Last week in Crikey, Peter Brent argued that celebrity candidates don’t do well in marginal seats. I’m not entirely convinced by his argument, but the ALP may have been listening, because its latest celebrity candidate is planning to run for a safe seat. Unfortunately, it’s a safe Liberal seat.
The ABC’s long-serving Sydney weather reporter, Mike Bailey, aims to become the second TV personality (after Maxine McKew) to take on a Government frontbencher. In this case, it’s the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, in North Sydney.
A spokesman for Kevin Rudd has been quoted as saying he “would love to have Mike Bailey as part of the campaign team”, but even without that endorsement one would hardly expect Labor pre-selection for North Sydney to be hotly contested.
But this raises the interesting question of just how safe a seat like North Sydney is. Bailey thought it “now requires something like a 13.2% swing”, but, in fact, the margin is 10%, unchanged by redistribution. Even though the polls currently show Labor getting that sort of swing, it looks like a very tough target.
In recent years, and especially after the 2004 election, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing about Labor losing ground disproportionately in outer suburban, working-class seats — see, for example, this piece by Shaun Carney on Dunkley (thanks to Brent for reminding me about this).
But while there are some areas where Labor has done worse than average, there are, of course, others where it’s done better. North Sydney is a prime example. In 1998, it was the seventh-safest Liberal seat in New South Wales, with a margin of 12.2%. Two elections later, the state as a whole had swung more than 3% to the Coalition, but North Sydney had gone backwards; it’s now only 11th-safest.
And it’s not just Sydney. The same sort of movement can be seen in the Treasurer’s seat of Higgins: now on 8.8%, it is more marginal than it was six years ago, despite the fact that Victoria has shifted more than 4% to the Coalition in that time. Seven of the state’s seats — Aston, Wannon, Casey, Flinders, Menzies, Goldstein and Dunkley — have leapfrogged it on the pendulum.
If this trend continues, some of the Liberal Party’s biggest names could be in trouble. Don’t write off Mike Bailey just yet.