Liberal Victorians needed to define who they were before deciding who could lead them back from oblivion

Benita Kolovos

With the main vote sitting at 29.7% – the lowest result since 1952 – it was clear the party's problems were running deep.

Victorian Liberals may be on the lookout for a new leader, but it was clear from Saturday's decisive election loss that the party needed more than fresh faces to become electorally competitive in the state once again.

On Sunday, opposition leader Matthew Guy announced he would step down after leading his party to a second crushing defeat, with this loss arguably worse than 2018's “Danslide.” Although the Liberal party's headquarters reported in the final stages of the campaign that it had "narrowed down gap” in Labor, at the time of writing, the Liberals were on track to win 16 seats – a net loss of one.

And with the primary vote sitting at 29.7% – the lowest result since 1952 – it is clear the parties' problems run much deeper than who their parliamentary leader is.

“We have not been able to define who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe in,” said an elder of the Liberal party.

“We went into the election with absolutely no direction. Just a series of random policies and vague plans to fix the healthcare system that nobody can believe because unlike Labor this is not our strength, there is no brand equity there.”

Liberal members privately attribute the result to several problems: a commitment to suspending the suburban rail project despite its popularity among voters in the east, a lack of support among key constituencies including young women and the Chinese community, and a lackluster narrative about what the party stands for , in addition to a deep hatred of the prime minister, Daniel Andrews.

One Liberal lawmaker pointed to the party's failure to exercise its greatest strength – economic management – ​​at a time when the country's finances were at their weakest since the 1990s.

"I'm not saying we should go into elections with a plan to cut or increase taxes, but we can emerge as sound managers of the economy," the lawmaker said. "We can come up with a plan to ease Victorians' concerns about debt."

Instead the opposition pledged to spend $34 billion – more than three times Labor's commitment.

The shadow treasurer, David Davis, was also unable to provide a total cost for the Coalition's election commitments two days before the vote, which some lawmakers described as a "big mistake".

"Someone clearly didn't do their homework," said one lawmaker.

Former Liberal MP Tim Smith said Davis, deputy Liberal leader, David Southwick, and opposition health spokesman, Georgie Crozier, should not challenge returning to the leadership position.

"The entire parliamentary leadership team should follow [Guy] out the door," he tweeted.

Several MPs were buoyed by double-digit swings toward the Liberals in the outer suburb seats including Broadmeadows, Greenvale, Mill Park, St Albans and Yan Yean, although those swings were absorbed by large margins.

One lawmaker said the result was "a ray of sunshine in a disappointing result".

"The fact that a seat like Greenvale, which entered the election by a 22% margin, is now more marginal than a seat like Ringwood, is unbelievable," the lawmaker said.

The suburbs may have more lessons in how to increase party fortunes.

The Liberals pre-selected diverse candidates from different cultural and religious groups "who looked like the community they wanted to represent", the lawmaker said, and ran a strong grassroots campaign.

"If we keep doing this work over the next four years, and get women back on the side - because honestly, they hate us now - then I see a way forward for us."

The Liberal women's issue is made even more evident by the fact that there appear to be no true female leadership contenders in the race, with Louise Staley likely having lost her seat in the Ripon to Labour's Martha Haylett, and Crozier apparently sidelining himself, according to Age.

Several Liberal MPs told Guardian Australia that Warrandyte MP Ryan Smith had sought support for the leadership bid, as did Berwick MP Brad Battin and Hawthorn's candidate John Pesutto. Neither responded to a request for comment.

Pesutto's seat is unlikely to be announced for some time, as it remains in the balance with him leading the "teal" independent, Melissa Lowe, by 480 votes on Sunday.

Another possible contender, Matt Bach, shadow transport infrastructure minister, although this would require an upper house MP to find a lower house seat.

With accusations and a great deal of soul searching ahead for the Liberal party, many may be asking themselves if this is the job they want.

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