UK North Shropshire by-election minus two days

Conservatives slumping in polls over sleaze scandals. Also: coverage of developments in the US, France, Germany and New Zealand.

Live Commentary

3:55pm The Lib Dems have GAINED North Shropshire by more than a 15% margin over the Conservatives. This will be very bad for Johnson’s standing among Conservative MPs, but it was hardly a good result for Labour; their vote was down over 12% from 2019.

1:28pm Friday: Turnout in North Shropshire is 46.3%, down 21.6% on the 2019 general election. A Lib Dem source is claiming they will win by at least 1,000 votes.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

A UK parliamentary by-election will occur in Conservative-held North Shropshire, with polls closing at 9am AEDT Friday. This seat has voted Conservative at every election since the 1830s, and voted Leave at the 2016 Brexit referendum by 60-40. In 2019, the Conservatives won by 63-22 over Labour with 10% for the Liberal Democrats. Despite finishing third, the Lib Dems are seen as bigger threats in the by-election.

Local MP Owen Paterson resigned in early November after it was found he breached paid advocacy rules by working for two companies. The Conservative government initially protected him by overruling the independent commission, but was forced into a u-turn by a public backlash. The initial protection was a blunder as it drew attention to other shady practices by Conservative MPs.

The 2020 Downing Street Christmas party, held during lockdown, has further damaged the Conservatives. Even normally pro-Conservative newspapers savaged Boris Johnson. An Opinium poll had Johnson’s net approval crashing 14 points to -35, from what was already a record low approval in late November, and 57% said he should resign.

From January, the Conservatives held a significant lead, but fell into a tie with Labour after the Paterson fiasco. The Christmas party scandal has given Labour a high single-digit lead, with ten polls in the last week having Labour ahead by 4-9 points. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK is up to 7% in two polls owing to opposition to vaccine mandates.

A by-election was held in Old Bexley last fortnight, with the Conservatives retaining by a 51.5-30.9 margin over Labour, down from 64.5-23.5 in 2019. 99 Conservative MPs rebelled against vaccine mandates for entry to large venues in a Commons vote Tuesday, and it was only carried with Labour support. Left-wing Labour MPs and the Lib Dems were also opposed.

US: Democrats make legislative progress, but Biden’s ratings still poor

Shortly after Democrats’ dire performance in the November 2 Virginia and New Jersey elections, the US House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIB) by 228-206, with 13 Republicans supporting while six left-wing Democrats were opposed owing to decoupling from the Democratic infrastructure bill (DIB). The BIB had already passed the Senate, so it became law with Joe Biden’s signature.

Later in November, the House passed the DIB, and this can pass the Senate with a simple majority using “reconciliation”. While Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are concerns for their party in a 50-50 Senate, it’s likely the DIB will pass by early next year. Congress has also averted an early December government shutdown and a mid-December debt limit default.

Biden’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate have improved slightly in the last fortnight to 50.7% disapprove, 43.3% approve (net -7.4). His ratings are poor owing to US inflation, which was up 0.8% in November for a 12-month rate of 6.8%, the highest since 1982. As a result, real wages were down 1.9% over the last 12 months.

French, German and New Zealand developments

The first round of the French presidential election will be held April 10 with a runoff between the top two candidates on April 24 in the likely event nobody wins a first round majority. After winning the nomination for the conservative Les Republicains on December 4, Valérie Pécresse has surged in the polls to be just ahead of the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, behind incumbent Emmanuel Macron. In runoff match-ups, Macron easily leads Le Pen, but is barely ahead of Pécresse.

On December 8, more than two months after the September 26 German election, a new government was formed. The government will be a coalition of the centre-left SPD, the Greens and the pro-business FDP, and will have a combined 416 of the 736 parliamentary seats. The conservative CDU/CSU had been a party of government for the previous 16 years under former chancellor Angela Merkel.

A New Zealand Morgan poll, conducted during November, had Labour and the Greens trailing National, ACT and Maori by a combined 47-46.5, the first time Labour plus Greens have trailed since before COVID hit. The right-wing ACT won just 0.5% of the party vote at the 2017 election, but surged to 7.6% in 2020, and was up to a record 17.5% in this poll.

Morgan: 56.5-43.5 to Labor

The last Morgan poll for the year maintains its recent form with a huge lead for Labor. Also: the fortnightly Essential Research and more Victorian state polling.

What is presumably the last Morgan federal voting intention poll for the year maintains the recent trend of this series in favour of Labor with a 56.5-43.5 lead on two-party preferred, out further from 55.5-44.5 last time. Also as per usual with this series, this credits Labor with what seems an improbably strong flow of preferences, the primary votes being Coalition 34.5% (down one), Labor 36% (up half), Greens 12.5% (up half) and One Nation 3.5% (steady). A result is provided for the United Australia Party for the first time, and it’s all of 1%.

The state-level two-party preferred breakdowns include a number of eyebrow-raisers, with Labor leading 55.5-44.5 in New South Wales (unchanged on the last poll, for a swing to Labor of around 8% compared with the 2019 election; 58.5-41.5 in Victoria (out from 58-42, a swing of around 5.5%); 54.5-45.5 in Queensland (out from 51.5-45.5, a swing of 13%); 50.5-49.5 in Western Australia (in from 53.5-46.5, a swing of around 6% and 64.5-35.5 in South Australia (out from 55.5-44.5, a swing of 14%). The Tasmanian result, from a particularly meagre sample, lands well off the path at 51.5-48.5 in favour of the Liberals, a swing in their favour of around 7.5%. The poll was conducted over the past two weekends from an online and phone sample of 2805.

Also out this week was the fortnightly Essential Research survey, on this occasion offering neither voting intention nor leadership approval. The regular question on COVID-19 management found the federal government’s good rating up two to 47% and bad down four to 25%, its best result since July. The New South Wales government’s good rating was down one to 56%, Victoria’s was up one to 51%, Queensland’s was down four to 56%, South Australia’s was up nine to 60% and Western Australia’s was down five to 74%, small sample sizes being the order of the day in the case of the last few.

The poll also finds 34% agreeing with Scott Morrison’s attack on ICAC over Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation with 31% disagreeing and 36% on the fence. However, 53% supported the establishment of a federal commission, with no indication of how many were actively opposed. Other questions find 61% in favour of compulsory vaccination for all adults without a medical exemption, with only 20% opposed, and 28% support for the proposition that governments should on no account impose lockdowns, with 48% opposed. Forty-nine per cent want more evidence on omicron before changing requirements and restrictions, compared with 34% who want proactive tightening and 16% no change regardless. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1094.

Also out this week was a Redbridge Group poll Victorian state poll for the Herald Sun that targeted eight marginal seats: Eureka (formerly Wendouree), Eltham, Brighton, Bentleigh, Evelyn, Carrum, Kalkallo (formerly Yuroke) and Melton. This was rather less good for Labor than other recent polling, with primary votes of Labor 36% (down 9.5% from the results in these seats at the 2018 election, adjusted as appropriate for the new redistribution), Liberal 28.8% (down 2.3%), the Greens 8% (down 0.7%) and, strikingly 8% for the United Australia Party and 5% for One Nation, neither of whom contested last time, quite apart from an unchanged 11% for independents and other minor parties. The latter development makes preference projections particularly uncertain, but a result is provided of 54-46 to Labor, a swing against them of around 4%. The poll was conducted November 26 to 28 from a sample of 2442.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

A boost to Anthony Albanese’s personal ratings, but otherwise steady as she goes from the last Newspoll of the year.

As reported by The Australian, the final Newspoll for the year records Labor’s two-party lead unchanged at 53-47, from primary votes of Coalition 36%, Labor 38% (steady), Greens 10% (down one) and One Nation 3% (up one). Scott Morrison’s personal ratings are unchanged at 44% approval and 52% disapproval, while Anthony Albanese are respectively up two to 39% and down three to 45%. The report says Morrison is down one on preferred prime minister to 45% and Albanese is down two to 36%. The poll also finds 47% expect Labor to win the election compared with 37% for the Coalition. It was conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1518.

A woman’s place

More on Pearce preselection prospects, another parliamentary retirement announcement, and a poll suggesting WA voters favour Tanya Plibersek over Anthony Albanese.

After an eventful conclusion to the year’s parliamentary sittings, more retirement announcements and preselection news, plus an opinion poll of sorts.

• The Financial Review reports there are two leading candidates to replace Christian Porter as the Liberal candidate in Pearce: Libby Lyons, former director of the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (and granddaughter of Joseph and Enid Lyons), and Nicole Robbins, a Melville councillor and high school teacher. No mention is made of Miquela Riley and Alyssa Hayden, who featured in a report in The West Australian on Thursday. Michael Read of the Financial Review reports former state Hillarys MP Peter Katsambanis has indicated he would have been a contender had not the state government’s “heavy-handed” border restrictions left him stranded in Melbourne, but he would have had to contend with the party leadership’s clear preference that a woman be selected to succeed Porter.

Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review reports Christian Porter’s decision to jump ship was influenced by internal polling for his seat that was, according to a source familiar with the matter, “not good”. However, the remainder of the report emphasises Labor’s hard path to a majority: the Coalition “claim they will hold Bass and Braddon in Tasmania”, “feels comfortable in all-important Queensland but may lose at least one seat”, and “believe they can win Lyons in Tasmania and, if Andrew Constance is preselected, Gilmore in southern NSW”. Elsewhere in the Financial Review, Michael Read of the Financial Review reports both parties expect Labor to win the Melbourne seat of Chisholm from Gladys Liu.

• Damian Drum, who has held the rural Victorian seat of Nicholls (known before 2019 as Murray) for the Nationals since 2016, has announced he will not contest the election. Rob Harris of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberals now hope to recover the seat, which Drum won upon the retirement of Liberal member Sharman Stone. Anticipated Nationals preselection candidates are Sam Birrell, former chief executive of the Committee for Shepparton; Michael Dobbie, former paralympian and staffer to Liberal MP Jane Prentice and Nationals MP Darren Chester; and Amanda McClaren, former Strathbogie Shire mayor. The only Liberal mentioned is Stephen Brooks, a “Cobram school teacher, irrigator and former international commodities trader”. Rob Priestly, Greater Shepparton deputy mayor and co-owner of an industrial laundry firm in Shepparton, recently announced he would run as an independent.

• The Katina Curtis of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberals have pushed back the closure of nominations for the Warringah preselection to January 14, in the hope that Gladys Berejiklian might yet agree to run, and also in Parramatta, where the Liberals are hoping the retirement of sitting member Julie Owens will help them knock over the 3.5% Labor margin. State Parramatta MP Geoff Lee has thus far resisted entreaties to run, which have displeased Dominic Perrottet, who would sooner avoid further by-elections.

• The West Australian has a poll by Painted Dog Research in which 801 Western Australian respondents were presented with a four-way preferred prime minister question, putting Scott Morrison at 41%, Tanya Plibersek at 32%, Anthony Albanese at 22% and Peter Dutton at 4%. Plibersek led Morrison by 41% to 36% among women, while Morrison led 47% to 25% among men. When asked who they trusted more out of the Premier and the Prime Minister, Mark McGowan scored 78% and Morrison 22%. Here too there was a significant gender gap, with McGowan’s lead of 71-29 among men comparing with 86-14 among women.

Affairs of state:

Antony Green notes on Twitter that South Australia’s parliament has adjourned ahead of the election without having corrected the legislative anomaly that means pre-poll votes are not counted on election night, which is now unique to the state. As a result, the election night count will be “quick, over early, but will be very incomplete with no guarantee we will know the outcome until the declaration votes start being counted on the Monday after the election”.

Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports Bridget Sakr, who has gained prominence as a victims support advocate since her daughter and three of her cousins were killed after in February last year after a ute mounted the kerb, is considering an approach from the New South Wales Liberals to run in the looming Strathfield by-election. The seat is being vacated with the retirement of ousted Labor leader Jodi McKay, who held the seat by 5.0% in 2019.

Pearce off

Important Liberal preselections loom in Christian Porter’s seat and, by all accounts, Greg Hunt’s. Also: voter identification laws off the table for now.

A lot of news at the moment concerning matters pertinent to this blog, with Christian Porter announcing yesterday he will not contest the election, Greg Hunt universally expected to follow suit with today’s last parliamentary sitting day of the year, and voter identification legislation scuttled after a deal between government and opposition.

Annabel Hennessy of The West Australian reports a nominee has already come forward for Liberal preselection in Christian Porter’s loseable northern Perth seat of Pearce: Miquela Riley, a former naval officer and current PwC Australia manager who performed a thankless task as the party’s candidate for Fremantle at the March state election. Other potential nominees identified are Libby Lyons, former director of the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and Alyssa Hayden, who held the state seat of Darling Range from 2018 until her defeat in March and was earlier in the Legislative Council from 2009 to 2017.

• The most widely named successor to Greg Hunt as Liberal candidate for the Victorian seat of Flinders is Zoe McKenzie, an NBN Co director and former chief-of-staff to Abbott-Turnbull government Trade Minister Andrew Robb. The Age reports other potential starters are Mark Brudenell, chief-of-staff at Latitude Financial and former adviser to Malcolm Turnbull as both Communications Minister and Prime Minister, and Simon Breheny, former Institute of Public Affairs policy director.

• A deal between government and opposition has resulted in the abandonment of plans to introduce voter identification at the coming election. In exchange, Labor has agreed to support a bill that will halve the expenditure threshold at which third parties will have to file disclosure returns, over the objections of critics who argue the associated red tape will discourage charities from political campaigning. It appeared unlikely the voter identification bill would have gained the required votes in the Senate, with Jacqui Lambie having announced yesterday she would vote against it.

• Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are pursuing a High Court action against recently enacted legislation that will prevent parties other than the main ones having words like Liberal and Labor in their name. Absent a favourable outcome, this will presumably result in formal challenges against the Liberal Democrats and the New Liberals, the latter of whom have withdrawn their application to change their name simply to TNL.

Beware the Ides of March (or May)

Odds shorten on a May federal election; Morrison threatens a nuclear option for preselections in New South Wales; plus news on state by-elections, actual or potential.

Yesterday’s tabling of a proposed parliamentary schedule for new year resulted in another spin of the election date speculation wheel, the consensus being that it will be held on either May 7 and 14. The government has, as they say, pencilled in March 29 as the date for the budget, although “sources close to Mr Morrison” tell The Australian he may make use of his eraser if his polling improves over summer, such that March is “still a live option” for the election. That would presumably lead to South Australian Premier Steven Marshall exercising his option to delay the March 19 state election by up to three weeks in the event of a March federal election, a matter Scott Morrison denies having discussed with him.

Other election news, federal and state:

• Scott Morrison told the Liberal federal executive he was considering asking it to exercise powers to override state divisions in preselections to impose his preferred candidates in key New South Wales seats, including state MPs Andrew Constance in Gilmore and Melanie Gibbons in Hughes (Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports state Police Minister David Elliott is resisting entreaties to run in Greenway). Such a move would be “seen as a declaration of war by key members of the NSW state division”, specifically its conservatives and moderates.

Sarah Martin of The Guardian reports Natalie Baini, who until recently was a cultural diversity manager at the Australian Football League, has withdrawn her preselection challenge against Liberal MP Fiona Martin in Reid and will instead run as an independent, complaining the party had failed to act on her complaint against “inappropriate conduct of some senior members of the party and the government”.

Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Labor will yield to the insistence of local party branches and field a candidate in John Barilaro’s seat of Monaro, despite Labor leader Chris Minns rating it an “impossible task”.

John Ferguson of The Australian reported last week on “intense speculation” that a Victorian state by-election could be on the cards in Kew, whose embattled Liberal member, Tim Smith, had been “linked with potential job prospects in Britain, where he once lived”. Sunday Herald Sun columnist “Backroom Baz” rates that Smith will linger until the election if the preselection goes to his ally David Davis, the Shadow Treasurer and Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council, but would be disposed to inflict the by-election on the party if it instead goes to Jess Wilson, a former staffer to Josh Frydenberg and current policy director at the Business Council of Australia. Also in the field are Lucas Moon, former soldier and commercial manager of construction company Winslow, who has been endorsed by Tim Costello; Monica Clark, a family lawyer; Felicity Sinfield, a police officer and Boroondara councillor; and Michael Sabljak, a former electorate officer to federal MP Michael Sukkar.

Morgan: 55.5-44.5 to Labor

Roy Morgan’s fortnightly poll gives the Coalition further cause for alarm, although the headline figure may have been juiced a little by an excessive preference flow to Labor.

The latest fortnightly federal poll from Roy Morgan records Labor’s lead increasing from 54-46 in the previous poll to 55.5-44.5, from primary votes of 35.5% of both the Coalition (down one) and Labor (up one), 12% for the Greens (up half) and 3.5% for One Nation (steady). It has been noted that the two-party result, which is based on respondent-allocated preferences, credits Labor with nearly 70% of all minor party and independent preferences compared with 60% at the 2019 election. This has to some extent been a feature of Morgan’s polling throughout the current term, though never quite to this degree before. Given the size of the non-major party vote in the poll, the effect of such distinctions is considerable, adding around two-and-a-half points to Labor’s two-party result compared with the 2019 election and more than one point compared with the previous poll a fortnight ago.

State breakdowns credit Labor with two-party leads in all six states, a first for the sixteen Morgan polls published this term (the first of which was in July last year). Labor’s two-party results are 55.5% in New South Wales (up two points on last time for a swing of nearly 8%), 58% in Victoria (up three, a swing of about 5%), 51.5-48.5 in Queensland (up four-and-a-half points, a swing of around 10%), 53.5% in Western Australia (steady, a swing of around 9%), 55.5% in South Australia (down two, a swing of around 5%) and 53% from the particularly small sample size in Tasmania (down five, a 3% swing to the Liberals). The poll was conducted over the previous two weekends from a sample of 2795.

Also, it’s been pointed out to me that the new Essential Research website includes the voting intention numbers from the last two polls, although it seems the existing policy of unloading these results once a quarter will otherwise be maintained. After excluding the 7% undecided, the latest result is Coalition 39.4%, Labor 38.3%, Greens 10.6%, One Nation 4.3% and United Australia Party 2.1%. The pollster’s “2PP+” measure has it at Labor 48, Coalition 45 and undecided 7; applying 2019 preference flows, I make it around 52-48 to Labor.

The display also features a lot of previously unavailable results from early last year, plus results throughout the term for the United Australia Party (whose much-touted recent surge doesn’t amount to much if this pollster is to be believed). This provides a lot of new grist for the BludgerTrack poll aggregate, which you can peruse here. The changes recorded in the “since previous” column show the effect of the three voting intention polls since Newspoll, which included a relatively strong result for the Coalition from Resolve Strategic, a slightly above par one from Essential Research, and a weak one from Roy Morgan.

Resolve Strategic NSW poll and Morgan Victorian poll

Two new polls suggest recent events have done little harm to state governments in New South Wales and, especially, Victoria.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the latest bi-monthly New South Wales state poll from Resolve Strategic suggests the change of Premier has made next to no difference to voting intention, with the Coalition steady on 41%, Labor up one to 31%, the Greens down one to 10% and Shooters Fishers and Farmers steady on 2%. Dominic Perrottet scores a 34-23 lead over Chris Minns in his first result as preferred premier, compared with Gladys Berejiklian’s lead of 48-21 in her final survey.

Resolve Strategic’s state polls combined the results of two monthly surveys, both having been conducted since Perrottet succeeded Berejiklian on October 5. The more recent round was conducted from Wednesday to Sunday while the earlier round was four weeks previous, each having gauged between 500 and 600 respondents. Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald offers sketchy detail on further results from the poll, indicating that Gladys Berejiklian is still held in high regard — more so now indeed than in the final days of her premiership — but that 47% nonetheless feel the Independent Commission Against Corruption “has done important work and should not have its powers reduced”.

Also out overnight was a second Roy Morgan SMS poll in fortnight showing Labor with a crushing lead in Victoria, in this case of 59.5-40.5 on two-party preferred, compared with 58-42 in both the previous Morgan poll and last week’s Newspoll, and 57.3-42.7 at the 2018 election. The primary votes are Labor 45% (up two on the last poll and from 42.9% at the election), the Coalition on 29% (down two and from 35.2% at the election) the Greens on 10.5% (down half and hardly changed from 10.7% at the election) and the United Australia Party on 4% (up one). As Kevin Bonham observes, these primary votes would give Labor an even bigger two-party lead if preference flows from the previous election were applied, of around 61-39.

The poll also credits Daniel Andrews with a 63.5-36.5 approval-disapproval split, compared with 60.5-39.5 a fortnight ago, and finds a 76-24 split in favour of vaccine mandates in the workplace. The poll was conducted yesterday from a sample of 1105.