With apologies to WB Yeats and Joan Didion, the lost, snookered souls of the Australian electorate are now slouching, not with intent like Yeats’ beast, towards Bethlehem, but rather we are slouching, disoriented, disgruntled, unmoored and clueless about where next to place our votes. For us, things have, indeed, fallen apart. The centre, or “club sensible” as the late and much-missed Christopher Pearson termed it, has not held.
The “we” are those of us who have not signed up for the shared values of Angelo Codevilla’s new ruling class. In fact, we loathe and despise them. And we are now politically homeless. And the “we” are real and sizable, as the Upper Hunter by-election demonstrated. Whether we are from the ever-diminishing right of the Liberal Party, or from its apparently equally diminishing right of the Labor Party, are slouching towards the minor parties. I will never forget sharing a dinner table once with two soldiers of the left, New South Wales politicians both, who at one point in the evening raised a glass – to the left. This was in the early 1990s, and involved (of course) a Liberal Party moderate still in public life and a former Labor Minister who has done jail time. Is it any wonder that people on the traditionalist right in both the major parties feel both empathy with one another and enmity for their internal party opponents? Above all, they share a sense of deep loss and political homelessness. But there is probably much in the way of shared beliefs between the “twin rights”, as well.
What do “we” believe in, and object to?
We are over the false promises of neo-liberalism, which missed the cultural revolution and didn’t stop the ever-growing government anyway. We value good traditions – as most traditions are; that’s why they are traditions. We share many views about what is wrong with Australia and the world. We tend to be old school (and we know precisely what that means). We are patriots without being showy about it. We don’t buy the climate/renewables scam. We despite utterly the Covid State and Covid theatre. We are (mostly) highly engaged with life issues and are pro-life. We think the education system has gone to pot. We feel endlessly let down by parties and “leaders” that either break good promises or keep bad ones, or both. Is that enough for starters?
But for the refugees from the mainstream, there is little joy to be had with the current crop of minor parties, either. They might have policies with which we agree – a great start in these times, admittedly – but we know that, whatever the short-term feel-good factor, in lower houses with either optional preferential or simply preferential voting, our votes will either be exhausted or will end up back in one of the two failed mainstream parties. What, then, is the point?
Or, in the upper houses, we see trade-offs, deals and log-rolling, as the Americans call the you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours approach to governance. Then there is the sheer strategic madness of creating multiple micro-parties, not to mention the independents, who might have substantial overlap of beliefs and policies and who share a contrarian instinct, but who completely bastardise one another’s electoral prospects (again, as the Upper Hunter showed). Yes, preference sharing deals like those cooked up by the Preference Whisperer can achieve electoral outcomes on occasion, but no one could regard this as a sustainable, long-term solution for achieving better democratic representation. And in any case, the major party cartel will always be able to keep bringing in new legislation to kill off the micros.
Following the last Commonwealth election, in which the Australian Conservatives came a cropper, there was much discussion in that Party about future directions and options for those who had either stood, or had voted, for the ACs. My own advice – not to start with “What do we call the new party?” but, rather, “Is even forming another party the best way forward?” – was, of course, duly ignored in the rush to set up a replacement. And parties, even minor parties, being what they are, are prone (like academics) to serial in-fighting over the spoils of precious little. And so the proliferation has gone, post the ACs, for the micro-parties on the right. Now we have the Australia One Party, the Family Party, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, One Nation (of course) and the Australian Federation Party. More than enough to be going on with. In fact, it is way too many, and some consolidation or, failing that, far better strategic alignment, should at least be considered and discussed by all those involved.
What about the idea of sticking with the major parties, and improving them through better candidates, or more democratic, less factionalised pre-selections? The Nationals have tried this, and tend to end up with woke hacks, alas.
Joe de Bruyn, famous for being the butt of one of Gough Whitlam’s better jokes, one that couldn’t be told nowadays for both its racism and homophobia, has been an exemplary Australian in several fields. He has that essential decency that is so notable now for its absence. One of his strong beliefs, born of his strong Christianity, has always been that we need good people in all the political parties, and that, therefore, we should train young people (through a classical education) for citizenship. I have heard many other defenders of the major parties – or at least optimists about their trajectory – say similar things. But were this strategy to work, it would, necessarily, be a long game indeed, and much patience would be required. Moreover, there is no guarantee of ultimate victory. With both mainstream parties – let’s forget about the Nats – now in the grip of chancers, third-raters, woke puppets, marketers and careerists, or, indeed, all of these, the chances of a recovery of morality and spine is becoming more of a forlorn hope by the day. In the meantime, our currently appalling state of policy-making and governance will simply gather momentum as it careers down the ever-steepening slope. Or over the cliff, whichever metaphor you prefer.
What about attempting policy reform from within each of the majors?
Paul Embery, the United Kingdom’s “blue labour” firefighter, unionist, contrarian and writer at the digital magazine UnHerd, disillusioned with his own Party’s abandonment of its traditional supporters in favour of pandering to metropolitan elites, has written a book called Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class. In it, he suggests that British Labour will only revive electorally when it begins to speak to its old working-class base about issues of concern to these voters, and to create policies to match.
In Australia, Labor has a version of Embery in Joel Fitzgibbon, who is apparently contemplating abandoning ship. While Fitzgibbon has both electoral and ideological reasons for objecting to Labor’s current direction of travel, he is yet to articulate a comprehensive policy platform or a broad electoral strategy for the Party’s many disillusioned members and voters. So, no great joy there, so far. And with Liberal Party conservatives heading for the hills, reforming the majors through the creation of policies with mainstream, centrist appeal is not likely to get us far.
What about creating a new major party, consisting of the twin rights? This approach, possibly the only one with long-term prospects of success, is currently such a long, long way off that no one is yet to think even of laying the foundations. And third parties, like the Australian Democrats here and various parties in the UK containing the word “democrat”, tend to end up as Bob Cunis-type parties. (Bob Cunis was a Kiwi cricketer of whom it was said, cruelly – his bowling, like his name, is neither one thing nor the other).
So, with little solace to be had from any of the most obvious strategies, we of the Disillusioned Party will probably just have to keep on slouching towards the next election.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.