Richardson http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/10/16/why-the-greens-are-eating-the-alps-lunch-a-tale-of-two-trivia-nights/ managed to assert that Labor wasn’t running an effective grass roots campaign and totally missed the fact that thousands of Labor and union volunteers made more than 600,000 phone calls and knocked on quarter of million doors – particularly in marginal seats – during the campaign. If you are a crikey subscriber you can not only read the Richardson thoughts but also see his reaction when the blog and others pointed out he was wrong. Richardson also dismissed Sportsbet’s decision to pay out on early bets on Labor before the election as “a gimmick”. Well it was a gimmick but a well calculated one which was a better indicator of the result than Richardson’s musings about how the Coalition could still win and pick up regional and country seats.
And speaking of country seats, perhaps the greatest irony of the campaign was the probable Shepparton win by independent Suzanna Sheed, using a very similar strategy to that which launched the long years of National Party dominance of the Shepparton seat. Peter Ross-Edwards, fondly known as the Possum and/or PRE, was first elected for Shepparton on 29 April 1967. At Peter’s State funeral Bill Baxter, former MLA and MLC and currently Nationals State President, recounted the story of that 1967 election. They realised early that Peter wouldn’t win on first preferences and the campaign aimed at getting as many people as possible to give him their second preferences. Bill said that in one pub they went into some of the drinkers were calling out “here’s Mister Number 2” reflecting the campaign slogan of vote 2 Peter Ross-Edwards. And it worked so well that a local solicitor, widely admired and respected throughout the community, made the seat so safe that he could rely on significant support from demographic areas which would normally vote Labor as well as that from his natural supporters.
Now Suzanna Sheed seems to have used the same tactic and, if elected, will get in on the second preferences of most other candidates. And she has done it without the advantage of a candidate or sitting member as unpopular as the Indi MP Sophie Mirabella who lost her seat in 2013 to an independent, Cathy McGowan. Just as the blog always likes to remind readers of Keith Windschuttle’s Maoist background, it also can’t mention Ms Mirabella without also mentioning that teachers from her days at school remembered her so vividly that they banded together to donate money to her opponent.
Shepparton, during the SPC Ardmona controversy, was also an indicator of how tuned in to political facts beyond the moment some of the media actually are. The Federal Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce was busily stating that the Federal Government ought not intervene in SPC while the argument for support was mounted on behalf of the staff by one Sarah Ross-Edwards. The metropolitan media didn’t pick up on the possible angle suggested by her name.
Declaration of interest: Peter Ross-Edwards was a Director of the blog’s company and made possible its first interstate acquisition.