A small sub-plot in what’s going on in federal politics at the moment involves the National Party; for decades now an entity in decline, an opportunity presents for this once-proud party to grasp a generational opportunity for renewal.
Three of its traditional federal seats — Kennedy, Lyne and New England — are all held by Independents; with the anti-Labor mood sweeping the country (and the anti-Independent mood sweeping along with that), the Nationals stand a good chance of bolstering their historically low level of representation in the House of Representatives.
It has been long-known that the leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Barnaby Joyce, seeks to transfer to a lower house seat at the next election.
Joyce had preferred the sprawling Queensland seat of Maranoa, held by former Howard government minister Bruce Scott; Scott has refused to retire, however, and so Barnaby has been forced to look further afield…
…as far as the NSW electorate of New England, currently held by Independent Tony Windsor. New England is where Joyce grew up and still has family; he and the electorate are a perfect fit.
With the added bonus, of course, that Scott can stay in Maranoa (which will always be a safe conservative electorate) and Barnaby can add a seat to the Nationals’ pile in the lower house.
The Fairfax press today has published a story claiming NSW deputy Premier (and state Nationals leader) Andrew Stoner is likely to contest the NSW electorate of Lyne, currently held by another National-turned-Independent, Rob Oakeshott.
Fairfax’ story is presented through the paradigm of Stoner going to Canberra to place a bar on the eventual ambition of Barnaby Joyce to assume the federal leadership of the National Party.
The candidature of both Joyce and Stoner, in the respectively-listed seats, carry obvious benefits to the Nationals: both are highly likely to knock off the Independent incumbents, and reclaim seats for the National Party that should probably have never been at risk of falling in the first place.
Yet there is also an opportunity for the Nationals here on a wider basis.
Both Stoner and Joyce are relatively young but considerably accomplished men; both now possess some years’ parliamentary experience, and each is formidable in terms of what he can offer his Party — or to an employer away from the public sector.
The point here is that for the first time in a very long time, there’s “competition for spots” in the National Party; and the fact that it may potentially be fought by two young-ish and relatively talented blokes will likely send a signal back into the heartland of the party.
It’s very possible that out of a storm cloud, a silver lining emerges.
The storm cloud for the Nationals isn’t the Gillard government (although Labor in the past 20 years has begun to poach traditional National seats).
Rather, it is the historical decline of their party; whether through seat losses to the Liberals, population change that has delivered seats like Richmond and Page in NSW to Labor; or even the fact Independents like Oakeshott and Windsor can take seats off them at all.
The federal election which is at most 23 months away is likely to see a huge influx of new conservative members in the subsequent Parliament.
I just wonder whether, headed by Joyce and Stoner, the time is ripe for the Nationals to reinvigorate themselves, attract new supporters, and look to restore their falling levels of representation over the past couple of decades.
I’m posting more on my thoughts alone tonight, rather than on any predictions.
What do people think?