After any chance of his “United Conservative Party” succeeding in drawing the Liberals to the Nationals’ fold effectively collapsed on the weekend with the leaking of their negotiations with various far right groups, Lawrence Springborg has taken the extraordinary step of shoveling dirt into the Nationals’ grave in a new advertising campaign he launched yesterday.

The self-dubbed Borg told AAP that the omission of the Nationals and Coalition brands was deliberate – “this is a leadership campaign”, he said. The big L Leader expects the “new party” to “to seamlessly morph into” his “better way”.

This is an extraordinarily high stakes gamble for Springborg. He’s trying to replicate the Kevin07 campaign, but he appears not to realise that Rudd was a genuinely new leader, not a recycled one, and that Kevin07 was about polishing the ALP’s brand, not trashing it. Springborg only gained a swing of 0.4% in the last state election at a time when Peter Beattie’s government was very vulnerable. His own colleagues shoved him out of the leadership, but he managed to resurrect himself earlier this year. He’ll be contesting his third election, and his talk of “youth” only draws attention to the ancients on his own front and back benches, and hardly appears calculated to be an effective attack on Anna Bligh.

Focus group research Graham Young and I conducted on his leadership during his previous campaign was reported in Crikey in 2006. He had enormous baggage then, and was perceived by voters as “carping”, “whining” and “negative”. Those perceptions will still be out there.

The Borg had one shot in his locker as a justification for overthrowing Jeff Seeney – his UCP. Now some Libs, rocked by the resignation of state president Warwick Parer, are throwing around accusations that Mal Brough is “too close to the Nationals” as a reason for rejecting his candidacy. Parer’s standing down is being seen as a way for the party to wiggle out of the promise he made to put the UCP idea to the Liberal membership. If there’s one thing the squabbling Liberal factions will agree on, it’s that amalgamation and the new party are off the table – the tables are in fact being turned with Libs calling for the Nats to join them – under the Liberal name.

All this should tell Springborg something – he could well end up all alone with his Pineapple Party, out on a limb with Ron Boswell trying to saw it off.

The Queensland Nats seem determined to prove the truth of Marx’s axiom – history occurs the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

Watch for the Coalition agreement to start to crumble as the next predictable instalment in this saga stuck on permanent repeat. The Borg had better hope that Queenslanders have short memories, and that having a youthful spring in his step will be enough.

Ironically, Anna Bligh’s regime has been under a lot of pressure over the last fortnight – with all manner of issues blowing up in Labor’s collective face. But there’ll be a smile on Bligh’s face today – Springborg is going to be fulfilling his traditional role of getting the government’s woes off the front pages, and putting conservative unity front and right of centre on the public agenda. It’s a fabulous time for connoisseurs of political farce, but a much less fabulous one for anyone who believes parliamentary democracy needs an effective opposition.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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