Monday, April 2, 2012

27 Percent

'There was a firestorm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn. It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everyone else in the neighbourhood was dead. So it goes.'

- Slaughterhouse 5

I wonder if this is how members of the Queensland ALP felt like, the survivors, as they emerged from wherever they hid during the recent state election. A handful of them had miraculously made it, while the flames of an angry electorate consumed the majority. Like Billy Pilgrim, they must have been stunned by the ferocity of the death storm that had been suddenly sprung on them. Unlike him, they probably weren't wearing silver combat boots and a stage curtain (at least, not publicly).

Now they have to face up to a similar question as the one Pilgrim faced after the city he was a POW in was burnt to the ground: What next?

For the Queensland ALP, answering this will not be easy.

It's easy to forget, but the Australian Labor Party is a Queensland invention, like XXXX and Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen. It was founded in 1891 in Barcaldine, QLD, by striking shearers who decided they'd had enough of sitting around on strike without pay and that, if they were going to sit around doing nothing, they may as well do that in Parliament and get handsomely paid for it. This was such a logical idea, that the Party grew rapidly, to the extent that Andrew Dawson was able to form a Labor Government in Queensland only 8 years later. It was the first Labor party government of any sort, anywhere in the world.

Flash forward a hundred odd years, and this proud and deep rooted institution has been reduced to such a state that calling their elected representatives a 'rump' is probably too kind. Their numbers are so few, only seven Labor parliamentarians will sit in the state legislature, that they will need a considerable improvement at the next election to even get to a position of being a 'rump.' Rump-hood is about the best that their new leader, whichever hapless sucker inherits that position, can look to the future and hope for.

Seven seats.

Out of a parliament of 89. The rest went; Liberal-National 78, Independent 2, and the Mad Katter's new 'Loopy Fru-Fru Party' 2. But more on the Mad Katter later.

It is nothing less than the greatest landslide obliteration in Australian political history.

The sheer one sidedness of it makes it hard to absorb all at once; Labor lost more than 40 seats, on the back of a 15.6% statewide swing against it, with ten senior, high profile ministers shown the door. The former Premier, Anna Bligh, suffered a 10 point swing against her, but her margin was such that she still held her seat by 5 percent... and then promptly announced that she was leaving politics immediately, giving the voters one last chance to give her party a booting at a subsequent by election. Which they probably will (Bligh's primary vote was only 0.5% ahead of the LNP candidate, making this seat ripe to switch sides as well).

As results go, the above catalogue of horrors is the sort of thing that makes the anti-Keating 'waiting with baseball bats' Federal landslide of 1996 look like a solidly credible effort. After all, the Keating lead ALP managed a primary vote of 37% in that one, considered an unmitigated disaster at the time, but which is some TEN POINTS higher than what Bligh and co just managed.

And there lies the rub for Federal Labor.

After Bligh, looking stunned and ill, shuffled away from the media pack for the last time to go on a ninety hour bender, senior Labor figures in Canberra stepped in to try and staunch the wound.

'It's a disappointing result, but we congratulate the new Liberal-National government and look forward to working with them.'

'Today is a tough day but the voters have spoken and you have to respect that.'

'Despite what happened in Queensland, Federal Labor will continue to do what it does every day; work hard to enact our agenda in support of workers and families.'

'This was an election fought on state issues, which are not really for the Federal Government to comment on.'

None of the above quotes need attribution; firstly because they're not real quotes, but, more importantly, because any number of Federal Labor figures made public comment offering variants on these themes. The result was bad, it was grim, but it was a state result based on state issues and it was nothing to do with Canberra. The Prime Minister even lead off her response by saying that 'Anna Bligh had lead a good government,' which made you wonder if she hadn't finally developed a sense of humour. She'd be hard pressed to find too many Queenslanders who shared that viewpoint currently.

But whatever the tough/calm/mildly deluded comments that members of the Federal Government offered up, you wouldn't want to put too much stock in them. Secretly they all must be terrified. For even before this tidal wave of anti-Labor feeling, they were in trouble in Queensland.

There are more marginal seats in Queensland than in any other state, enough so that the next Federal election could be won and lost in that state, alone. And then there's K.Rudd, the nation's most prominent Queensland politician, who'd just been sent to the back bench after his supposed colleagues had aggressively stomped on him. And Queensland's booming mining industries and economy make it a focal point of discontent over the carbon tax.

But, perhaps most worrying of all for the Federal ALP, is that two digit figure; 27 percent.

This is the primary vote number that Queensland Labor polled the day before the electorate buried them in a landfill with the other garbage. It turned out to be an accurate prediction. The figure that produced that stunning swing and the loss of all those seats and the end of numerous careers and the consignment of the state party to oblivion for a decade or more, if not forever...

... this is also the same primary vote figure that Federal Labor polled nationally yesterday.

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