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