It took 18 days for former Prime Minister John Howard to finally concede defeat in the seat of Bennelong and he congratulated Labor’s Maxine McKew.

“The Labor Party won the seat fairly and squarely. This is a wonderful exercise in democracy” Howard told a packed gathering in Chatswood.

Mr Howard had held the Bennelong electorate since 1974 and is the second longest serving Prime Minister in Australian history. He is also only the second Prime Minister in history to lose his seat at an election, with the Australian Electoral Commission declaring Ms McKew the winner by 44,685 votes to Mr Howard’s 42,251.

Maxine McKew was humble in victory saying “I wish you and Mrs Howard all fulfilment”. Mr Howard declined to talk to the media, instead choosing to mingle with Liberal Party supporters.

The loss of Bennelong has hit deep into the psyche of the Coalition, putting every member on notice that they are far from safe come the next election in 2010. Given the massive swing to the Labor Party and the amazing campaign put together to take Bennelong from the Liberal Party, the new Leader of the opposition Brendan Nelson must surely be feeling uneasy. His seat of Bradfield is situated right next to Bennelong along with North Sydney which is still held by Liberal Joe Hockey.

The emphatic victory for Labor must surely cause slight paranoia for those in the Coalition in seats which have traditionally been considered as “safe” and certainly raises the question of who Labor will choose to run in those seats in the next election? Will it be possible to turn the political landscape further on its head and create a Labor held North Shore?

There have also been considerable rumblings from the Malcolm Turnbull camp about the validity of the leadership ballot, given that some seats were still to be decided and it would seem a fairly safe bet that a Leadership challenge is on the cards. The question is when?

Who would want to lead the Coalition to the next Federal election? Would that person be kept on as Leader if they were resoundingly defeated again? Would Peter Costello reappear as the “elder statesmen” at a later time and take the fight to the ALP? Given that Labor is in Government Federally and in every State and Territory it is a big ask to lead the Coalition at any level and we can only wish Dr Nelson the very best in what is seemingly going to be a fight to survive from within his own ranks, let alone that of the ALP.

Michael Marquette

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