Flat White

The Liberal Party is beyond help

26 February 2017

4:08 PM

26 February 2017

4:08 PM

It probably doesn’t matter what I think, but the best course now is for Cory Bernardi and the Australian Conservatives to make huge gains in the Senate and save the Coalition from haemorrhaging votes to One Nation. The Liberals are beyond help at this point, as the latest row over Tony Abbott confirms.

Moderates and apparatchiks won’t like to hear it, but Abbott’s criticism of the government was perfectly reasonable, both in substance and form. The Liberals are becoming ‘Labor Lite’; they do ‘need a purpose’ beyond hosting ‘a contest of toxic egos’; in the meantime, they are ‘drifting toward defeat’.

Now, is Abbott one of those ‘toxic egos’? Maybe. Sure. Whatever. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. If some smug hack wants to talk about pots and kettles, let them. What matters is that a former PM and the second-most important member of the Liberal Party sees what the base sees: ‘A sense of disappointment and disillusionment,’ ‘disappointment with the Abbott government,’ and ‘despair about the Turnbull government.’


The only question is whether there’s a serious-minded adult in the Liberal Party willing to rise above that ego-contest and make the necessary repairs. I guarantee you there isn’t. The media is agog that arch-loyalist Matthias Cormann called Abbott’s speech ‘sad’ and ‘destructive’. Why on earth would that catch anyone off-guard? Is it quite unlike a Liberal politician to place fealty to the party line and leader above principle and common sense? Can anyone who’s been watching Aussie politics for more than a year be surprised by Coalition bigwigs tuck their heads in the sand at the first sign of unpleasantness?

The Liberals are playing a dangerous game of chicken with voters. The latest Newspoll predicts a 3.5 percent swing toward Labor. (We love polls, don’t we?) One Nation is at 23 percent. Abbott was elected on a strong conservative platform; Turnbull, barely re-elected on a paper-thin one, and even that was too much for his poor bleeding heart to maintain. Yet the Libs are determined to stay the course, daring the public to hand the reigns to someone else and see if they get on any better. What purpose does that serve? Who benefits from this rude display? Not the Coalition. Hanson, Bernardi, and Shorten do, I suppose. But one should think that’s hardly the point.

The worst image the Liberal can project right now is an image of unity and confidence, because it runs exactly counter to what the Australian people feel. A little self-awareness would go a very long way. They only need assure the public they’re aware of the widespread dissatisfaction – that MPs can give voice to the electorate’s resentments without being marginalised like Abbott now is, and as Bernardi was before him. And they need to democratise preselections, so there’s a real sense of self-determination and accountability in the party every step of the way.

But I don’t see that happening. There will never be a serious contest of ideas in the Liberal Party, either at the branch or federal level. Because if conservatives and moderates had it out in the open, they’d realise they’re so at odds in everything they believe that the ‘broad church’ would crumble. It would be impossible to project an image of unity if the public knew how bitterly opposed to one another the two camps are a priori. When you sit back and think about it, it’s very difficult to understand why Turnbull preferred to sit on Abbott’s benches rather than Shorten’s. (I think it was Rowan Dean who quipped to Lucy Turnbull on Q&A that her husband would make a phenomenal leader… of the Labor Party.) So we brace ourselves for more of the bloody same.

Michael Davis tweets at @mwardav

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