The powerful hallucinogens that Liberal strategists and their media boosters have apparently been under the influence of for the last few months finally seem to be wearing off. With only four days left, it’s hard to maintain the belief that a miracle will turn up.

Hence Dennis Shanahan in Saturday’s Australian commencing his report with the bald statement that “John Howard enters the final week of his last campaign facing defeat”.

Possum Comitatus described this as “the most dangerous week the Liberal Party has ever faced”: as the party and its supporters wake up to the fact that “the game is over”, there could be a stampede for the exits that would further damage its vote, with possibly dire consequences for its viability in opposition.

It’s an interesting idea; whatever else they’ve done, the illusions that Shanahan and others have purveyed for much of this year might at least have helped keep the Liberals together as a coherent force. Repression or denial of unpleasant facts, although ultimately unhealthy, does serve a real purpose, and sudden awakening to the truth can be dangerous.

As Frank Hardy puts it (Who Shot George Kirkland, p. 83), “Because the repression has been a defence against anxiety, its removal may bring demons from the depths of the unconscious mind.” And the collective unconscious of the Liberal Party is a messy place.

However, one should never underestimate the party’s reserves of denial.

Its Victorian division, for example, spent three years telling itself it hadn’t really lost the 1999 state election, and therefore remained oblivious to the disaster awaiting it in 2002. Just this morning, former federal director Lynton Crosby was maintaining that the government “is closing in on Labor … and can still win a tight election”.

However unreal such sentiments, keeping the illusion going just that little bit longer might help the Liberals stick together and therefore keep their losses to within manageable bounds, say the mid 20s rather than the low 30s.

But they’ll need to wake up quickly next week, otherwise they risk repeating the same experience next time around.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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