I’m no Crosby-Textor, but if Malcolm Turnbull was wondering what the recipe for electoral success is, it certainly isn’t telling a significant proportion of the membership that they have no place in the party, which is exactly what he insinuated with his attack on conservatives while accepting his Disraeli Prize at Policy Exchange.
Arguing that Menzies deliberately excluded “traditional conservative parties” in the formation of the Liberal Party is, all other things aside, factually inaccurate. But even if we entertain Malcolm’s fanciful and out of touch notion of what Menzies’ party was, it was certainly not John Howard’s, who is a much more recent comparison.
Howard faced similar challenges to Turnbull, the threat of One Nation and minor parties as well as the tension between the two traditions of the party, liberalism and conservatism. Howard unified the party rather than alienated the membership, and he knew how to wage war on Pauline Hanson and rally middle Australia behind the Liberal vision.
Many small ‘l’ liberals have rushed to the side of the leader, becoming keyboard warriors overnight arguing for what they see as Malcolm’s defence of ‘liberalism’. In their rush to toe the party line above all else, they seem to have missed the fact that Malcolm could barely bring himself to stand for ‘liberalism’ in his address, advocating instead for the ‘centre’, wherever that is exactly.
I for one, look forward to Turnbull’s follow-up address identifying exactly where his ‘centre’ is, so we might actually have some understanding of what he believes.
In a difficult period for the Liberals, and a disenchanted electorate, individuals will be looking for vision, leadership and inspiration. The problem with Turnbull’s centre is that it reeks of a boring managerial notion of governance that won’t rally a nation’s support for election victory. Now, after last night, he can’t even rely on conservative voter’s loyalty come the next election.
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