There is one big takeaway from the Eden-Monaro by-election for Labor leader Anthony Albanese, and it’s not great, whether the ALP ends up winning or losing.
Labor’s primary vote is down.
What that tells you is that whatever Anthony Albanese has been doing in the year since Bill Shorten lost the unlosable election, it isn’t shifting the dial much on Labor’s biggest problem – its baseline vote.
When the Australian Electoral Commission halted the count late on Saturday night, Labor’s primary vote had gone backwards by 2.8 per cent.
That is in the seat where Prime Minister Scott Morrison was famously serenaded with unprintable words when he turned up in Cobargo during the bushfires, having been busted on a family holiday to Hawaii.
That should worry Labor MPs. What happens if Scott Morrison is tempted to go to an early election?
The only real upside for Labor is it gives the party a chance to take a long, hard look at its direction.
Mr Albanese can’t walk away from the result. He spent weeks campaigning for Eden-Monaro and was front and centre on Saturday night, delivering a lengthy preamble before the Labor candidate herself, Kristy McBain, got to talk.
Ms McBain, the former mayor of Bega and a strong candidate, appeared to be on the verge of tears as she declared the result was too close to call and vowed to keep fighting for the bushfire-ravaged community.
She should stop blaming herself for a result that says more about the longstanding challenges the ALP faces than her candidacy.
No doubt Labor will trot out the usual excuses.
The circumstances leading to the by-election, with sitting MP Mike Kelly retiring and taking his brand recognition with him, was always likely to see Ms McBain fighting to reclaim ground.
But she was a good and energetic candidate, and was certainly more high profile than her Liberal rival Fiona Kotvojs, who appeared to spend the majority of the election in witness protection.
Less appeared to be more for the Kotvojs campaign – along with plenty of posters of the Prime Minister.
But the result is also a reminder that Mr Morrison’s rising personal popularity as he leads the country through the coronavirus pandemic will not always translate into votes on the ground.
The Liberal primary vote went up, but by a fraction of around 1 per cent.
But the result is also a reminder that Scott Morrison’s personal popularity, which has risen sharply as he’s led the country through the COVID-19 pandemic, will not always translate into votes on the ground.
The Liberal primary vote went up, but only by about 1 per cent.
The idea that a marginal seat is won or lost on the personal popularity of a prime minister alone, or that Mr Morrison’s rising personal approval ratings meant an incumbent government could easily take a seat off the opposition in a by-election, was always risible.