Friday, 9 March 2012

The Perils of Presidential Campaigning

It's two weeks until the Queensland Election and the contest is an interesting study in contrasts.  In the blue corner we have perhaps the most Presidential campaign in Australian history.  Campbell Newman, the LNP leader, is not even a member of Parliament, trying to gain a 7% swing in Ashgrove as well as lead his party to success.  The campaign is all about Newman.  The LNP campaign slogan is his nick-name, "Can-Do", usually said in a slightly ironic tone.  His party is not bidding to be the government, it is bidding to make him the Premier.

Meanwhile in the pale pink corner, beyond the daily media grind the Labor campaign is just the opposite.  Premier Anna Bligh is all but invisible in local campaign material, the focus firmly on the local candidates.  This is most obvious in the seat of Ashgrove, where Newman's bid for a seat is opposed by the "Keep Kate" campaign.  Labour MP Kate Jones quit her cabinet post almost a year ago to devote herself to keeping her seat in the face of Newman's challenge and if you click on the link you will notice that Anna Bligh and Labor do not appear on the Keep Kate website.

The tactic appears to be working.  A recent poll in Ashgrove shows Jones with a slight lead over Newman.  The Labor Party is banking on her local popularity trumping the profile of Newman, who is still relatively popular across Brisbane despite his two terms as Lord Mayor.  He is possibly not quite so popular in Ashgrove.  Neither is Anna Bligh apparently, but unlike Newman she doesn't need the people of Ashgrove to vote for her, just for Kate.

It raises an interesting question.  The LNP will never admit it, but one of the reasons they focus so strongly on Newman is that they don't have a lot else to offer.  The LNP is an uneasy merger between the city-based Liberals and the rural Nationals, and rivalries are always close to the surface.  Just before this election got under way, we had a senior ex-National lobbying publicly for some of his ex-National Party mates to be included in the ministry.  The party clearly has little capacity to vet candidates.  It has now lost two Gold Coast candidates to various scandals and has another one accused of hosting a porn website.  Meanwhile, they are frantically releasing policies but not their costings, suggesting that perhaps they might be making it up as they go along.

So this can go three ways.  Newman could win his seat and his party could win government.   In this case, he will have to somehow coax the rabble he leads into forming a workable government and getting on with the job instead of acting like idiots.  I guess it's possible.

The second possibility is that Newman could fail to win his seat, but his party could win a majority anyway.  In this case, the LNP, not to mention the State, will be in trouble.  Having run a presidential campaign but failed to get their president elected, they will have to turn back to one of the unispiring people they passed over a year ago in promoting Newman.  Kate would be delighted but the rest of us would be left feeling rather hollow.

The third possiblity, of course, is that people's disillusionment with the Labor government will be overwhelmed by the realisation that the LNP is even worse, and Labor will be returned, no doubt with the slimmest of majorities.  This seems unlikely, but in this case, we know that Anna Bligh will almost certainly still be there to lead them, representing as she does one of the safest Labor seats in the State.

Personally. I don't find any of the alternatives that exciting.  I've never voted for the conservative parties in my life and am not about to start now.  However, the reforming zeal has long since departed from Queensland Labor, leaving them to manage the results of past reforms - and that none too competently.  The Queensland Health pay fiasco goes on and on, while on the relatively minor matters on which I deal with the government the wheels seem to be be stuck fast.  Something has to change, but I don't think President Newman is the answer, and a Newman-less LNP is even less so.

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