18 February 2008

The way to dusty death

Like the Liberals putting Scott Morrison in charge of silencing dissent over the election loss, the Nationals have put John Anderson in charge of burying their survivors. They probably thought they were being clever in spoon-feeding Milney, who has lapsed back into his louche ways now that actual investigative journalism appears to have given him a migraine.
The Nationals know exactly who to blame for their party's net two-seat loss at the election which reduced them to a near rump of 10 MPs in the House of Representatives: it was all John Howard's fault.

Well, either that, or it was the fault of people like John Anderson not standing up to Howard. Even the yokels at NSW central executive know they're wasting their time doing that. Anderson and all the other Nationals MPs and Senators voted for WorkChoices. It's gutless of the Nationals to blame Howard for their own choices.

The Liberals didn't need the Nationals in 1996-98 to form a majority in the House of Representatives, nor in 2001-04; having them on board was an act of charity on their part, and for once the Nationals should be grateful. The reason why the Nationals in Victoria have teamed up with the Liberals is because the Nationals are secure enough in themselves to know they offer a different product while recognising the importance of the Coalition. They know they don't have to go stark raving Barnaby.

It isn't John Howard's or Brendan Nelson's or anyone else's responsibility to define a distinct image for the Nationals: it's the Nationals' responsibility. Milney should have been clearer about this, interpreting the information he received and reflecting the self-delusion of these people back on them, rather than marvelling at his own cleverness at having documentation fall into his lap.
The document later expands on this point: "The core problem for the Nationals has been its declining independent identity.

"For almost 20 years, no federal leader has adequately reinforced the party's independent identity, to the point where, today, the words 'Coalition' or 'government' to the vast majority of voters, simply equal 'Liberal'.

John Anderson bears a large part of the blame for this. The submission is a waste of time, like chooks squawking at the fox that's been sent to guard their henhouse.
The brutal truth in Queensland is this: while the Nationals are the senior conservative party in that state, they hold only 17 seats in an 89-seat parliament, compared to eight for the Liberals. But most of the Nat seats are either in the west of the state, where the population is declining, or in the coastal hinterland. They are shut out of the growth areas, the southeast corner and the Gold Coast.

Because they know they are in a demographic death dive, they are desperate to co-opt the Liberal brand name.

The brutal truth of the Coalition in Queensland is this: there are 12,000 Nationals and 4000 Liberals in Queensland. In the state parliament the Liberals inspire no confidence that they could manage the state better than Labor, however much Beattie or Bligh stuff up.

The Queensland Nationals express this frustration by running three-cornered contest against the hapless Liberals. No urban-dweller, especially someone relocated from outside Queensland, wants to vote for a party that exists to redistribute resources away from the growth areas. Nobody wants to vote for a bunch of clowns either; despite the busywork that all Liberal leaders since Llew Edwards have done to trash the Liberal name, it has a cachet that [insert name of any Queensland Liberal politician here, any one will do] cannot fully destroy.

The Queensland Liberals would regard the growth areas as their 'turf', yet they can't win any more than a bare minimum of seats there. Elbowing the Nationals aside is the least of their worries.

There should be a Queensland Party. It should deck itself out in maroon and work out some way of keeping its traditional supporters online while also attracting new supporters: this is hardly unique to the Queenslanders, all opposition parties have to do this. Lawrence Springborg could be a good Premier if only he could get some decent ministers. The Queensland Party could sit with the Liberals or Nationals or become a third Coalition partner.
"The party should, therefore, give a high priority to reviewing its policies for rural, regional and coastal electorates. Having identified key policy objectives for the future, the leadership must publicise these, as well as the party's achievements, relentlessly, at every opportunity."

And most ominously for the Liberal Party, under the heading "Funding", this observation: "For the party to build its parliamentary numbers, it is more than likely that it will have to prepare for an increased number of three-cornered contests."

Not a word about how you convince those who had voted Labor to vote National again; these people don't understand why anyone would vote Labor, National or any other way, so it's best they not be heard from in charting the future of any political party. This skittishness about brand image and a relentless determination to promote, promote, promote without thinking about what is being promoted is a sign of a party determined to run itself into the ground.

Amid all the hysteria and bungling by Coalition leaders should be one clear rule: any three-cornered contest that does not minimise the Labor vote should not be considered. The Nationals might horsetrade this or that seat with the Liberals, and run three-corners where Labor cops it from both sides - but the Nationals should have the sense to opt out where they cannot seriously beat Labor. This might mean that they curse their own weakness, and take it out on Nelson; it would be interesting to see who would be in the weaker position, but it has to happen.
Vale John Howard. Or perhaps in the context of the Nationals, Vaile John Howard.

Fnaar! At the next election Labor should win about six of the seats currently held by the Nationals, including Truss' own seat of Wide Bay. Independents should win a couple of others until the Queensland Party gets on its feet. Barnaby Joyce should run against Bruce Scott in Maranoa. They should go the way of the Democrats, and such energy that does not die could manifest itself in a different form. The Nationals should dribble away and never again back the ute up to any Parliament in the expectation of pelf for dying communities.

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