The ancient Greeks often used the art form of storytelling, using fables or parables to get a point across. One of the most worthy of telling is the punishment meted out to King Sisyphus by Zeus for his hubris in thinking that he was cleverer than the gods. He is the famous character that was condemned to the Underworld for eternity and punished forevermore by rolling a boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll down to the bottom every time his task was nearly complete. The futility of the work was the true nature of the punishment and not the physical demands. Most people can handle hard physical labour and derive satisfaction from the results but futility is an unbearable torture.
And it is that keyword, ‘futility’; no end, no relief, no success, no meaning.
Senator Cory Bernardi has set about the task of uniting the conservatives of Australia into a single political force, an incredibly important task. But has he taken upon himself the task of Sisyphus?
Conservative voters are notoriously hard to unite and tend to endlessly fracture as they look for someone or some group that’s ‘doing something’, give it a go and see what happens. They split more often than charismatic churches and end up forming a thousand groups, all believing roughly the same thing with nuanced differences in emphasis. Conservatives by nature tend to be independently minded and don’t freely partake in group think. Command and control type structures often rile them up and have been used in Australian minor parties with minimal impact.
It will take the wisdom of Solomon and the cunning of Lincoln to wield this group into one force that can start having a major impact in our politics.
Here are some thoughts on what is necessary to make this happen and finally get that boulder over the top of the hill.
Cory Bernardi and the leadership of his party must make the transition from it being their party to the member’s party. The membership must be allowed involvement in real and tangible ways and have an impact on the party’s functions and direction.
This is a fine line to walk and only a utopian dreamer would imagine that everyone can have a say in everything but a balance can be struck. People are never more engaged than when they feel they are heard, have ownership and what they do counts for something. There is a mass of ‘political party refugees’ in Australia that have moved from one conservative, nationalist or populist endeavour to the next, looking for a permanent home. Many of them thought they’d found a conservative party but ended up discovering that it was just a patchwork quilt of discontent with an issue added here or there. The common denominator in almost all of them can be summed up in one word, ‘involvement’, to be able to contribute in meaningful ways to the party’s direction and impact. This is one of the key elements that has been lacking is so many of the political outings in Australia so far and is the number one complaint I’ve heard. To whatever extent this quality might be possessed by Bernardi himself, it will mean little if it’s not a quality shared by those appointed on the ground and entrusted with state positions. ‘Me say, you do’ won’t cut it in the Information Age and the conservative army that awaits will hold back. The good news is that if this art is mastered then that army will work hard, give generously and advocate vociferously.
The potential numbers are growing day by day as the Liberal/National coalition continues to vacate the conservative side of politics, transforming itself into Labor with a border policy. Bernardi is correct when he says, ‘I didn’t leave the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party left me’. Thousands of members feel exactly the same way knowing it’s a fundamentally different organisation. Christopher Pyne has helped out by enthusiastically spouting Labor/Greens policy to a meeting of Liberal party members and getting a round of applause for it. If a cabinet minister sounding like Bob Brown doesn’t set off alarm bells for you, nothing will.
The Australian Conservatives is one of the best opportunities Australia has had to form a significant conservative political block in a generation. Another opportunity like this might not present itself for a long time and it won’t if those leading it find themselves pushing boulders up hills for eternity. If there was ever a time to unite and work together, this is it. If you’re looking for something shinier and more ‘exactly what you want’, it’s not coming. The perfect political fit is like the perfect marriage, it doesn’t exist. And in the same way that there’s no perfect marriage but rather successful marriage, so it is with politics. It’s not perfect but it can succeed as adjustments and accommodations are made that enable cooperation and progress.
The political left is cashed up and has some serious clout on its side. The unions, much of the media, businesses that are being turned into personal social hobby horses by their CEOs, large parts of the judiciary and much of academia. Our side of politics must respond. It takes a shed load of money to run a political party and run a campaign. Political conservatives won’t get an easy run through the media with soft interviews like those given to The Greens and Labor, so we must be in charge of our message and communicate directly with the public. Again that takes money and we need to be willing to give and use our talents.
A word to the wealthy of Australia that have any love for conservative values, get on board. You may believe your wealth to be a high tower but it is under serious threat from multiple directions. Over the last year, the government has raised boutique taxes on target industries and threatened the nation’s retirement savings. Not Labor/Greens, the Liberal/National government. If they are willing to do that then I shudder to think what the Labor/Green coalition will dream up next. Both political coalitions in Australia are now seemingly committed to placing our children and grandchildren into perpetual debt slavery, guess where they’ll be looking to fix their next ‘budget emergency’.
Now is the time and the time is growing short.
Remember that scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings when the Sauron’s ring is destroyed by Gollum’s involuntary lava dive? The tower collapses, the Nazgul scatter and the dark army runs away? Great ending to the story, one ring, plop and it’s all done. Evil vanquished and righteousness forevermore.
Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.
One leader, one election won’t fix the situation we face. This will take concerted, committed effort on multiple fronts and when we have a victory, the fight is only starting. The left won’t admit defeat and patiently wait for the next election to have a fair and open contest of ideas. The intimidation and violence will begin to get worse if the events from overseas are replicated here. Even in Victoria where there is a virtual leftist hegemony and no sign of that stranglehold being released, they still resort to violence and intimidation of ANY voice that dares to contradict them as experienced by Andrew Bolt recently.
Conservatives can learn another lesson from our opponents, the power of incrementalism.
The Western democracies didn’t end up in our current situation overnight. It happened step by step, little by little, here a victory, there a success. One court ruling trumping a vote here, one concessions by the majority to keep the peace there. First it was the demand for civil unions for gay couples, then it was marriage, now its ridicule and destruction of those who believe what we’ve always believed as a society.
The pattern followed is often the same. Find a victim group that needs ‘saving’ or ‘help’ and strike an emotional cord. Have the media constantly raise it as a discussion point with sympathetic pundits and experts explaining the Nirvana that will be created when we ‘fix’ the ‘problem’. Start haranguing politicians to enact laws and begin labelling and demonising those who oppose it. Once it’s law, start legal action against those who dare to speak differently and let all throughout the land know that dissent will result in destruction. It may take two decades or two months but the end result is the same.
If we want political success and victories we need to stop looking for the knockout blow and start playing the long game as our opponents have. If recent indications both here and overseas are anything to go by, it’s getting to the stage of now or never for liberal western democracies. The reaction of the establishment to the Trump Presidency and Brexit has been more vicious, violent and deceptive than I would have imagined possible. Even if conservatives start winning some political power in Australia the struggle will have only begun. We need to start actively engaging and winning culture wars or we will be trying to plug the leak in the social Titanic. As Andrew Breitbart said, ‘politics is downstream from culture’; everything we now see playing out in the political sphere was instigated through schools and entertainment long before it reached a parliamentary vote.
There is no perfect political party and there is no short term solution. It took cultural Marxists half a century or more to get us to the point we’re at today and a lot of hard work. It will take decades of work and Herculean effort to reverse it.
Bernardi could have gone along to get along and cashed in a nice pension for the rest of his life when he retired but he didn’t. He decided instead to take on the most difficult task in Australian politics and should be applauded for it. He has his work cut out for him and so do we.
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