Those pundits who have questioned whether it would be good for us to have Mark Latham join the Liberal Democrats might be interested to know that when I logged into our database on the weekend after it was announced, we had just gained about 50 new members.
Some of our new members may have joined after being disappointed with the government’s Labor-lite budget, but there’s no doubt that Mark’s announcement encouraged people to have a closer look at us and got them talking about our policies.
The Liberal Democrats have more detailed policies than most political parties, and we are the only party with a genuine plan to cut tax and balance the budget. We prove this each year by putting out a detailed alternative budget. We know that with more awareness we will make more enemies, but we will also make more friends.
Mark is our highest profile recruit so far, one of about 5,000 new members since I was first elected to the Senate in 2013. Growth has been steady and was boosted by a wave of ex-Liberals who joined after last year’s superannuation tax increases. Our membership of around 7,000 now rivals that of the major parties.
Mark Latham will help us reach out to a new constituency of people who could broadly be described as old Labor and, some would argue, true Labor. Having a former Labor leader join us also underscores the fact that libertarians come from all sides of politics. Some commentators falsely describe me as a conservative or right winger. As a former Labor leader, this is a label they will have much more difficulty pinning on Mark.
Mark Latham is a passionate supporter of freedom of speech, and will back the rights of the individual over the paternal hand of government more often than not. From what I can tell, he hates government waste and rejects the lazy thinking that there’s always a rich person, or the next generation, to pay for a never-ending stream of entitlements. Like me, he also recognises the contribution of immigration but worries our hard-won liberal values could be eroded unless we manage it carefully. He is a rare public figure who lives outside the goats’ cheese curtain. Reports on his Facebook page from the suburbs of western Sydney contain opinions from people who our state run media would not touch with an almond-infused latte. The success of his Facebook page suggests that he has touched a nerve in the outer suburbs.
I am sure the constituency Mark reaches could provide rich pickings for our party. Working class Australians are tired of seeing governments pander to the more prosperous middle classes. Many are tired of paying outlandish taxes for cigarettes to subsidise public broadcasters they don’t watch or listen to. Many are fed up with higher electricity bills to fund wind turbines and the solar panels of the rich. When rich parents pressure governments to mandate gold-plated standards for childcare to assuage their guilt, it is the working class that suffers. The working class also pays for light rail projects in inner city suburbs, and for the university degrees of kids who will end up far richer than they are.
Working class Australians are sick of the nanny state. They are tired of being told what they can say and when, where, what and how much they can drink, smoke, eat, gamble and enjoy themselves. It has gotten so ridiculous that increasingly their needs are relegated behind animal rights and the environment.
Mark has said that he never left the Labor Party, the Labor Party left him. It’s amazing that the likes of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating have remained in the Labor Party despite the modern Labor Party trashing their legacy of pro-market reform. Mark complains, as I do, that Labor is now competing with the Greens for prosperous middle class voters and could not give a fig about such things as creating jobs or the impact on the poor of energy costs, minimum wages, sugar taxes or the price of eggs.
He says he agrees with 80 to 90 per cent of the Liberal Democrat’s policies. The absence of a 100 per cent alignment is not unusual. Libertarians are not anarchists, in that we believe some government is needed, but we often have diverse ideas about where the limits to government should occur. Some people might want to make something of any difference of opinion, but our members tend to be free thinkers and, unlike the major parties, we don’t send dissidents off to break rocks in the gulags.
What’s so encouraging about Mark Latham’s decision to join the Liberal Democrats is his willingness to join forces with a group, rather be a lone ranger in a sea of lone rangers.
If I had a dollar for each person who told me they would join our Party except for a particular policy they disagree with – most often guns or same sex marriage – I could cover the next blowout in the NDIS. These lone rangers will never join a political party, and find comfort in always criticising politics without ever doing anything about it.
The idea that a member of a political party must agree with every one of its policies is a bizarre form of ideological lockstep. In fact, I would be surprised if even Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten personally believe in more than 90 per cent of their own party’s positions.
There’s also no need for the members of a party to share personality traits. I can even report that a number of Liberal Democrats have somehow come to the mistaken conclusion that I can be, on rare occasions, mildly profane and abrupt.
Of course, I’d love to get more high profile recruits to our party. There are more than a few very capable libertarian politicians around the traps who are fed up with the big government policies of their parties. And although I have little time for tokenism, we would welcome more women into the fold as well.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly who the potential recruits to our party are at the moment. For now they will just have to remain a twinkle in my eye.
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