Queensland Liberal National party members have begun agitating for an urgent post-election state council meeting to bring to a head internecine conflicts between the party’s membership, its office bearers and its state leader.

As counting continues in a number of close seats, the LNP’s numbers are likely to go backwards in the next parliament. In her concession speech on election night, Deb Frecklington said she intended to remain as the state leader.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a defining issue of the campaign but party figures, including the former premier Campbell Newman, say the result also points to longstanding problems.

“It’s time for the LNP to wake up and smell the coffee,” Newman told Sky News.

“The polling throughout the three years showed an LNP primary vote bouncing around between 35% and 37%. I happen to know that a track poll in June this campaign on those marginal seats … at one stage the primary vote was down at 32%.

“It’s not about Covid-19. Yes, that’s obviously been very difficult for them. But that is going the be the excuse that they present to people, but that is self-delusional. It’s time to realise that they’ve got a problem.”

The LNP’s election preparations were remarkable in that four months before polling day – based on the tracking poll Newman referred to – party backroom figures attempted to replace Frecklington as leader.

Of greatest concern then was that polling showed she had failed to cut through against the popular premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Among the membership there is considerable anger directed towards certain party powerbrokers, including some with links to the mining magnate, Clive Palmer, who ran an expensive but ineffective anti-Labor spoiler campaign.

Palmer’s United Australia party spent more than $4m on advertising attacking Labor and won 0.6% of the statewide vote.

Frecklington had previously relied heavily the backing of those powerbrokers. But since the attempted leadership coup, that relationship between the leader’s office and party head office has become strained. Sources say the disconnect hampered the campaign.

The party also referred concerns about a series of private election fundraising events featuring Frecklington and attended by property developers – who are banned from making donations – to the electoral commission.

Another factor causing concern is the increased factionalism within the merged party, and claims that candidate selection for the Queensland election was largely based on ideological preselection battles rather than electoral common sense.

Some candidate choices appear to have backfired. The seat of Maiwar – a previously marginal electorate held by the Greens – had previously been identified as a key target of the LNP campaign.

The LNP’s candidate there, the former journalist Lauren Day, was backed by the Christian right and endorsed by anti-abortion campaigners. On election day LNP volunteers were spotted putting up anti-abortion signs.

LNP volunteers putting up anti abortion signs in Maiwar pic.twitter.com/QL4j5mDA5l

— Ben Smee (@BenSmee) October 30, 2020

The Greens won the seat with a large swing. It is now considered safe.

“If we can’t pick a moderate to run in Brisbane’s western suburbs, of all places, then it’s hard to see where actual pro-business, progressive Liberals fit in with the modern party,” one member said.

“The Greens don’t lose seats when they win them. That is heartland area we might never win back.”

The LNP only holds four seats in Brisbane – a position considered a low ebb for the party. Yet across the city, seats swung to Labor, solidifying the margins of sitting MPs.

The situation has caused increasing frustration among moderates, who say the merged Liberal and National parties are being heavily influenced by the Christian right and regional interests.

The LNP also struggled to cut through in regional areas, including target seats where its primary vote did not get above 30%.

One of the stories of the election was the collapse of the One Nation vote, which went backwards by 6.8% after a low-visibility campaign by its figurehead, Senator Pauline Hanson.

A low primary vote for the LNP in 2017 was blamed on a surge for One Nation. But deserting One Nation voters did not appear to return to the LNP.

The conservative parties – as separate entities and then after the 2008 merger – have lost 11 of the past 12 Queensland elections. Some party members suggest the situation shows that the merger of the Liberal and National parties is “a failed marriage” that detracts from its messages at both ends of Queensland, and that a demerger should be discussed.

The University of Queensland political historian Chris Salisbury told Guardian Australia he expected demerger debate to follow an election loss.

“If [the LNP] lose this, there’s a good chance there will be a push to split,” Salisbury said last week. “That hasn’t been talked about as much this time, but it’s the case more so now than ever before.”

Some members who support a demerger in principle are also concerned that the process would “leave two carcasses for the buzzards” and that a better option may be a “stability pact” arrangement that would carve up the state among factional interests.

It remains unclear whether Frecklington will be able to remain as party leader. The Gold Coast MP David Crisafulli is considered the most likely challenger.

“There’s no one currently in this team who seems to be capable of winning an election,” Newman told Sky.

“This is not the fault of the LNP’s secretariat. This sits at the door of the parliamentary team and the leadership team and the staff of the leader.”


Ben Smee

The GuardianTramp

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