Perils of prediction

The observation “Prediction is risky, especially about the future”, attributed to US baseball legend Yogi Berra, is true for more reasons than one. The obvious risk is that events may prove you wrong. But there’s a also the risk that your prediction may be misrepresented, a risk that’s particularly severe when you have enemies like the Murdoch Press. I courted this risk by being too cute with my prediction after the 2007 election, which began

The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election.

I followed up immediately with

This isn’t a prediction of unending Labor rule, rather an observation that the Liberal and National parties are in such dire straits that they can’t continue as they are. They haven’t got enough support, parliamentary representation or ideas for one party, let alone two.

The obvious option is a merger

but the damage was done.

The first sentence has been quoted by various rightwing bloggers, and most recently in the Daily Telegraph[1], as a suggestion that the conservatives would never get back in.

So, contrary to the claims of the Tele, the fact that the merged Liberal Nationals won in Queensland is a confirmation the prediction in the post. The post also predicted the defeat of the NSW Labor government in 2011, but I thought it unlikely, unless “things go badly wrong for Rudd or for one of the state governments” that the conservatives would win before then.

In fact, of course things have gone very badly for Rudd, and Labor has made catastrophic mistakes at every level. Nevertheless the prediction wasn’t far off the mark with Labor winning five state and territory elections and (by the narrowest of margins) one federal election, and losing two over the relevant period.

At the federal level, the idea of a merger seems to have died, though the current situation is absurd . The National Party leaders in both the House and Senate are members of the merged LNP in Queensland. Still, it seems likely that this misshapen coalition will win the next Federal election. If that happens, I will gracefully admit that my prediction was wrong. But until then, to use another US sporting catchphrase, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”.

Since people don’t follow links, I’ll reproduce the entire post here

For once, my electoral predictions haven’t turned out too badly, so I’ll offer one more before we get back to policy: The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election.

This isn’t a prediction of unending Labor rule, rather an observation that the Liberal and National parties are in such dire straits that they can’t continue as they are. They haven’t got enough support, parliamentary representation or ideas for one party, let alone two.

The obvious option is a merger, but there may be other, more radical realignments in the wings. With no incumbent governments, there’s no real obstacle to a merger, except for entrenched interests in the party machines. But, in many ways, it would be better for the conservatives to start a completely new party, leaving their toxic existing structures to collapse.

I’d welcome this. Governments need to be kept in check. That requires an effective opposition, and a serious prospect of losing office. We’re already feeling the lack of this at the state level.

Update Apparently, Peter Costello agrees.

Further update Some commenters have objected that this is too strong a call to make on the basis of one 53-47 election. But of course that’s only part of it. The picture at the State level is far worse. The conservatives haven’t won a state or territory election this century, and have suffered landslide defeats at the hands of Labor governments, some of which have been mediocre at best. Of course, things could go badly wrong for Rudd or for one of the state governments. But if they don’t, it’s hard to see the Libs getting back in anywhere before the next NSW election due in 2011, and that depends on the most dysfunctional party organisation in the country getting its act together

Why did I present the prediction in a way that was so open to misrepresentation? I was following up a 2004 post on the Queensland election, when I wrote “Even though the Nationals have held office for most of the past fifty years, I don’t think we’ll ever see another National Party premier” and followed up with “barring disasters, it will take three more elections for Labor to lose. The Liberals need one to become a credible party rather than a trivial joke, a second to become the leading opposition party, and a third to beat Labor.” Except for omitting the possibility of a merger, which didn’t seem to be on the cards at the time, this has turned out exactly correct

Overall, then, my predictions on this have been reasonably accurate. And, looking at the current performance of the Liberals and Nationals, I don’t see any reason to change my assessment of them. But of course, that’s small consolation when you look at the utterly suicidal and electorally disastrous things Labor has done – privatisation in NSW and Queensland, reopening links with Brian Burke in WA, and the Gillard coup at the Federal level (the real damage here was done when Gillard and Swan forced Rudd to dump the CPRS, but the coup is what people remember).

fn1. I thought perhaps the Tele had got the quote at second hand, which would be semi-excusable, but they quote another sentence from further down the post, so they are deliberately lying, which is par for the course.

30 thoughts on “Perils of prediction

  1. The greatest stuff up must be the privatisation of Telatra – after flogging it off to whoever was willing to pay the various prices taxpayers are now having to pay for a new network, one that ostensibly serves the customer not the shareholder (and as a shareholder I now benefit from the taxpayer payments to TLS for some of the copper).

  2. Yes, Telstra was an amazing stuff up. Plenty insiders and outsiders made a lot of money out of the process, but the public got a substandard telecommunications system years behind what it ought to have been. So much for the clever country.

  3. The Liberals will be around and doing fine for a while yet; the willingness of Australian voters to choose illusions over science based reality looks to be boundless. Even when the mining Ponzi schemes run their course those Green/Left ‘Flakes’ will be there to blame and the solution – to continue to do what can’t work for the long term but do it even harder – will be as popular as ever.

  4. You can’t be serious. Your comment was not in the least open to misrepresentation. The most charitable construction of it to yourself is that the conservative parties could never again win an election without the most radical overhaul, and the beginning of it would be a merger (presumably of the Liberal and National parties, but that is again a benign interpretation).
    Your prediction was of course laughably wrong, and your attempt to cover it up is pathetic, risible.

    Are you, like Robert Manne and Clive Hamilton, a soi-disant intellectual?

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