Features Australia

Churchill, Orwell and, er, Shorten

15 December 2018

9:00 AM

15 December 2018

9:00 AM

There probably is some depth of yet-to-be imagined perfidy Malcolm Turnbull or his son, Alex, will descend to before the next federal election but no-one should dwell upon that possibility now.

The Liberal party cannot afford to obsess upon its biggest mistake in its 74-year history. Turnbull fits the classic medical description of a narcissist: ‘emotions can be unstable and intense, and there is excessive concern with vanity, prestige, power, and personal adequacy. There also tends to be a lack of empathy and an exaggerated sense of superiority.’ Let’s leave it there.

This is the season to look forward with optimism not backward in despair.

During one of my ventures into Sunday morning television with the editor of The Speccie as co-host of Sky’s Outsiders, I did a face-to-camera editorial on the need for parliamentary members and senators to contemplate the achievements of the Abbott government as the Morrison government’s time ran down the clock. I suggested that someone rise in the party room the following day and acknowledge first of all that the leadership tensions and change had harmed the party.

Perhaps, I thought (maybe I didn’t say this on air) that whoever picked up the idea might even apologise to Tony Abbott and (yes) Malcolm Turnbull. The party surely needed reminding that unity – always essential – was now critical. To reinforce this notion, like a good Southern Baptist preacher delivering a sermon to his flock, the audience needed reminding of the policies that they had delivered and that were worthwhile.

Was stopping the boats good policy? Yes, I imagined the party room might murmur.

Was the mineral tax a bad tax? Heads would not assent, I thought.

Was getting rid of it as promised a good thing for the nation? Surely, there might be some enthusiasm for that.

Was getting rid of the proposed carbon tax a great idea? Well, I knew that Turnbull’s bedwetting supporters would probably remain silent but a majority – greater than the majority which dumped Turnbull last August 24 – could have sparked up some. There were a couple of other points I made to Camera 3 and hopefully, a viewing audience which may have included some Liberal MPs beyond the unblinking eye.

Quite a bit of red tape has been slashed, there is more to go, but it’s a great start. Another winner. The economy has been going gangbusters, the dividends are clear, defying the predictions of the Labor party and its various institutional support groups including the ABC. Cheers, perhaps? There are more women in work than ever – and this is a great point to make in the face of the self-flagellation sisters like Kelly O’Dwyer the Minister for Revenue and Financial Service, and the Imelda Marcos of the Liberal party, former foreign minister Julie Bishop. Unemployment is the lowest its been in a decade and young people are the principal beneficiaries. Really, how good is that?

If someone from the party picked it up, I hoped that person would make the point that all of this reflects on one party, that party that is not Labor. It is not the Greens and it is not one of the fringe groups.

Clearly, Bill Shorten’s union-backed Opposition intends to destroy all of this. It intends to hand its policy development over to Sally McManus and the lawless band she leads. We know this because Shorten has flagged the direction he intends to take the nation.

If he says differently now we know what he says is meaningless because we have the example of former Rudd minister Peter Garrett’s November, 2007, admission: ‘Once we get in, we will just change it all.’ And Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did just that. From being John Howard-lite and economically conservative Rudd embraced the usual high-taxing, big spending policies of his left-wing Cabinet colleagues and his economic advisers, including Ken Henry. (And didn’t Commissioner Haynes expose Henry’s lack of corporate nous before the banking Royal Commission? The commissioner ‘did him slowly’, as Paul Keating ill-advisedly once pronounced).

My New Year’s suggestion is that every current and prospective member of the parliamentary Liberal party read Bob Menzies’ Forgotten People speech and pledge to adhere to its values.

Activist legal minds, like the wily young barrister Turnbull once was, like to read assumptions into such declarations, constitutions even, but black letter folk know that what’s on paper was what was intended. Not a jot or tittle more.

Forgotten People is about people and people don’t change, nor do their hopes and fears. The Liberal party is still about aspirations and personal freedoms. The Labor party is not so sure about aspiration as Tanya Plibersek indicated when she admitted to Sky News during a debate on tax creep: ‘Honestly, this aspiration term mystifies me.’

As for personal freedoms, look no further than the Left’s championing of regressive individuals like former members of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs and Tim Soutphommasane.

When they have finished Menzies’ brisk words, just a tad over 3,100 and most readable, I recommend they seize a copy of Thomas Ricks’ magnificent 2017 publication Churchill & Orwell (Duckworth).

Here we have a comparative examination of the two great cultural literary giants of the last century; Winston Churchill and George Orwell, men who never seem to have met yet developed an admiration for each other’s views though they came from either end of the political spectrum. Orwell, under his real name Eric Blair, had fought with the Communists in the Spanish Civil War and his exposure to the evils of totalitarianism is reflected in his masterpieces 1984 and Animal Farm. Churchill, unlike others at the February, 1945, Yalta conference saw in Stalin the monstrous nature of the Soviet state which he exposed to the world in his Iron Curtain speech delivered the following year at Fulton College, Missouri. Both men were united in their belief in values, freedom beyond all. Freedom from the state, freedom to think, to speak, to debate. They believed in the freedoms that are being stripped from us by bureaucrats and the Left here in Australia, and by the unelected commissioners of the EU. They believed in the sovereignty of nations.

Liberals do too. Our nation needs reminding of the dreadful alternate – as Orwell and Churchill reminded their generation – and the next election will be the Coalition’s to win.

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