It’s fair to say 19-year old Wyatt Roy has put a lot of Liberal National Party noses out of joint by winning preselection for the marginal seat of Longman. Roy’s youth and Facebook predilection for junk food and lingerie have had the media and political professionals on both sides tut-tutting about how he could have been allowed to win.
Well, candidates such as Roy are what happens when you give actual party members genuine power in preselections. According to senior LNP figures, Roy won preselection by doing exactly what politicians are supposed to do: he spoke to all 79 preselectors and convinced them he was the best candidate. In doing so he defeated two far more traditional conservative candidates — a former Caboolture LNP councillor Peter Flannery, and Glasshouse businessman Steve Attrill — although at 39, Attrill is no Methuselah himself.
Longman used to be Mal Brough’s electorate until he lost it in 2007 to Jon Sullivan. Following the Queensland redistribution, Sullivan now sits on a reduced margin of 1.3%. Brough’s departure on the back of a 10% swing meant the seat was wide open for potential conservative candidates. And for all the problems around the creation of the LNP, it remains the most democratic of the major parties. Preselectors in McPherson have already rebuffed Peter Dutton’s attempt to replace Margaret May over strong support from the party leadership. The LNP has also, despite its short history, shown a liking for youth. The 18-year-old son of LNP sugar daddy Clive Palmer was given a run in the safe Labor seat of Nudgee at last year’s state election, and at the same election the party successfully sent 28-year-old Aidan McLindon in against Pauline Hanson in Beaudesert, doubtless to the subsequent chagrin of the parliamentary leadership.
Longman has plenty of young families and Roy’s family has been growing strawberries in the region for generations. His preselection has also, party insiders say, prompted a big increase in young people joining the party in Longman, and he’ll have strong support from local members.
The problem, as the hardheads will be quick to note, is that Longman is a must-win seat for the coalition, which is why Roy’s victory was so surprising even to LNP figures involved in the process. Seats such as Longman need to come back into the conservative column not merely for the coalition to be in with a chance of victory, but simply to consolidate its position and be well-placed for an assault on an ageing Labor government in 2013. The redistribution will help, but plenty of LNP figures seem to think voters won’t be too keen to place their faith in a 19-year-old. Someone in their twenties, maybe, but a teenager?
Still, that’s the problem when you actually empower the grassroots of a political party.