Let’s pretend for just a moment that Tony Abbott is the right-wing hardliner everyone says he is. Let’s pretend he’s not as enamoured of wealth redistribution and multiculturalism as Malcolm Turnbull. Let’s pretend he’s not as committed to jihad-denialism as Barack Obama. (Of course, he’s all of these things.)
If he was restored to the prime ministership, what on Earth would change? He’d still be just one of about four true-believing conservatives in the Liberal Party. And they’d all still be at the mercy of the party room, which is dominated by spineless careerists who’d sell their mothers for a three-point bump in the polls.
Tony Abbott is the opiate of the base. He serves very little purpose except to make rank-and-file conservatives believe the bosses take their principles seriously. It’s simply not true, and nothing the Liberals have done since the Howard years suggests that it is. Regardless of whether Turnbull or Abbott is leader, the party will still be run by shadowy operators like Michael Photios and Nick Campbell.
But none of this is news to anyone. The cabal of lobbyists and powerbrokers who control the federal and state parties is the worst-kept secret in politics. What really astounds me is that conservatives continue to support them. Some of you even pay their salaries! You’re like a sweet-natured country girl who’s dating a ‘bad boys’ because ‘he’s a little rough around the edges but he has a heart of gold’. The Liberals are fundamentally good, you say. You can fix them, you say. All they need is a little love – someone to stand by them when everyone else has walked away (like that big meanie Cory Bernardi!).
Folks, it’s not happening. The Liberal Party is fundamentally corrupt. It exists solely to employ student politicians whose parents finally draw the line at ten years for an Arts degree. And the few good eggs who slip through either get fed up and leave, like Bernardi, or spend their entire career on the fringes, like Eric Abetz.
That’s one unfortunate backlash from the Trump phenomenon: I think conservatives saw an angry base oust its party’s establishment and thought they could, too. Del-Cons wanted to do to the Liberals what the Deplorables did to the GOP. But the differences are much too vast.
For starters, the Republican Party is far more decentralised. Its ‘factions’ are simultaneously more pronounced and less organised: they’re loose confederations of voters who share the same values, not a small but highly-disciplined armies of hacks who serve the same warlord. And its ‘establishment’ is already more conservative than the Liberals, if you can believe that.
But the real kicker is the Westminster system. The base can’t set the tone for the entire party by electing a new prime minister the way Americans can by voting for their presidential candidate. In Australia, the rank-and-file would have to seize control of a majority of party branches in blue-ribbon seats before they could even consider influencing the leadership. So… good luck with that. And I haven’t even mentioned compulsory voting.
However you slice it, the Liberals are a lost cause. Greg Sheridan’s right: they’re rotten to their core. They stand for nothing but themselves. They rise through the ranks, not by advancing their principles or serving their constituents, but by obeying their patrons.
Aussie conservatives have suffered enough trying to fix the Liberals from within. It’s time to look elsewhere for leadership. Of course, I’d never presume to tell you how to vote, but speaking of Aussie Conservatives…
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