Liberal candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer

One of the drawcards of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival was Aussie rockers You Am I running through the back catalogue of the late, great Spinal Tap.

I’m not sure whether they played anything from their fictional 1980 Polymer Records opus “Shark Sandwich”, but aficionados of the Rob Reiner mock-rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap will remember that the album garnered one particularly acerbic two-word review, which simply read: “Shit sandwich.”

Perhaps You Am I’s Tap resurgence was timely, for the Liberal Party is currently attempting to take a bite out of Rebekha Sharkie’s burgeoning political fortress, and the reviews are about as scathing as they were for Shark(ie) Sandwich some 38 years ago. Indeed, aspiring MP Georgina Downer will probably end up describing the entire ordeal in eerily similar terms to that infamous two-word review.

And why?

Well, that is the question.

If the Liberal Party in SA isn’t asking itself now — after three successive polls in a single week (separate ReachTel polls for Channel Seven and the Australia Institute and a Galaxy poll for The Advertiser) put the former Nick Xenophon Team and prospective Liberal turned Centre Alliance MP a staggering 16 points clear after preferences  (58% to 42%) – it will likely find it hard to avoid asking come July 28, the date of the Mayo byelection.

But in truth they should have been grappling with it well before now.

The SA Liberal Party finally found electoral success at a state election after 16 years of failure because they finally grasped the need to do more than merely show up and campaign.

They finally, belatedly, came to the conclusion that they needed to deeply, intrinsically understand their electorate, and sell them a proposition that they could vote for.

They did that with the aid of an expensive Republican data-mining tool that was an experimental proposition in an Australian context, with a newfound resolve, and atypical public displays of, if not affection, at least relative unity.

And then, on the evidence of their very next electoral test, they abruptly reverted to type.

Having finally won power in SA after grasping there is no such thing as a quick fix, why then have the Libs fallen so quickly back into old habits?

For the entire Liberal approach to the Mayo byelection has smacked of the kind of mentality that has seen the state Libs become the least successful political outfit in modern Australia.

While a few hopefuls considered throwing their proverbial hats in the ring, it was always clear that none but Georgina Downer had a hope in hell.

But it smacked, ironically, of the kind of cheap electoral trick Nick Xenophon might have played – the man whose political Midas touch once helped Sharkie take Mayo against the odds, but whose capital fell on the back of gimmicks such as running a father and son with the same name against the premier and opposition leader in their respective seats.

In this case, the gimmick was one that looked good on paper (and in the paper, no doubt), but should have sounded alarm bells from those on the ground in Mayo: to parachute in the well-credentialed daughter of Alexander Downer, the former Liberal leader and long-serving foreign minister who held the seat for 24 years until his 2008 retirement.

There’s been much talk, most of it in dismissive tones, of the Downer “dynasty”, but for the Liberals this gambit was less about dynasty than destiny: it was predicated on the misguided assumption that the seat was rightfully theirs, and that the good burghers of Mayo merely needed a wistful reminder of the time when they’d never had it so good, a romantic hark back to the glory days, like the nostalgic tide that swept Britain from the EU.

In fact, that time never really existed …

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