So we’re now well into year three of the Team Turnbull Labor Lite experiment as Malcolm Turnbull – a big immigration, anti-monarchy, ‘no bias at the ABC’, ‘no problems at the Human Rights Commission’, ratify the Paris Accords after you know Trump and the Americans are pulling out, attack superannuation, ‘Right in Name Only’ man through and through – lost big time in Saturday’s by-elections. The primary vote in the contested by-elections was appalling, and in Queensland looks like what you’d see when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were circling a dead horse.
And note that this is a result that came with every establishment advantage – The Australian (with a few notable exceptions) has transmogrified itself into the Turnbull Times giving Malcolm a miles easier ride than it ever gave Tony Abbott despite a policy package that would be to the left of Paul Keating. And still it was a disaster. Sure, the Black Hand gang will go all out to paint this as what always happens with by-elections. (For example, see Turnbull Fan Number One, Miranda Devine, for evidence of this heads Malcolm wins, tails Shorten loses cheerleading approach to what is still called the Liberal Party.) But we all know that those of them with a brain must realise they are facing a slaughter at the next election. And here’s why. The Mark Textor/Malcolm Turnbull strategy of moving the Liberal Party left, left, and more left so that it rests a few bare centimetres to the right of a leftward moving Labor Party is disastrously flawed. It takes the Liberal Party base, gives it a middle finger salute, and then dares it to preference Labor. Effectively it bets that that won’t happen.
Well, since the coup or defenestration of Tony Abbott I’ve been saying this is an idiotic strategy that will lead to incredibly bad long-term problems for the Liberal Party. If the choice is Malcolm Turnbull, Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop and the now departed George Brandis versus losing the election to Shorten and then rebooting the Liberal Party and cleaning out the lefty Black Hand faction give me the latter any day. I preferenced Labor last election and as long as Turnbull is leader I will continue to do so. Mid to long term that’s what is best for right of centre voters in this country, however hard to swallow it may be. (It does, however, allow me to join the other 95 per cent of legal academics in this country and say I was a Labor (or for a good chunk of them a Greens) voter. Ah, the small ironies and pleasures in life!)
Before the by-elections I was talking to a solid right-leaning Liberal Party member who thought the Libs might take a seat or two. No way, was my view. Malcolm is popular with lefties who will never vote for him. The Newspoll approval findings are worthless, totally worthless. Lefties love Malcolm. Many like him more than Shorten, a telling fact in itself. But when they get into the voting booth they will not vote for Turnbull. They just love having the most left-wing Liberal leader ever. Me, not so much.
And yet it’s like waking up in the movie Groundhog Day. This horrible by-election result will fade from memory. The cheerleaders will tell us (for the tenth, fifteenth, twentieth, you pick a number, time) that this is finally the time Malcolm and Co. surge into the lead. But as long as there are, like me, a sizable number of formerly solid Liberal voters now incredibly disgruntled, who will not vote for Team Turnbull come what may, and I’m guessing that is upwards of five per cent of voters so loads of the party base, then the Libs are toast. Remember that a while back Newspoll changed its methodology as regards guessing how the distributing of One Nation and other minor right of centre party preferences would flow. It newly assumed a better flow for the Libs. I am very sceptical of that ‘helpful to Malcolm polling methodology change’. And if I’m right, as the by-elections seem to show, then the Newspoll results are too kind to the Libs. They are really doing even worse than the 35 losing polls under Malcolm indicate.
As John Stone recently wrote in these pages, there is a huge problem when the Cabinet is to the left of the outer Ministry, which in turn is to the left of the party room MPs, who in their turn are to the left of the party base and volunteers and regular Liberal voters. And trying to mask this by screaming ‘populist’ at anyone who objects to the Turnbull policies – as though wanting a party to care about its voters’ wishes (after all, we know four-fifths want immigration significantly cut and over half want out of Paris and the moronic renewable energy scam draining Australia of wealth for no change at all to the world’s temperature trajectory, both of which are completely ignored by Team Turnbull) – really won’t cut it. Nor will hurling around the term ‘far right’, as though advocating the policies that were standard fare for John Howard somehow today makes you nearly a Mussolini fascist. It’s all pathetically laughable.
Anyway, the by-elections didn’t surprise me. Running as a left-wing party, a Labor Lite team that tries now and then to throw those on the right a small bone and can’t even manage to do that competently, simply can’t work for the Libs. They can either lose and reboot, with the Black Hand gang removed, or they can wait for a competently led alternative party on the right to emerge.
Political parties are hard to kill. But it does happen. Who remembers the American Whig Party, the UK Liberals, or the Protectionists and Nationalists here? If you simply ignore what your core voters want for long enough, perhaps because you’re in thrall to the talking heads on the ABC or to the closet lefties in the corporate boardrooms, you will eventually disappear. Yes, it’s harder to attack the entrenched party hierarchies in a Westminster (as opposed to US Presidential) system, and harder again with preferential voting which forces voters ultimately to give a preference to one of the two big parties, but even there it can happen.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you the Liberal Party is anything right now but a lemming on its way to the cliff edge.
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