The Canning byelection is attracting national attention as the possibility that the Liberals may lose the seat they hold by a 12% margin is openly discussed.
A loss would be a severe blow to the Coalition government — already reeling from controversies ranging from the Border Farce stunt in Melbourne to the choppergate scandal — as well as to the leadership of Tony Abbott.
The pressure of this commentary has forced the prime minister to come out and declare the election is “not about me”. However, no serious commentator is denying that a loss — or even a major swing against the Liberals — would put Abbott's leadership in doubt once again.
The Liberals have distanced themselves from this speculation by claiming that the major part of the margin in Canning was due to the personal popularity of the former (now deceased) member Don Randall.
This claim is overstated according to political scientist Martin Drum who claims that Randall's personal popularity would only have been worth a few per cent.
The Greens have campaigned in the by-election claiming that it is a chance to “topple Tony”.
However, Labor has been accused of “running dead” in the seat, mounting what has been described as a “low profile” campaign.
The rationale behind such tactics would be to presume that Labor has a better chance of winning the next federal election if Abbott remains the Liberal leader.
This approach if true would be misguided from the standpoint of working class interests, because it is the Liberal agenda — no matter who sells it — rather than the antics and buffoonery of Tony Abbott that we need to oppose.
The “small target” tactics of the Labor opposition (that is relying on the unpopularity of the Liberals in order to get elected) failed miserably during the Howard years and there is no reason to conclude they would work now.
Unsurprisingly, Labor denies that they are running dead. Opposition leader Bill Shorton has campaigned twice in Canning and other front benchers such as Tanya Plibersek have also joined the campaign trail.
Nevertheless, some union figures have told Green Left that Labor is not campaigning at full strength in Canning.
Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor and Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright told Green Left that the Alliance is calling for a vote for the Greens in this election.
“A strong vote for the Greens would be the best result from the standpoint of building the momentum for a progressive alternative to the agenda of the Liberal government, which it must be acknowledged is shared to a large degree by Labor as well,” he said.