In the first decade after Federation, the conservative forces (Deakin’s protectionists and Reid’s free traders) opted for fusion in the face of the growing electoral and parliamentary strength of the Labor party.
The formation of the Country Party in 1922 introduced a clear rural interest, and took votes from the ALP and bolstered the conservative position outside the capital cities.
For most of the twentieth century, the conservative side has also been bolstered by the three major splits in the ALP over sectarianism and ideology, spread across WW1, the Depression and the 1950s.
Nevertheless, the clear division in Australian politics has been Labor versus anti (or non) Labor for much of the last century.
But now that the ALP has moved to the centre, adopted economic rationalism (for the most part), emphasises equality of opportunity (rather than outcomes) and downplayed its links with (and the influence of) its union base does a labor / anti-labor split make any sense anymore.
The sectarianism that underlined this division has also dissolved, so much so that the Liberal leadership is overwhelmingly catholic – Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews among others – a situation that was unthinkable a few decades ago when the Liberals were the party of protestantism.
The class divide has also fallen away, Liberal MPs are now less likely than ever to be the product of elite private schools while Labor MPs are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of university education.
This week we have seen the Liberal Party ‘base’ rage against the idea of a Liberal leader supporting a Labor policy, this tapped into a deeper rage against the disappearing rationale for the continued existence of the old Liberal Party of middle-class, socially-conservative, private school, protestants.
Just as much of the Coalition partner’s base raged against the efforts to move the Country Party towards a National Party, and rushed off to follow Pauline Hanson.
Yet, disastrously for the Liberal Party, this base, whipped to a frenzy by the likes of Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, are only a small sliver of the voting support the Liberals need to be a serious challenge, astoday’s Newspoll confirms.
What this week’s exercise has shown is that the Liberal Party has lost its way. Its right wing has become more right wing and more reactionary than genuinely conservative. They are Bushite republicans with a dose of Hansonism thrown in. The left of the party has become more politically, culturally and intellectually sophisticated just as the Minchin, Abetz and Abbott forces have been dragging the party in the opposite direction.
Bernardi has emerged as the most promising rising star in politics for years. He is a clear thinker, articulate, with conviction and courage.
This is her example of his clear thinking:
“We are a party of smaller government, lower taxation, supporting families and free enterprise. The ETS compromises all these core principles … We are not moving to the right. [We're] trying to support core Liberal principles.
This is nonsensical stuff. For a start, the second sentence doesn’t follow from the first. What’s more they are principles the Rudd government would happily sign up too. He is not making any sort of meaningful distinction at all.
In addition, they are not actually principles at all. No-one wants government to be any bigger, and taxation any higher, than it has to be. The question, in this instance, is whether you think the government should take action on climate change? And, if so how should it do it. The alternative to the ETS, one I have some sympathy with, is a straight out carbon tax and government subsidies program. Bernardi has no ‘smaller government, lower taxation’ option because there isn’t one.
When Bernardi talks about families he is going against Liberal principles because he sees this as his opportunity, like many of the Liberal right do, to interfere in our lives in the name of ‘family life’. Liberalism should be about more freedom not less.
Far from being the intellectual star Devine would like you like to think he is, Bernardi is a knuckle dragger. Devine is also keen to portray Abbott as an ‘intellectual’, surely that tag would imply some capacity to hold a position for more than a few months, but Tony unfortunately only holds strong positions when it comes to controlling women’s lives and bodies. Otherwise his opinions seem to move with the prevailing winds.
The Liberal Party is tearing itself apart, many of the participants, and their activist cheer leaders like Bolt, Jones and Devine, are divorced from political reality – exactly what happens when parties self-destruct.
All this is great news for the non-conservative parties. At any climate change double dissolution, or normal election, the ALP and Greens vote will go up, as might the National vote, we will see a plethora of conservative independents and the Liberal Party will slump badly, especially in the major cities.
It would set the platform for a long-term ALP government, how long will depend on how long it takes the conservatives to find a rationale beyond the hollow platitudes of the Cory Bernardis of this world.