Towards conservative oligopoly; east and west

State political journalists in New South Wales are doing it tough just at the moment. Generating vaguely interesting material from a government that most people have written off and an Opposition that assumes (correctly) that it will dawdle into government in March 2011 must be pretty challenging. Even the disturbing developments surrounding Premier Keneally’s proroguing of parliament seem like a footnote to a book that was published and swiftly remaindered a year or two back. Most ordinary folks one talks to apropos of nothing are weary of politics, but when it comes to politics in New South Wales, they are livid. The trail of disappointments, petty infighting, incredulous scandals and broken promises has not just served to damage the Labor brand, but smashed the democracy brand altogether. The credibility of democracy in New South Wales is pretty much sub-zero; democracy as a celebration of mediocrity.

The most recent [PDF] bi-monthly Newspoll from early December painted a frankly disastrous picture for Premier Keneally and NSW Labor; Labor is sitting on just 39% of the two-party preferred vote – and a primary vote of just 24%. The pain that Labor feels is undoubtedly going to be sharpened by the optional preferential voting system that we have in New South Wales, whereby electors are able to exhaust their preferences in the lower house if they wish. One gets the feeling that there are going to be quite a few voters out there who cast a vote for a independent or minor party and neglect to preference either Labor or Barry O’Farrell’s evidently vision-free Opposition. Given the general ill-feeling out there in the electorate, it is difficult not to see this mentality strengthening O’Farrell’s hand and his grip on a massive parliamentary majority.

Interestingly enough, it is not just New South Wales where it seems that the conservatives have a whip hand in state politics. Anna Bligh’s team is struggling in Queensland. Ted Baillieu has of course recently lead the Coalition into power in Victoria, slightly surprisingly. A recent Newspoll [PDF] in Western Australia has Eric Ripper’s Opposition on the ropes, with Labor commanding just 29% of the primary vote and 42% on two-party preferred. Western Australia is arguably a unique case; although we always like to assume that people treat state and federal politics separately, it is difficult not to view politics in the West through the prism of the great mining tax kerfuffle that Federal Labor have yet to find a wholly decisive resolution to. I don’t think there is much doubt that some of the unseemly scuffles that Rudd and Gillard have been trying to fight through during the last couple of years have oozed into the consciousness of people weighing up their vote at a state level.

In New South Wales, of course, we will have a resolution first. In my view, the best argument for a vote or preference for Labor is that democracy in the state stands to be damaged further if the O’Farrell Opposition are gifted a monstrous majority by political circumstances. I’m not sure its in the interest of people in any state for a government to be crushingly controlled by any one party or coalition. The mandate that Barry O’Farrell will have, presuming his team takes power in March 2011, will be a mandate borne out of the chaos of the previous government, and hardly an ounce of his Coalition’s political ingenuity or vision. This hardly augurs well.

Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

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