In the recent election, I saw – as a member and branch officeholder of the Liberal Party – the effect of the Morrison government’s style of governance.
Our resources were stretched thin. As current members restricted their activity, their enthusiasm was dampened by a party that did not even allow its members to have a say in who would represent them to the electorate. We also felt the absence of the formerly stalwart members who had already resigned.
The post-election recriminations did not take long to go into full swing.
Former Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, was obviously convinced of the old dictum that ‘the best defence is a good offence’ and decided to declare, on the night of the election itself, that the Liberal Party’s defeat was due to our deficiencies with respect to women. Presumably, this meant requiring more performative pandering in the future, such as the predominantly female captain’s picks, the appointment of a ‘Women’s’ Minister’, and the throwing of an as-yet untried man under the bus with a public apology for a crime we’re not sure even happened!
And how could I forget: Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change…
These were merely the opening salvos in a battle that will rage for months. With the move to Opposition and the savaging of ‘moderate’ numbers within the Liberals, the party is now faced with a choice: shall we move left – or right?
The experiences of the strong Howard and Abbott victories from opposition show that the electorate responds best when offered a clear distinction from Labor.
Those tempted to rely upon the votes of One Nation or other minor parties to get a more ‘centrist’ Liberal Party over the line should now see the folly of that approach. In my booth, the votes of One Nation and the UAP went only 55 per cent back to the Liberals. Often people think of the smaller parties of the right providing the equivalent preference flow to the Liberal Party that the Greens provide to Labor, but it just ain’t so.
Far and away the biggest benefit of moving right and striking further into Labor territory will be policy coherency.
In the age of the smartphone and the instant news cycle, it’s not possible to ‘narrow-cast’ different messages to different audiences. Telling rural Queensland ‘Net Zero is Dead’ while talking up our commitment to Net Zero in Wentworth is not a viable messaging strategy, and showed our lack of internal unity on key policy issues.
Years of trying to reconcile the ‘moderates’ with the conservative base proved fruitless. Rather than finding a unifying, election-winning narrative in this approach, the Liberal Party collapsed into a content-free ‘pragmatism’ due to the need to balance the wildly differing policy objectives of mutually irreconcilable factions.
The result? A totally reactive form of ‘management’ rather than leadership, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison acting as the platonic representation of this form of governance. It’s left us in a position, after almost nine years in power, of saying: ‘What have we achieved with our power? Why have we gone backward in so many areas?’
A broadly national-conservative policy narrative can win an enduring majority by appealing to patriotic Australians who have traditionally voted Labor, but who are concerned about the continued erosion of the family and our national institutions. This is without requiring excessive tailoring for local eccentricities. Whereas, going to special efforts to win back the seats lost to the Teals is a fool’s errand… We might as well say we’re going to change our policies to go after the Greens vote – we won’t be able to do that and keep the party from tearing itself apart.
In addition, we must reinvigorate our internal party processes to bring back the voice of the members. No more captain’s picks designed to shore up the positions of favoured factional players. For those party officials wondering where all the volunteers were on election day, maybe ask what members might reasonably expect in return for offering their time and money in electioneering…
The following set of policies is suggestive of what a national-conservative platform for the Liberal Party could look like:
- Attack the Blob: Use the federal government’s undoubted leverage with the states to fight back against remnant Covid mandates as well as take the fight to the bureaucratic/administrative state which is choking civil society.
- Reject Net Zero: Re-assert that Australian energy security, reliability, and affordability comes before symbolic gestures and globalist enthusiasms.
- Slash immigration: A large and sustained reduction in immigration will almost be an election winner in itself. It’s time to break the two-party conspiracy which has favoured mass immigration for decades. This will force a change in the business model for some big businesses, but they’ve gone Woke and are no longer our friends anyway, and the Aussie worker will thank us… Something, it seems, Peter Dutton recognises.
- Rebuild industry: Subordinate economic policy settings to the need to be able to provide for our own needs in strategically critical areas. As an example, we could fulfill our promise to Senator Patrick to properly implement gas reservation, drastically reducing input costs for industry and residential users.
- Focus on the family: Boost birth rates by implementing income tax splitting and having childcare funding follow the child rather than being funnelled to daycare operators, as advocated by the NCC.
- Strengthen national security: Increase defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP.
A change in policy emphasis will lead to a more unified, energised Liberal Party, one that can approach the next election with confidence that it has the fundamentals in place to win a large majority by bringing working-class Labor voters and One Nation/UAP voters back into the fold.
Alfred Hugo is the pen name of a NSW Liberal Party Branch President
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