Will Lambie be the new Palmer?

Jacqui Lambie

The Palmer United Party is in trouble.

Today Senator Jacqui Lambie made her first official split with Palmer United Party vowing to vote down financial regulations changes introduced by the Government. Lambie joined the ALP, Greens and other cross benchers in a collaborative effort against the changes, which the Government had previously negotiated with Palmer himself.

Lambie’s split is part of a ongoing feud with the Palmer United Party leader, one which flared over her demands for an increase in pay for defence force personnel, and which has now seen her removed from her leadership positions in the party.

While many will see this as the inevitable split of two erratic politicians, there are deeper reasons behind this — ones that will have long term impacts on Palmer’s political future.

Despite stories that Palmer’s popularity was the result of him ‘buying seats’, the rise of the mining billionaire was more due to his ability to tap into a growing mood of anti-politics. A former member of the LNP, Palmer talks about how he entered politics because the Newman Government “had turned against ordinary Queenslanders so badly that he felt he had to do something.” From the beginning he framed himself as the man fighting against the vested interests and structures of modern politics. He was the principle outsider who joined us in our fight against the “bastard politicians”.

For a multi-billionaire mining mogul it was an impressive feat, but not a surprising one. Palmer has consistently taken unpopular positions in a stance of principle over political compromise, and his straight talking definitely spoke to parts of the electorate. Add in his willingness to disrupt the political order — a political order hated by many — and you can see why he was popular in parts of the electorate.

But recent months has seen Palmer backtrack. From his early approach in the Senate, which was largely to cause as much disruption as possible, Palmer has slowly become “just like any other politician.” This can seen on issues such as the financial regulations changes, and more recently with Palmer’s deal on Direct Action. Originally vowing to not to vote for the legislation, Palmer caved, doing a dirty deal to get a bill — one that would largely benefit him and his interests — passed. As time has gone by Palmer’s disruptive approach has come to an end, and with it, so did his popularity start to slide.

We can see this played out in the polls. Recent polling has shown that the Palmer United Party is in the middle of a nose-dive. This is particularly true in Queensland, where Palmer has lost all his state MPs in recent months and on current trends looks unlikely to bother statisticians at the upcoming state election. After entering Parliament to fight against politicians like Campbell Newman who were working against the interests of regular people, Palmer has become one of those politicians, and the people are punishing him for it.

It’s no wonder Jacqui Lambie is rebelling. Lambie represents Palmer’s anti-politics approach more than any of his other Senators. Just look at her approach to defence force pay. Lambie’s position is not only highly principled but it goes up strongly against the political establishment. She has actively defied the political elite, causing as much trouble as possible in doing so.

Where has Palmer stood on this? Largely on the side of the establishment. Palmer has resisted Lambie’s approach, even though she is using the sorts of tactics he would have taken in the past. It is no wonder she is reacting the way she is — as the ultimate outsider Lambie is getting tired of Palmer’s insider game, and is rightfully fighting back.

This is where Palmer has to be careful. As his popularity slumps, Lambie could soon take his mantle — championing the anti-politics approach he has abandoned. She is taking what made Palmer popular in the first place and owning it, threatening to become more popular than he. As she threaten's to split from the party and form her own voting bloc that could see a very quick end to the relevance of the Palmer United Party.

The Palmer United Party is facing a sudden slide its fortunes. The reason is clear — Palmer has become caught in the establishment politics his entire popularity was built around fighting. As Jacqui Lambie’s profile increases Clive Palmer has to be careful. She soon could take his position, making him, and his party, largely irrelevant.

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.