When you are heading for oblivion in the way that the Bligh government is, and when you have tried everything to claw back, as the Bligh government has, there is basically only one technique left to limit electoral damage.
That technique is to point to the likely size of your opponent’s win and to ask voters to vote for you as insurance against your opponent having too much power.
So, in today’s Australian we have Anna Bligh sort of admitting she will be defeated and sort of offering Labor as insurance against Newman:
“It all looks uphill for Labor from here,” she said.
“What’s really important is that Queenslanders who are thinking about a change, think about how much power they want to give the LNP.
“I do think we need to be out there working to win every seat and if we are not able to get over the line we need to make sure that we limit that power, so there is a balanced democracy in Queensland.”
The premier’s execution is less than perfect. If there is a ghost of a chance of the tactic working, and I suspect there isn’t, then it needs some other ingredients.
First is an act of contrition. She needs to tell voters that she understands that they have found her government wanting, and that she accepts that verdict.
This election is not about rewarding the LNP, it is about punishing Labor. If Labor does not demonstrate understanding of this as well as contrition, then voters will carry through with their original intention.
In the last few days Labor’s campaign of sleazy ad hominem against Newman and avoidance of their own record has foundered against the reality that it relies on unsubstantiated innuendo and desperation as the premier admitted she has no evidence against Newman, and the CMC confirmed they weren’t even interested.
This has confirmed and amplified the intention in the electorate, leading to a firming of the LNP vote.
A second, and related part of the strategy, should be to make the LNP threat seem credible. A return to the “Bjelke-Petersen days” is neither threatening nor credible.
It is 25 years since Bjelke-Petersen was in power so voters under 40 have virtually zero recall of his government. What’s more, many older voters remember his government relatively fondly.
It is worth remembering that even though the Nationals had been running government for 32 years by the time they lost office the combined Liberal and National Party first preference vote was 45.14%. Compare that to Bligh’s Labor vote currently running at 30% according to the latest Galaxy.
Added to that, by the time of the election the Nationals had made their own act of contrition.
It was the Nationals who set-up the Fitzgerald Committee of Inquiry and who removed Joh Bjelke-Petersen from power, replacing him with reformist clean-skin Mike Ahern.
They cruelled their own pitch a little by tipping Ahern out for Cooper before the election, but unlike Labor they weren’t a party in complete denial.
Then there is the fact that Newman is nothing like anyone from the Bjelke-Petersen era. He’s young, and he has a university education. He’s articulate, and he has small “l” liberal social values. Until Mike Ahern joined Joh’s cabinet none of the Nationals were tertiary educated, let alone had a university degree.
And while Labor has tried to manufacture a sense of corruption around Newman, his fundraising activities have been little different from the fundraising activities of politicians everywhere in Australia. They are certainly light years away from some of the things that happened under Bjelke-Petersen.
So badly has Bligh mishandled this that it opens up another potential line of attack for Newman. There is a substantial percentage of normally Labor voting Queenslanders who want Labor to lose badly so they can reform. They may even remember that the 1974 election result actually gave people like Dr Dennis Murphy, Wayne Goss and Peter Beattie the circumstances to reform Labor.
Newman can campaign against Labor saying “If you really believe the best interest of this state lies in having a strong government and a strong opposition, make sure Labor gets the message this election. Just this once, vote LNP, because if you don’t Labor will never learn.”