Flat White

Budget 2017: pseudopulism fails to sway the polls

15 May 2017

7:49 AM

15 May 2017

7:49 AM

Theresa May is headed for a triple-digit majority in parliament, just two years after the Tories cobbled together a government by the skin of their teeth. Even more remarkably, these are working-class voters she’s drawing in: 40 per cent of manual labourers, casual workers, and pensioners intend to vote Tory; just 25 per cent say they’ll go Labour. Naturally, this has something with her embrace of ‘hard Brexit’. She’s enjoying a Trump-style populist groundswell among patriotic workers who feel they’ve gotten the short end of globalisation.

Yet too much has been made about May’s newfound Euroscepticism. What’s happening in Britain is a long, long overdue reshuffle of the party system. For decades, working people have voted for left-wing parties out of sheer habit, despite those parties representing virtually none of their interests or values. As in Australia, blue-collar Brits tend to be vastly more conservative than their representatives in government. They’ve come to realise that, while wealth might not trickle down, poverty always does. That’s why they won’t vote for a bunch of big-taxing, big-spending pinkos like Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in a thousand years. It’s also why wiser, more Blairite minds in the party are threatening to defect.

Turnbull and Morrison have committed the same grave folly as Corbyn: they assume the working-class is seething with resentment against the wealthy. They think they can win back votes from One Nation by siphoning money from the banks, and giving them a good kick in the teeth while they’re at it. As the latest Newspoll suggests, it shows a gross, fundamentally Leftist understanding of the Great Unwashed. In fact, Middle Australia – like Middle Britain and Middle America – don’t want to sponge off Big Business and Big Finance. They don’t want to wreak vengeance on the wealthy. In short, they don’t want a stacked deck: they want a level playing-field.

It’s true that multinational interests have for a long time benefited from favourable government treatment. High immigration and outsourcing have advantaged the Haves over the Have-Nots – or, rather, the Could-Haves. And the collapse of local industry only helps those with the means to take multiple degrees and the familial connections to land safe, white-collar jobs. That’s what the populist revolt against globalism is about. It’s not socialism, it’s nationalism.

Let’s compare the Liberals’ approach to banking with One Nation’s. ScoMo wants to hit major private banks with a $6 billion tax hike, which will be used (among other things) to fund infrastructure. Hanson, meanwhile, proposes to create a ‘people’s bank’ that will ‘issue money as a credit and funding infrastructure,’ eliminating the need for a federal income tax.

Granted, most One Nation supporters probably have no idea that they’re voting for this policy. And that’s by no means to say that establishing a ‘people’s bank’ is a promising idea. But, regardless, it shows the crucial differences between the government’s socialist mindset and One Nation’s populism: (1) socialists raise taxes, while populists try to lower or abolish them; (2) populists want a government that helps them make their daily bread, while socialists want to ration it.

As we said, the reason working-class people tend to be populists and not socialists is because they’ve learned that they always end up shouldering the burden for new taxes. Sugar and tobacco are the obvious examples. What do the rich care if they pay fifteen dollars more for a pack of durries? Just so with the new taxes on Big Finance. Cory Bernardi said it best: CEOs will survive falling bank shares, though retirees mightn’t. And while hedge fund managers won’t notice an uptick in fees, coupon-cutting mums with six mouths to feed will wince at every penny that slips through their fingers. That’s why ordinary Australians instinctively recoil from all new taxes, even those against the rich. They know who ultimately foots the bill.

As for the rash of new spending, ordinary Aussies realise that their kids will be saddled with the ballooning national debt. Every dollar the government borrows is one taken out of the pockets of their unborn great-great-great grandchildren. Professional bureaucrats like Morrison and Turnbull might not know what that feels like. They think budgets are something only governments do – not families, who need to squirrel away a bit of every paycheque if they’re going to send their kids to university. It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s true: they’re much more far-sighted than gazillionaire PMs who live in harbourside mansions.

The only people who will find the government’s budget endearing are master’s degree-holding former Fairfaxistas who now prefer The Guardian Australia – the same class of chardonnay socialists whos British cousins will vote for Corbyn. Whether they realise it or not, that’s the demographic Morrison and Turnbull are appealing to. And sufficeth to say, they’re not exactly the stuff of electoral majorities. Meanwhile, ordinary, hardworking Aussies will keep deserting this rudderless leadership in droves.

That’s a shame, too. Turnbull’s fantastic meeting with President Trump and ‘Australia-First’ visa reforms were so promising. The PM finally seemed willing to do what it took to win back disaffected patriots and conservatives. But this pseudo-populist train wreck is just further proof that the Liberals don’t have what it takes to survive in a post-Trump world. One only wishes they’d go down with a bit more dignity.

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