Many commentators in the media who purport to know about these things have said that the Canning by-election is something of a litmus test for the Abbott Government. I've heard opinions which have said that the result could force a leadership challenge but I fail to see how that would happen. Politics is a far simpler game than a lot of people will admit and this by-election is no different.
The seat of Canning in Western Australia became vacant after sitting member Don Randall was found dead in his car after suffering from a suspected heart attack. Randall who was a member of the Liberal Party had held the seat since 2001 and going into the by-election, a swing of 11.8% is needed for the Liberal Party to lose the seat.
Some have said that the Labor Party has been running a zombie campaign with no real intent for their candidate, Matt Keogh, to be elected but even a quick glance of the facts renders this false. Keogh who was a prominent lawyer, resigned his position as the President of the Western Australian Law Society; that just doesn't seem like the actions of someone whose intent wasn't genuine. Sure, he might just very well walk back into his old job again but the sheer cut and thrust of politics is such that to even make it to be an endorsed candidate and fight through the preselection process means that there must have been more than just a passing fancy in getting the job as an MP. This is serious and to think otherwise is bunk.
On the other side of the great divide, the Liberal Party has put forward a candidate which they think is of blue ribbon quality. As an ex-Army officer, Andrew Hastie is already the sort of candidate which the Liberal Party thinks will be written about in glowing terms. Thee has been a smear campaign which has been run by Fairfax but this hasn't done very much and not could it do so. You just can't fling mud and hope to hit a target if you're aiming at the wrong target.
Since this by-election is more than likely going to be a two horse race (I don't honestly think that the Palmer United Party is going to poll at any more than about 10% of first preferences) then Canning will either be retained by the Liberals or be won over by Labor.
If Hastie of the Liberal Party wins, then the numbers in the parliament remain unchanged. The government still holds a comfortable majority and we can go back to sleep. I don't think that the internal support within the factions of the Liberal Party (and certainly not their National coalition partners) is going to alter by even a single member. Abbott was installed as leader of the party in 2009 and almost won the 2010 election and did win the 2013 election. In the six years which have followed, thee hasn't even been a leadership spill within the Liberal caucus. Why the election of one MP who initially is unaligned within the party would swing the whole caucus of the Liberal Party is totally beyond me. Maybe we would hear the cries of 'spill' and 'havoc' but that would imply that there was someone who was considering challenging Abbott for the leadership of the party and with it the top spot but there hasn't been any indication of who that would be.
If the Labor candidate Keogh, wins the by-election then although this reduces the majority of the government by one, it doesn't alter the current numbers within the factions of the Liberal Party. Again we're faced with the exact same set of circumstances if the government retained the seat.
I'm not convinced that this by-election is an indicator of the result of the next Federal election either. Oppositions almost never win elections in Australia: governments lose them. By-elections almost always contain an element of grumbling by the electorate against whoever is in power; no matter what political colour they happen to be. The default position of a lot of politics is for the electorate to boo politicians generally and I don't see this by-election as any different.
What would be remarkable would be if the Palmer United Party or some other third party candidate won the election. That would very much send a message of rejection of the status quo to Canberra but I think that that's as likely as there being a leadership spill.
Probably Hastie will win and the Liberals retain the seat. More than likely there will be no leadership challenge at all. Most likely is that on Sunday 20th of September, News Corp newspapers will incandescently praise Abbott and rail against Shorten, Fairfax newspapers will grumble against Abbott and weakly make happy faces about Shorten, and the West-Australian which is actually in Western Australia unlike News Corp or Fairfax will devote its front page of the Sunday paper to the gloriousness of the Freo Dockers and the West Coast Eagles. The east coast Twitterati think that the simple game of politics is the only game in town but I bet that even the people of Canning aren't that bothered.