Monday, August 30, 2010

Prime Minister In Waiting

It seems that everybody wants a piece of the action. Not only have the so called Country Independents put together their seven steps to forming government, the Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilke has put together his own list of 20 points to be addressed by the major parties to help him make his decision on who to support. He says they are not demands, but “priorities”. About half of them are national issues, while the other half relate to his electorate. Not to be left out, National Party members have started making noises about exerting their influence in any potential Coalition minority government.

The Nationals argue that without them the Liberal Party would be hopelessly short of numbers, and therefore deserve at least the same consideration as the Independents might receive in terms of any benefits for their electorates. Clearly there is a concern that the Independent’s might be courted with promises of increased services and infrastructure in their electorates, but the Nationals are concerned that the lack of any such benefits in their own electorates would not be a good look. And they have a valid point. If the Independents are seen to be doing better than the Nationals it would further erode the image of the Party in places where voters are already questioning their relevance and their worth.

It’s a fine line to walk because any disharmony would serve to undermine the Coalition’s chances of persuading anyone that they can form a stable minority government. But, the Nationals cannot afford to be left on the sidelines either, which is what they risk if the Independents get all the gravy. This period of negotiation is a real test of leadership for the Nationals, because while they are not the senior Coalition Party, they now confront a unique opportunity to re-establish their relevance in the country community. It’s also a test of leadership for Tony Abbott, who must somehow keep the coalition unified in the face of such internal frictions.

If he can manage to do that, it will go a long way to establishing his credentials as a Prime Minister in waiting.

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