Leading article Australia

Dear Noreen

14 July 2016

1:00 PM

14 July 2016

1:00 PM

Longtime Speccie reader Noreen from Queensland is not one for camouflaging her true feelings. ‘So much for balanced opinion! Your issue this week is a disgrace to political journalism. Not only do you replay your abhorrent cover picture from last year but you fill the entire Australian content with totally biased articles against Malcolm Turnbull. The only light amidst the mire of invective is Julian Leeser’s account of his successful election campaign which was full of positive thinking for the Liberal party, otherwise it was a political rant worthy of Pauline Hanson in her bad old days.’

Noreen has plenty more to say on the subject. All of it – as is the case with most current discussions about the outcome of this federal election – genuinely heartfelt and impassioned.

For conservatives of all hues, emotions did run high on election night, and since then the narrow win by the Coalition has provoked confused and mixed emotions. Of course there is huge relief that Labor are not in a position to form government. But to be honest, nobody seriously ever believed that the electorate would rush eagerly back into the arms of the motley crew who gave us the Rudd and Gillard disasters, other than via some grotesque cobbled-together alliance with the Greens that would have quickly collapsed under its own chronic dysfunction. Bill Shorten campaigned as confidently as he did for one reason only – he knew he had only the faintest chance of actually winning. As such, he could afford to take big risks; the brazen lie about Medicare being the most obvious.

There is also, naturally, delight that our immediate economic and cultural future lies in Coalition rather than Labor/Green/Independent hands.

But coupled with the relief and joy of Mr Turnbull’s promised, narrowly-achieved victory are two other noticeable emotions. The most common is a slight nagging feeling of doubt, best summed up by Richard Ferguson in his excellent piece on our new Flat White blog (go to spectator.com.au) where he expresses his concern that it was ‘all for nothing’. ‘It’ being the toppling of Tony Abbott, the ascendancy of Malcolm Turnbull, the months of dithering about a mythical economic narrative, the pointless double dissolution and of course the unusually long election campaign. Are we really, after all of that, and even after Mr Turnbull’s victory, any closer to achieving what all conservatives know in their bones must be achieved – a return to surplus, a dramatic reduction in government spending, an end to divisive ‘progressivism’ and a lowering of taxes?

There is also another detectable emotion: a sense of guilt. A sense that as conservatives we somehow failed to support and fight for the values that we all know are important: loyalty, prudence, decency, determination and grit. The toppling of the decent Tony Abbott was always a Faustian deal – ditch the onion-eater in favour of a telegenic populist who guaranteed a big win. But, deep down, all conservatives know it’s never that easy, and that such thinking should belong exclusively to the other, more superficial side of politics. The public’s rejection of three of the MPs closely associated with last September’s upheavals, Peter Hendy, Wyatt Roy and Fiona Scott, is unlikely to be coincidental. Nor is the fact that the (conservative) Nationals improved their vote, whereas the Liberals saw virtually their entire majority wiped out.

But the overriding emotion for conservative voters surrounding Mr Turnbull’s victory is one of concern for the future direction and policies of the conservative side of politics. Mr Turnbull has made it clear through words and actions (or lack of them) that he regards conservative values as a low priority, despite his last minute decision to do interviews with Alan Jones. The Prime Minister’s priorities are, of course, entirely his choice. Yet the next few months will see whether the shock of over a million voters quitting the Liberal party in favour of conservative alternatives has any impact on his decision making. Thus far the signs are less than reassuring. The superannuation debate is emblematic. During the election, Mr Turnbull was quick to ditch one particular policy at the merest hint of a raised eyebrow from the luvvies of the arts world, yet he has (thus far) resisted even the tiniest amendments to the superannuation policy that did so much to spook the Liberals’ conservative heartland.

Politics is, at the end of the day, as much about an emotional response by the voter as a rational one. Last week’s issue – deliberately – attempted to reflect the anger, dismay and sense of futility that many conservatives felt – and still feel – about the outcome of events that began with the backstabbing of a first term Liberal prime minister and culminated with the angry denunciation of the electorate by his successor on election night.

It is now up to Malcolm Turnbull to diffuse those strong emotions. He is the only person in a position to do so. But he will have to develop new skills, better judgment, and focus more on conservative values and less on his beloved progressive pet projects. We sincerely hope he succeeds.

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