For a time, Clive Palmer’s political success seemed testimony to what an outsized personality and a lot of cash could achieve: deploy $25 million in well-timed election ads, pick some ex-sports personalities for name recognition as your candidates, purport to be an outsider despite having been a powerful insider for decades and never, ever allow yourself to talk about details. The result? A gatekeeper role in the Senate, reinforced by an astute alliance with another upper house neophyte, and a consistent level of support in the polls — around 5% — that represented a remarkable achievement for a party less than a year old.

But since the new Senate began sitting last year, the flaws in the Palmer model have become apparent. Micro-parties virtually never survive success, and PUP rapidly demonstrated it was no different to predecessors like One Nation. Jacqui Lambie was always a strong candidate for going rogue, which she eventually did, and Ricky Muir didn’t last long as an ally either. PUP began slipping in the polls.

By doing deals with the government to pass legislation that he himself had often damned, Palmer looked less like a disruptive outsider and more like just another politician. Most of all, Palmer couldn’t maintain his strategy of endlessly moving from stunt to stunt and headline to headline without ever being held down to details. And his reaction when journalists did insist on pinning him down was unpleasant and very revealing.

Now Glenn Lazarus has departed — a far more unexpected outcome than Lambie’s departure, but of a piece with both PUP and previous micro-parties’ inability to resist fragmentation. And with Lazarus goes any remaining capacity Palmer has to play gatekeeper.

With the PUP’s failure in the Queensland state election, its shriveling to near-asterisk level in national polls and its reduction to just one senator, Clive Palmer’s political project, which began life as a vendetta against Campbell Newman, is now defunct.

Peter Fray

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