Doyle vows to battle on

At a booth in his Malvern electorate yesterday, Robert Doyle ran into a woman who predicted his fate. She brusquely brushed aside his offer of a how-to-vote card. “No way. No way. You’re gonna lose, mate,” she said. Dead man walking.

Shortly after nine o’clock last night he appeared, grim-faced and red-eyed, to acknowledge it. Flanked by his wife, Jennifer, and his two older children, Andy and Bridie, he made his concession of defeat to a room full of Liberals stunned by the extent of their loss.

There was no sign of the ebullience that had carried him through the campaign and through its final day, when he had whipped around his own 13 booths and four marginal seats exhorting people to “Vote for me!”
Last night he faced the public after first having completed the grim task of phoning all his members who had lost seats. He said soberly: “We in the Liberal Party have to fully accept the verdict of Victorians, and we have to work very hard to win their trust back again. There are some real lessons here for us in the party and I promise all of you . . . that we are going to have a full, frank analysis of where we went wrong over the last three years . . .

“I’ve lost some good friends and we’ve lost some very good members. We need to learn that we can’t sit back for three years and try to do everything at the last moment.”
Two hundred Liberal Party faithful had been invited to celebrate at the Carlton Crest Hotel in Albert Park at 7pm. By 8pm it looked as if not just the state but the party’s own members had turned their backs on the Liberals, with waiters and media outnumbering party supporters. They stood shaking their heads at the big television screens blaring out confirmation by one commentator after another that their party had not just lost, but lost badly. Platters of food turned into leftovers.

More party faithful appeared in time for Mr Doyle’s appearance but Federal Treasurer Peter Costello and Arts Minister Rod Kemp were the only senior politicians to arrive. Mr Costello declined to speak to the media. He told one party worker: “Keep working on it. We’ll win Broadmeadows in due course.”

Some old-guard Liberals had reportedly been alienated by what they perceived as the negative campaigning of Mr Doyle’s increasingly desperate last week. Branch members, who did not wish to be named, said the result was devastating and far worse than they had expected. “The amount of seats lost is just unbelievable,” one woman said.

Mr Doyle thanked his family for having put up with him over the past four weeks; his wife laughed, providing the one moment of relief on the stage. He then promised he would give 100 per cent to the job of winning back Victoria, which started now.

But the man who had won the leadership after warning that the party would be “in desperate trouble” at this election without a change, now has to face his party room with a massive defeat. He gave no interviews last night but earlier in the day had been asked what a large loss would mean.

Mr Doyle had said that he was very happy with his leadership team and they would stay, even after a loss. As for what would happen to him, “That’s a question for my party.” Would he like to stay on as leader? “I’m here for the long haul. There’s no doubt about that.”

Jennifer Doyle had said her husband would be very disappointed if he lost. He had worked “amazingly hard . . . he has really dug deep . . . and shown me how determined he can be. It’s taken so much out of him and he’s given it everything.”

As Steve Bracks’ victory speech was televised to the Carlton Crest last night, Liberals stood stern and silent or hoed determinedly at last into the food and drinks. As Mr Bracks talked about health, schools and police, one man called out, “Who paid for it, Steve?”
Mr Doyle might talk of trying to win back voters’ trust. But last night at the Carlton Crest, his troops were more of the mind to say, “They’ll be sorry.” Several warned that Victorians did not know what they had done to their state. One woman said: “Let’s just see how many people get bumper stickers that say, `Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote Labor’, when things start to go wrong.”

First published in The Age.