Sensible centre is for suckers
I am going to point to the US, the UK and modern mainstream protestant churches to explain what’s wrong with the Liberal party in this country. It will make for depressing reading, so if you don’t have a strong stomach, don’t read on.
Let’s start in the US. Yes, yes, yes, nigh on every journalist in the English-speaking world (even sports journalists, I’ve noticed) like to work in as many cheap shots at President Donald Trump as they can. ‘Look’, they’ll bleat, ‘at his son’s one email that he willingly produced showing he had a meeting with a Russian’.
Of course none of these same journalists ever complained that Hillary Clinton had deleted all her emails, poured metaphorical IT bleach through all her hard drives and made sure there was no trail to incriminate her. No, she’s on the left of the political spectrum so different standards apply.
But my point is that when you get away from the optics, and the fact Trump is a vulgarian non-Harvard type, what do right of centre people have to complain about so far? Answer: nothing. What Trump’s doing, as opposed to what he says, is all good. Great cabinet. Great pick for the top court (take note of that George Brandis, as all of your picks could have been made by Labor). Foreign policy so far is way better than Obama’s.
And Trump’s constant refrain that 95 per cent of the media lean left or hard left is, well, accurate, meaning you have to adopt a different playbook as a right-leaning leader.
In fact, when you look at the US you notice that in terms of ‘doing things’ the problem right now lies with Congress, with the elected bicameral legislature. Republicans control both Houses and yet they can’t pass any sort of repeal of Obamacare. This isn’t Trump’s fault in any way as he has made clear he’ll sign any type of ‘repeal and replace’ bill presented to him, even a straight out ‘repeal only’ bill. No, the problem is all those Republican legislators, especially in the Senate. You see, we now have full confirmation that a good many of them belong to what we might call the Christopher Pyne or Black Hand wing of the Republicans.They are RINOs, Republicans in Name Only. Put differently, they’re soft lefties who despite running for over six years on the promise of repeal don’t really want to do it. Indeed, two Republican senators who only a couple of years ago signed up to a ‘repeal only’ bill when Obama was President (and they knew he’d veto it) now refuse to sign up.
So it’s the Republican legislature, and all those ‘sensible centre’ Righties, that are making it hard to enact anything. Same goes for tax reform. You can’t plausibly blame the President for this (though the ABC crowd does). No, it’s the members of the Republican Black Hand, legislators whose core values more closely align with Democrats and who don’t seem willing to fight for anything. They just want to win elections and keep the chauffeur and all the other perks. (Sound familiar as you scan through the list of Liberal Party MPs in Canberra?)
Or take the UK and the Tory party over there. If you want to observe a case study in governing for the ‘sensible centre’ just look at the Tories from the end of WWII until Thatcher. They adopted the idiotic idea that their role in life was merely to slow down Labour ideas, not to oppose and repeal them.
What you got was a sort of managed and moderated decline, based on the motto ‘we’re better than they are’ – today we might change it to ‘hell is coming, but it will take a tad longer if you elect us’. In today’s Australian Liberal party terms that translates to ‘From us there will be no die in the ditch commitment to core freedoms such as free speech, no small government principles, no steadfast determination to eliminate deficits, no values that can’t be forsaken when negotiating with some independent senator, or heck even with the Greens’.
Here’s a non-political analogy. It relates to what happens when an organisation no longer seems to believe in any of its founding values and principles, when none of them is any longer perceived to be really worth fighting for. I generalise, of course, but I refer to non-evangelical protestant denominations in this country that are bleeding members in their congregations. (And to lay my cards on the table, I come from a long line of Scots-Canadian Calvinist Presbyterians, though my parents were atheists and so am I. But culturally I share a good few of those worthy attitudes.) But seriously, why go to a Uniting Church Sunday service in this country when all they seem to offer is nothing much more than a set of Greens party homages to those who claim to be refugees?
The basic religious attitude focuses on the sacred and on the meaning of life. So it does not seem to me to be a recipe for success to have some near-agnostic minister stand up and preach about highly contentious and debatable political policies more related to Caesar than to God. (Hint: you are not a bad or immoral person if you favour stopping the boats or think it’s a dumb idea to welcome in a million Muslims from Syria.) Put differently, if you’ve got nothing to sell but ‘love your neighbour’ platitudes, you are going to lose members.
In my view all the recent talk emanating from our sick and haemorrhaging Liberal party about the ‘sensible centre’ is just a recipe for future decline – for them and for the country. You need to believe in certain things and argue for them even if many people at present disagree with you.
That, after all, is how you change minds. You need to think some things are worth more than ministerial office. (Further note: Any two Liberal MPs could defeat each and every Team Turnbull move to the left simply by crossing the floor, or indeed by threatening to bring on an election. They like their jobs too much, however.)
No one accused Reagan or Thatcher or Churchill in the 1930s of genuflecting to the ‘sensible centre’ and that’s because it’s a horribly unattractive outlook, including for politicians in a long-established right of centre political party.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator Australia for less – just $20 for 10 issues