Explaining Trumpery in terms of the attitudes of the Left alone gets the story precisely backwards. Yet that is what Peta Credlin, former chief of staff to prime minister Tony Abbott, now pundit about town, wrote on Sunday.
For the political class’ smug dismissal of voter concerns is a bipartisan sin. For Credlin to imply otherwise absolves herself, and her party, from their responsibility for engendering the anger to which she refers.
In a article that is by turns commentary on US Presidential candidates, gloss on the causes of Trump and attack on the Left, Ms Credlin does at least identify a subset of the issues underlying voter anger.
The middle class are being squeezed at every turn. They work hard but don’t feel like they’re getting ahead. There’s been very little real wage growth in the private sector. The cost of living keeps going up. They support a safety net but resent the welfare class that don’t work when they can and should… They want their leaders to stand for something — to say what they’ll do and do what they say. They want the problems fixed and then they want government to let them get on with their lives rather than constantly find new ways to interfere and waste their money. While they support immigration in principle, they don’t think enough care is taken about the people let in.
Nonetheless, it is a myopic piece informed more by partisanship than a real engagement with the emerging counter-establishment energy. To be fair, the article only uses Trumpery as a frame for political point scoring, but that just reinforces its myopia.
Here at home, on it goes… we now have the Labor Party (state and federal) crying crocodile tears… Premier Daniel Andrews… Bill Shorten has a policy… the hectoring of the green-edged cultural elites…
Ms Credlin locates the inside-focus, voters-as-mug-punters attitude solely within the Left:
These concerns are real yet they’ve been dismissed by the same sniggering classes who told us we were environmental vandals if we worried about the cost of a carbon tax; that we were racist if we wanted an honest conversation about dysfunction in indigenous communities; that we were intolerant if we questioned gender education for primary schoolchildren; that we lacked compassion if we wanted boats turned back and an immigration program managed by the Australian government and not people smugglers.
Brexit, too, was a demonstration that an arrogant leftist commentariat [my emphasis] lording it over ordinary people isn’t just an issue for countries that share the Pacific Ocean.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The senior zones of the Liberal party are filled with people desperate to identify with the technocratic elite, and with just as smug and dismissive attitudes towards the low-cash, low-connection voting public.
For everything she mentions there are Liberal insiders and frontbenchers who have similar “sniggering class” attitudes or clearly support the same policy settings as those she criticizes. Recent Baird government initiatives – and reversals – are clear examples; climate change, renewables, greyhounds, education, coal seam gas and more.
These inside players are reliant on being connected conservatives for status, influence, and for the most part, the only source of decent income they’re ever likely to get. They’re quite happy playing the inside game, not rocking the policy or cultural boat too much, being what Mark Latham recently identified as “civility conservatives”. To this crew it is more important to seem nice in the eyes of the media-policy blob, and to maintain their intra-party ambitions, than to further principle or truly “comfort the afflicted”.
These are members of the establishment centre-right who mouth the words of political principle but are quite happy to lose the big fight in the long term. These are the types for whom incumbency is an end in itself, and who have more in common with fellow political class insiders across party lines than they do with those they seek to represent. Whether or not they win the fight, they still manage to get the staffer, media, pundit, government relations, corporate communications and public sector gigs that insulate them from any broader reality. Ordinary voters are not so insulated.
In general terms the establishment centre-right in Australia has failed to conserve anything of consequence over the past 60 years. There have been occasional wins – budget repair in the 1990s, stopping the boats now – but overall we have bigger government, similar tax take, a decline in individual freedoms, a merging of the private and public, a normalisation of the “progressive” agenda in social policy and more. On any objective basis, despite the collapse of communism, we live in a more Leftist world than 50 years ago, and one with fewer intact and functional institutions.
This failure is a key reason for the emergence of the angry and not-so-civil response that is Trump. Or Hanson. Or Palmer. Or our current Senate.
It is also an explanation of the visceral dislike members of the established conservative political class have for Trump and his supporters. No-one likes to be shown to be a failure – and a self-serving, self-dealing one at that – by someone you consider to be intellectually inferior.
Own it, Ms Credlin. There will always be a crazy, authoritarian Left. Its presence isn’t the real cause of the new counter-establishment. It is the fact that the establishment centre-right of which you are a part has failed to do its job for the last 60 years, and people are sick of it.