Coming to terms with Clive

It is simply too easy to write Clive Palmer off as interested mainly in his business interests or more recently as a racist or xenophobe. Phillip Coorey in the AFR thinks Palmer taps into a deep vein of political mistrust (paywalled). Coorey bases this on research by Tony Mitchelmore who did some research on who votes for Clive and why.

“The stereotype of the Clive Palmer voter is of an outer-suburban, white-bread, lower socio-economic Anglo male,” Mitchelmore says in his findings summary.

“Attitudinally, they are thought by many as a bit ignorant, uneducated and even a bit angry and disaffected. Many see them as naive.” But this is “off the mark”.

“The reality is, yes, some are disaffected and, yes, cost-of-living concerns are at the forefront for many, but discussions with them are actually quite calm, thoughtful and insightful.

“They are not enraged by the boats issue, for example, like many in outer-suburban electorates, and appear less overtly ‘entitled’.”

Unlike the student politicians now running the country, some of whom have an ideology a mile wide and an inch deep, Palmer was perceived as having both sparkle and substance and, “unlike most politicians, he has actually done something”.

About 10% of voters vote for PUP in Queensland, 5% nationally. They want Palmer to shake things up and frequently mention Keating, Kennett and Joh.

In his rant about the Chinese, Palmer apparently mentioned the desire of the Chinese to undercut wages and conditions. Their desire to use their own labour for mining and agricultural projects is a sticking point in current free trade negotiations. Mitchelmore says that in any focus group, “457s go off”. Coorey:

The government has told China it could never allow the import of labourers en masse and options are still being negotiated to allow a limited and temporary importation of skilled workers under the 475 visa scheme.

At her peak Pauline Hanson attracted more voters but flamed out. Nevertheless there’s an enduring market, especially in Queensland, for conservative politicians who buck the system and perhaps replace the National Party, which too frequently sells out to the Liberals. Bob Katter probably left his run a decade too late. Barnaby Joyce initially had a bit of a go, but then chose to stay inside the tent, as did De-Anne Kelly, remember her?.

Conservative leaders need a strategy of dealing with Palmer which goes beyond hoping he will implode. The problem for them goes beyond the individual personality of Palmer. Mitchelmore:

“Unless the main parties can start to project Clive-like qualities, there are plenty of other voters out there who might be attracted to the next antidote to the status quo.”

Personally I think the key to Palmer is that he sounds unlike a politician, who it should be remembered rate just above prostitutes and used car salesmen in public esteem.

Whether Palmer can hang on in Fairfax, which he won by 53 votes, is a question. I suspect he’d easily win a senate seat. The quality of his senators is also a problem. Glenn Lazarus, the nominated leader, doesn’t say anything much and Jacqui Lambie sounds more like an independent than a team player. Nevertheless, when Labor and the Greens line up PUP can’t be avoided. The same will likely apply after the next election.