After any state election with a decisive outcome, partisan analysis shows a predictable pattern. On the losing side, the state party blames its federal counterpart, while the feds say that the election was decided on state issues. On the winning side, there is generally enough credit to go around, with the state party basking in success, while the federal party (particularly if it is in opposition) points to the outcome as a “message to Canberra”.
The recent Victorian election is, I think, rather different. That’s because, on the conservative side at least, the usual state-based issues (health, education, roads) were disregarded in favour of a culture war campaign almost identical to that being run by the Morrison government at the national level and by the political right globally. Notable examples were an overtly racist law and order campaign, a revival of the drug war, and proposals for publicly funded coal-fired power stations aimed at appealing to climate science denialists. Guy’s slogan “get back in control” could just as well have been used by Donald Trump, or by the rightwing advocates of Brexit.
The stunning rejection of Guy’s campaign gives some hope that Australian voters will not fall for this. In part, that’s because Labor ran on its traditional strength at the state level. But the outcome was very similar to Morrison’s drubbing in the Wentworth by-election, where the state level advantage didn’t apply.
It’s only one election, but it’s one of a number, notably including the recent US midterms, where the supposed irresistible force of rightwing identity politics has proved to be not so irresistible after all. It’s too early to start cheering, but it now looks possible that, in a few years time, the whole rightwing upsurge will prove to have been the final spasm of the losing side in the culture wars. The question then will be how to build a better world from the mess we will inherit.