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Poll Bludger: alarm bells for Campbell Newman after Stafford drubbing

The Labor Party’s Stafford byelection win threatens the security of Newman’s nearby Ashgrove seat, where his 5.7% margin is looking distinctly fragile.

Saturday’s Stafford byelection result was not the first thrashing Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s government has suffered at the polls this year, but it was by far the more alarming of the two.

When the outer-northern Brisbane seat of Redcliffe swung to Labor by 17% in February, Newman could at least console himself with the knowledge that he still had over a year in which to repair his electoral stocks before an election likely to be held next March.

But a further five months have since run down on the clock, and little that has occurred in the interim has suggested that the government is finding its rhythm as it enters the business end of the electoral cycle.

A controversial new Chief Justice appointment and fiercely criticised changes to the appointment process for the Crime and Misconduct Commission have damaged the government’s internal unity and public image, while even an apparently populist measure such as draconian anti-bikie laws has proved to be a misreading of the popular mood.

The Stafford byelection was born of such troubles, with outgoing member Chris Davis attacking the government over the CMC issue and health cutbacks as he resigned first as assistant health minister and then as an MP in May.

That the LNP was not anticipating the judgement of the voters to be any kinder was evident from the campaign it ran, which carried a whiff of desperation that recalled Labor’s disastrously counterproductive attacks on Newman in the 2012 campaign.

The rub for Labor is that the size of the swing in Stafford, just like those in Redcliffe and Miranda, is as much a measure of the devastation the party suffered at the last election as its electoral health at present.”

Nine days out from polling day, The Courier-Mail found itself able to report that Labor candidate Anthony Lynham, a maxillofacial surgeon at Royal Brisbane Hospital, owed money to Queensland Health for overpayments he received during the troubled rollout of its new payroll system.

Inevitably, the fact of a candidate’s personal information coming to public light at so inopportune a time proved as much a topic of discussion as whatever the material might have indicated about Lynham’s rectitude, notwithstanding the government’s inevitable denials that it was responsible for the leak.

This was followed on Saturday by a Supreme Court order directing the LNP to cease displaying material at polling booths that claimed Lynham did not live in the electorate, which had ceased to be the case shortly after he won preselection in March.

The LNP’s yield from such tactics was an adverse swing of 18%, which has been surpassed historically only during the terminal phase of the previous Labor government in New South Wales, and more recently by the O’Farrell government’s freakishly heavy defeat in Miranda last year.

A particularly intriguing feature of the booth results was a swing approaching 30% at Prince Charles Hospital, which is tempting to attribute to a massive loss of confidence in the government on the part of workers in the health sector — which, as former Labor Senator John Black noted in The Australian, accounts for 11% of Stafford’s workforce.

While the waters were muddied by the absence of a Palmer United candidate, Labor would also have been encouraged by the fact that the result offered no indication that voters deserting the LNP were of a mind to record a protest vote. The 17% drop in the LNP primary vote went directly to Labor rather than minor parties, and there were none of the other classic signs of a pox-on-both-houses effect such as low turnout or a high informal vote.

Of course, the rub for Labor is that the size of the swing in Stafford, just like those in Redcliffe and Miranda, is as much a measure of the devastation the party suffered at the last election as its electoral health at present.

Applying the rough rule of thumb that byelection swings tend to be a bit more than double those at the subsequent general election, Labor looks to be on course for a swing approaching double digits — a major shift by normal standards, but not enough to cover the 62-38 that separated the parties in 2012.

For the LNP, the fly in the ointment is Campbell Newman’s security in his seat of Ashgrove, located immediately to the west of Stafford, where the 5.7% margin is looking distinctly fragile in the present electoral context.

There are already indications that Stafford has caused Newman to recognise the depths of his predicament, with reports emerging today of looming government backdowns over CMC appointments and bikie laws.

However, Newman’s immediate response to the defeat yesterday, in which he scolded voters for failing to “appreciate actually how much of a mess the state was in”, suggest that other political lessons about contrition and humility are taking longer to sink in.

The prospect of running an election campaign in which the leader is in danger of losing his seat cannot be a welcome one for the LNP, but party hardheads might nonetheless have cause to wonder if Newman’s potential demise might not have an upside.

10
  • 1
    Karen
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Off with his head! Newman that is. And its over for the LNP.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Now the Curry or Maul has to go into overtime to try to get the ignorant electorate (that don’t understand Manuel’s messages) to vote the Right way.

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Limited News Party Strategy :-
    Plan A) Get rid of Manuel* (at the election) and Santo’s puppet Nicholls gets the gig?
    Plan B) Run Flegg off, so Manuel can have his safer Moggill seat?

    * of the Spanish economy inquisition

  • 4
    MJPC
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    he scolded voters for failing to “appreciate actually how much of a mess the state was in”,”
    Obviously both Federal and State Libs read from the same operating manual. When in doubt invent a crises and threaten the voters if they don’t vote for them.
    Hockey has done the same with the federal “budget emergency”.

  • 5
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    An horrific 2015 election result for Qld would be one in which the PUPs hold the balance of power.

    It could happen if we don’t read the warning signs from the recent Canberra farce.

  • 6
    leon knight
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Clearly the electorate understands and does not like the message they are getting, so the only sensible lesson for both Newman and Abbott to learn is to repeat that message louder and more clearly, so the stupid electorate finally gets it…incompetence writ large..!!

  • 7
    smarttdj
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    @zut alors - My prediction for the 2015 Qld election is a minority government with PUP holding balance of power.

  • 8
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Monday, 21 July 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    You know, if these polls stay much the same, it gives Campbell Newman, a choice that I quite like the sound of. That is, he can desert Ashgrove for somewhere safer and be labelled a coward. Or he can hang around and be hit with a large stick on election day.
    Shame.

  • 9
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Who’s up for a game of baseball?

  • 10
    Neil Stubbs
    Posted Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    It will be interesting to see if we end up with state governments of an opposite political persuasion to the Commonwealth. It could be an interesting time for Tony Abbott. I have the greatest respect for the capacity of the electorate to put in place its own “checks and balances”.

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