Less perfect the next

Wednesday, 25 February 2009 

The problem with saying state governments inevitably go in the opposite direction to federal governments isn’t just that history doesn’t bear it up, not even over the last decade (unless one regards NSW as the only state in the federation, which possibly some do). Applying such a crass ‘iron law’ obscures the insights state elections give us about what is happening in Canberra. Certainly Bligh’s willingness to risk voter cynicism by calling an early election shows at least one thing – Labor does not yet have a political response to the downturn after the money runs out.

Exaggerations of Queensland ‘exceptionalism’ should not disguise what the state parties tell us about the national ones. The first is that the short experience of the LNP brings out the full dilemma that the coalition has in Canberra. The LNP has been portrayed by some commentators as ‘new and exciting,’ but it is really just the same old Queensland Nats. The only thing ‘new and exciting’ was the collapse of the dysfunctional Queensland Liberal branch that the ‘merger’ was designed to disguise.

There has been nothing positive about the formation of the new entity itself, merely a reduced capacity for the coalition to straddle the divide between urban and regional areas with the loss of the urban-based Liberals. Given the urban areas are where the population is growing (and the new seats are being formed) it would be easy to argue that the LNP’s formation was actually a step backwards.

Perhaps more fundamentally, the LNP shows the emptiness of this conservative option being fancied by some in Canberra. Springborg’s LNP has not marked a conservative revival as some hoped at the time. Indeed, if anything, Springborg’s political stance has become even more low-key even as Labor has rolled out the big-spending programme that conservatives are supposed to oppose. Springborg’s reticence to push the conservative line might be partly to prevent exacerbating the weakening hold in urban areas. However, more importantly, it shows that business currently has no real interest for conservative politics.

Put simply, business wants Labor’s stimulus money. So the LNP’s inability to represent business interests in general have left it exposed to representing one businessman’s interests in particular. We have the exquisite irony that the attempts by Clive Palmer to assert his agenda on the LNP has left it exposed to seeming more as a party of business interests at a time when it was never less so. Palmer’s reaction to Bligh’s shrewd goading of him has been a god-send for Labor, the fact that the LNP could not put a stop to Palmer’s ham-fisted tactics has revealed how weak they are.

The lack of support from business as a whole means that the LNP has no real basis to offer an alternative strategy to the crisis. Springborg may be able to criticise the budget deficit and ratings downgrade but cannot propose what should be done instead. This should make it reasonably easy for Bligh to do what Labor needs to do in the campaign, cut through the unfavourable long-term economic meta-narrative and keep the focus on the immediate issue of what the stimulus will do on the ground. For if business wants the money, so does everyone else and growing job insecurity is probably being under-estimated by both sides. Labor at least looks to have something to say for now and that should be enough.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 25 February 2009.

Filed under State and federal politics

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7 responses to “Less perfect the next”

  1. Boy from Flynn on 25th February 2009 8:28 pm

    The pineapple party will be chopped into fruit salad.

    It doesn’t appear to have dawned on them that the downturn looks so scary that the business sector are all Keynsians now.

  2. charles on 25th February 2009 8:38 pm

    Even though Newspapers are losing market, the local rag seems to be willing to further destroy their reputation, printing pretty mundane rubbish in an attempt to get the LNP across the line. I would have thought shrinking market share would have had them focusing on news.

    Today’s little effort had the front page rabbiting on about some millions spent on a monument and some tree, hardly an earth shattering amount, or earth shattering issues.

  3. Boy from Flynn on 25th February 2009 9:01 pm

    Exactly. Of course, the courier always prints mundane rubbish anyway.

    Still, I guess elections are usually percieved as an opportunity to sell more papers by slathering the front pages with sensationalist crap that, when examined for more than two seconds, usually turns out to be just that rather than something of any great relevence.

  4. The Piping Shrike on 27th February 2009 6:48 am

    The Courier-Mail has been starting off pretty heavy handed, but I don’t think any theme has emerged. So I’m not sure it will have much impact.

    The trouble with this election is that it is the first in this new climate since the GFC, so the old rule book will need to be thrown out. I think even for a Queensland election the media could struggle to make sense of what is going on.

  5. DM on 27th February 2009 12:27 pm

    I’m surprised that Labor is not further ahead in the polls, considering the gaping lack of ideas that we see coming from the LNP. We should ask ourselves why that is so? Could it be that Queensland is ripe for a third major party? Can the Greens fill that position? I doubt it. Either way, this election is very much open for either Bligh or Springborg to win. I think those predicting a Labor win now are getting way ahead of themselves.

  6. Graeme on 3rd March 2009 11:29 am

    Peter Brent’s pendulum (pendulistic?) theory of electoral cycles may explain the polls.

    As much as I like the Shrike’s international and post-ideological explanations of contemporary electoral trends, you can’t apply the same logic to federal and state elections. The focus on the GFC (and climate change before it) just doesn’t play out so much in state polls.

    4 terms of accreting grumbles with roads, schools and hospitals, and various dunderheads being forced from office in mini-scandals has worn the government down. Beattie’s hokey strongman is gone. Bligh and Fraser and steady enough, but don’t have high profiles. The LNP just needs to look competent to secure a return to a more natural voting pattern in a conservative state. They’ve been bankrolled in ways that have let them run a campaign for the past 6 months that makes them look like fresh faces, even if they have their quota of dunderheads.

    So what if the LNP aren’t in tune with the big end of town? It may weaken the appearance of a solid agenda, but in Qld more than most states, business interests have never swung votes. If they had, the Libs would not have been so weak in George St for so long.

    My guesstimate is Labor will hang on depending on green prefs (of course, but meaning it could be very close if the LNP throws Beattie’s ‘Vote 1’ campaign back in Labor’s face and indirectly that encourages the protest vote element in the Green vote to exhaust rather than favour Labor.

  7. The Piping Shrike on 5th March 2009 7:21 pm

    I always have time for the common sense of Mr Brent.

    I agree the same issues don’t play in the state as federal, especially international ones (at least not directly, although Labor seems to be having a go in QU). Federal and state are very different, but they are both parts of the Australian state as a whole. These days the states are the weak part of it, so some of the negative trends that eventually are seen in the federal sphere I think are often played out early at the state level. The QU election definitely has lessons for federal politics, in my view, as did the WA result.

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