We haven’t heard anything about aspirational nationalism in this campaign. If you cast your mind back to August, it was John Howard’s new big philosophical idea. Boldly going where no nonsensical phrase had gone before – back to the future, and all that.
Perhaps that’s because it was immediately satirised on Facebook as “Ass-Nats”. But there was a point to the five tenets of aspirational nationalism the Dear Leader articulated. It was a justification for pork-barrelling and the War on the States, which was then at its most intense.
The bizarre rhetoric has faded from view, but the political strategy is still firmly in place. “All politics is local”, decrees Coalition headquarters, and all over the country Coalition MPs and candidates are discovering that issues like “hoons” are the most vital concerns of their constituents. Even in Brisbane, where Labor MP Arch Bevis has very little to worry about, Liberal candidate Ted O’Brien (when not being gagged from radio shows by his party headquarters) is insisting in the one leaflet he’s produced that us inner city denizens are deeply concerned about drag-racing.
Most of this “localism”, as I’m suggesting, follows a template handed down from campaign central on Collins Street. But candidates can tweak it a bit to give it the true local touch. Embattled Moreton MP Gary Hardgrave, for instance, is promising to beef up police numbers at the Salisbury and Moorooka cop shops, apparently oblivious to the fact that the federal government has no control whatsoever over the allocation of police resources.
Presumably, and this is the beauty of Ass-Nat-ism, Hardgrave won’t have to follow through on his promises anyway, and in the unlikely event both he and the Coalition are returned, can always blame the state government, which after all actually decides how many cops are on the beat.
You’ve got to hand it to the Libs’ strategists. This strategy might just have some impact (however slight) in shoring up threatened incumbents.
But the equally embattled and rather eccentric Ryan MP, Michael Johnson, might have taken Ass-nat-ism a tweak too far. Johnson is being lampooned in Brisbane for promising to lobby the state government for more beds at Wesley Hospital in Auchenflower. He’s apparently unaware that it’s a private hospital.
But the icing on the cake is $15 million for a park in the middle of nowhere. Or, to be more precise, right next to the unpopular Goodna bypass, which along with the revenge of the Rudd wets, is causing him so much grief in his supposedly safe seat.
The Brisbane City Council, who would have to pay for the upkeep, knows nothing about the park Mark Vaile promised in Brisbane on Sunday. Unfortunately for Johnson, there’s an email trail which shows just how political this park is.
“I am bleeding on this issue and expect support now. This is a slow burn.”, wrote Johnson to the PM’s office.
There are also allegations that the land on which the park will be built is to be resumed from some local Liberal donors, who’d make a pretty profit on compensation from the feds. But Johnson, rather strangely for a candidate whom you’d think needs all the publicity he can get, is refusing to talk to any journos but the local press, so the story remains mired in confusion and claim and counter-claim.
All politics may well be local, but that can cut both ways when the local member in question gets a bit too blatant in playing the politics of porkbarrelling.