A darker picture is emerging of an appalling working relationship between Liberal Party headquarters and the premier’s office leading up to Saturday’s election wipe-out.
Insiders claim Colin Barnett ignored internal polling, which pointed to a massive defeat, and failed to act on pleas for policy development as party strategists tried to minimise the damage.
Even before campaigning began — and the disastrous One Nation preference deal was done — senior party people knew winning would be difficult.
But they have told The West Australian that stubbornness and “delusion” inside the premier’s “bunker” made the challenge impossible.
“No matter how many times he was told of the situation out there and what might help leading up to the election, he and his office didn’t listen,” a senior source said. “There was a sense of delusion in there. As a result, our policy formulation was terrible. It was all done too late.”
With Labor on the cusp of securing as many as 41 seats in the 59-seat Parliament — an increase of 20 — the bloodletting continues inside the Liberals.
“The premier had too much say,” the insider said. “The campaign had huge structural problems. A campaign event, for example, was due to happen and then the premier wouldn’t want to do it anymore despite there being people there waiting.”
With Labor constantly discussing a vision for jobs, some strategists thought the Liberals were too caught up in what they had achieved, such as the Perth Stadium and Elizabeth Quay, and did not articulate a plan for a third term in government.
“People expect you to have done things in government,” the insider said. “What they want to know is what you can do to help them if elected again. People were hurting. In the outer metropolitan seats like Kalamunda and Southern River you saw that voters reacted violently against the Barnett government.”
While agreeing the One Nation deal swamped the campaign, the insider said the election race was over long before because the party failed to put policies in place, deal properly with the Western Power sale or confront Mr Barnett being toxic in the community.
“The public had had enough of Colin,” they said. “According to our many focus groups, people didn’t see McGowan as the great leader or overly charismatic, but if it was someone different to Colin then that was OK.”
A particular point in the campaign that stood out to those driving the re-election strategy was the premier’s weekend meltdown when quizzed about the Liberal Party-One Nation preference deal. What was supposed to be a “soft” riverside fishing stocks announcement ended with him telling journalists to “raise your game”.
It is understood Liberal Party track polling — a 48-hour snapshot of what voters were thinking — showed the premier’s outburst had taken the Libs’ primary vote to below 30 per cent.
On the question of which party best understood the pressures families were under, only 13 per cent believed it was the Liberals.
“We lost voters aged 35 to 49,” the source said. Another problem for the Libs was a lack of funding for advertising.