Features Australia

A tale of two pollies

The trouble with focus-group conservatives

11 June 2022

9:00 AM

11 June 2022

9:00 AM

I want to sketch out a morality tale for Mr Dutton and the federal Coalition shadow cabinet. It’s actually a tale of two politicians, of two jurisdictions, of two approaches to taking up the mantle of right-of-centre governing in the anglosphere. Let me start in Florida with Governor Ron DeSantis. The man is brave, by which I mean politically brave. Some of the credit for this clearly goes to Donald Trump who showed how well you can do by standing up to the entire vitriolic mainstream media, to virtually all of the chattering and establishment classes and to the supposedly unquestionable progressive orthodoxies. DeSantis just took this, mixed it with his two Ivy League degrees and his uber-articulate manner, and came out swinging. Remember, he barely, barely squeaked a win four years ago to take the Florida gubernatorial office.

But all during the Covid pandemic, boy, was DeSantis brave. He learned the data; he stood up against the public health clerisy and fear-porn press; after the quickest of slips he refused to go down the lockdownista road, weathering media claims that he was a ‘granny killer’ and scientifically illiterate. In fact, despite shunning the mask mandates, the vaccine mandates, the lockdowns, the demand for school closures, and with an older population, Florida outperformed New York and California on Covid criteria – meanwhile on all economy, freedom and ‘are they coming to our State’ measures Florida is crushing them.

That is because DeSantis did not cave in to the Crosby-Textor-type focus group approach to politics, where you see what the current view is and then cater to it by parking yourself an inch to the right of the lefties. Instead, DeSantis had values; he had core principles; and he set out to convince voters that those were the way to go. Or take other matters. Readers will know that DeSantis was so infuriated with the Disney company’s woke virtue-signalling against a Florida law that removed all sex education from the classroom for kids from kindergarten to year three – Disney bought into the lie that this was a ‘don’t say gay’ Bill and advertised its opposition to the Bill – that he pushed through a law that took away Disneyworld’s special legislative privileges in the state of Florida and made them subject to the local council like all other companies. That’s a tens-of-millions-of-dollars per year loss for Disney. Ouch! His popularity went up again. And in the last week, after a professional baseball franchise in Florida decided to get into politics (always and everywhere this happens it’s on the side of the lefties), DeSantis cancelled $35 million in state funds that were going to the Tampa Bay Rays for a spring training facility. Poof! Gone! Wokery and virtue-signalling have consequences in Florida. The baseball team can pay for its own facilities without taxpayer help if they’re going to take political sides. And that’s not all. Last week, the US Special Olympics to be held in Florida announced that they were insisting on a vaccine mandate to compete. Now as you can catch or pass on Covid as easily – some data now says more easily – if you’re vaccinated, this makes no sense. It is despotism in action. DeSantis said this would violate Florida law and the organising committee would be heavily fined if they imposed this mandate. The Special Olympics caved and eliminated the vaccine requirement. (As an aside, compare that to the pathetically weak Morrison line that ‘we’re not in favour of these mandates but we can’t do anything, not really’ even though the Feds in Australia fund virtually everything. They could have ended vaccine mandates on university campuses overnight if they felt so inclined. They clearly did not.)


As I said, all of this – none of it passive, or focus group driven – has made DeSantis massively popular. And it was driven by showing the voters your values, knowing the data, and aiming to change minds. Leading and aiming to convince rather than ‘let’s try to keep pace with what the ABC tells us are the electorate’s changing social values’. Got that Birmingham? Sharma? Littleproud?

Move now to Canada’s largest province of Ontario. Last week the conservative party led by Doug Ford won a thumping majority. These Tories did follow the Textor/Birmingham/Black Hand playbook. The Ontario Tories don’t try to lead but just do enough to win on occasion and follow the progressive zeitgeist.

So Ontario right now is more indebted than California; indeed it’s the most indebted sub-sovereign jurisdiction in the world. It’s woke. I’d say the Ford government is to the left of almost all US Democrat states (yes, Democrat states). If you work for the Ontario public service there are explicit ‘diversity’ hires (think quotas). Expect to have bureaucrats tell you their pronouns (and why is it never their adjectives? I identify as ‘witty, urbane and laugh out loud funny’ so treat me accordingly, wokesters). Meanwhile, Doug Ford was nearly as thuggish as Justin Trudeau during the lockdowns. He pilloried the truckers’ protests, but I don’t recall him saying a word about the BLM protests. On just about every front during the pandemic Ford sided with the ‘our modelling is the way to go’ public health caste despots. That may explain why the voter turnout – wait for this because it’s incredible – was 43 per cent! Yes, way under half of eligible voters cast their ballots. Not a huge surprise when all three main parties, plus the Greens, offered the same pro-lockdown, big government, woke bilge.

Now admittedly this did win Ford a whopping majority government. But as I’ve been arguing here in Australia, is that the core goal in politics? To win, regardless of what policies you end up implementing? Or do you go into politics to advance a version of the good life – of course with some compromising in a democracy but not on fundamental issues, ones like ‘I don’t weld people in their homes for a virus with an infection fatality rate of well under one per cent, even if I lose the next election because of my beliefs’ or ones like ‘women (and I can define that class) won’t have to compete against transwomen in any sporting competitions’ or straight up economic ones like ‘we won’t ever explode the debt so we oldies live off our kids and grandkids’.

As I’ve been saying for years, you can see politics transactionally, as what happens in just this one election. Or you can see it in game theory, long-term evolutionary terms. If, like me, you opt for the latter then Dutton needs to learn from DeSantis and ignore Ford. Come out now on why ‘the Voice’ is intolerable in a ‘treat everyone the same’ liberal democracy. Don’t cave in on virtue-signalling idiocies like net zero. Do something about the ABC. Be brave. Know your stuff. Lead. Don’t focus-group.

Oh, and fire every political adviser who had anything to do with Team ScoMo.

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