If you’d been paying careful attention to Crikey way back in March this year, you’d have noticed a couple of stories by Christian Kerr and me pointing to the danger Michael Johnson faced in retaining the blue ribbon Brisbane seat of Ryan from an ill-considered piece of road funding pork designed to shore up Liberal margins in Moreton and Blair.

The trouble for Johnson is that his constituents in the acreage blocks around Pullenvale and Brookfield can’t stand the thought of a bypass bringing additional city bound traffic across the river from Ipswich. And Johnson’s other problem is that state Liberal MP and leader, the embattled Bruce Flegg, has staunchly opposed the proposed bypass, leaving him dangling out on a limb defending Howard’s road.

Now the Libs have leaked internal polling showing that Ryan, held by a margin of 10.4%, has been re-classified for campaign purposes as “ultra marginal”.

Writing at his blog, Ambit Gambit , former Queensland Liberal vice-president Graham Young covers the toxic internal machinations which have helped shift Ryan over to the growing list of supposedly safe Coalition seats in real danger of falling to Labor.

But Young makes another crucial point:

Not all the blame should go to Johnson. Ryan is the “jewel in the Liberal crown” not just because of its margin, but because it is home to the smartest and richest people (on average of course) in Brisbane. A loss of Ryan would confirm the trend under John Howard for the Liberals to lose these seats to Labor as they have loosened their grip on the professional class. In effect Howard has traded seats like Ryan for working class seats like Blair by pitching so strongly for blue-collar conservatives (Blair now encompasses much of the territory once represented by Pauline Hanson). Except this election most of the seats like Blair appear to be heading back to Labor whence they originally came.

The evidence from internal party polling, the aggregate Newspoll numbers and the movements of campaign cash and the leaders around various seats all points in the direction of this conclusion. There’s been a lot of commentary on how Howard can win back the “Howard battlers” who’ve deserted him for Rudd. But there’s been very little on how he can stop the Ruddslide rolling down the leafy avenues of seats such as Ryan.

Electorate specific factors can’t be the only ones shifting votes in safe Liberal seats to Labor. There’s no doubt that authoritarian populism and social conservatism are big turn offs for many small “L” liberal voters. Seats like Ryan and North Sydney, which voted solidly for the republic in 1999, are now showing signs of shifting partisan allegiance. Such a shift is no doubt facilitated by Rudd’s fiscal conservatism.

It’s not just the Howard battlers. The real story of this campaign might be the Rudd wets.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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