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If the Libs don’t represent the right, someone else will

26 July 2018 385 views One Comment

by Ross Fitzgerald

When the elites ignore the electorate, a vacuum will form

Among political insiders, I detect some relief that the two-party-preferred Newspoll gap between the Turnbull government and the Shorten opposition has narrowed and a sense that a comforting normalcy may be returning to our politics.

Unlike the Liberal Party base, insiders quite like the current federal government because it doesn’t challenge centre-left orthodoxies the way the Howard government did and the way the Abbott government did to an even greater extent. That’s why the Turnbull government often gets a better press than it deserves.

The fact that the forthcoming federal election could now go either way, despite the government’s loss of 36 consecutive polls, is by no means the most significant Newspoll finding. For Australia’s long-term future, by far the most telling result is the consistently low primary vote for both major parties. Since September 2016, the government has not once secured Newspoll support at 40 per cent or higher. In fact, it’s even longer since Labor did better than 40 per cent but that doesn’t matter so much because the Greens consistently score about 10 per cent and those votes reliably go to Labor on preferences. When both major parties are on the nose, the Liberals have the bigger problem because minor parties on the right don’t consistently deliver preferences to the conservative side of politics.

With Labor moving further to the left (advocating more spending, more taxing and more regulating) and with the Liberals in many ways following them (with more spending, taxing, and regulating too – only less than Labor), what the polls really indicate is an opening for a new party of the right if only its leadership was credible. When Labor moves to the left, its base cheers. When the Libs become Labor-lite, its base may well desert it.

Last week, Newspoll showed a whopping 72 per cent wanted to cut the permanent migration intake but that’s not the policy of either party. Last week, Newspoll also showed that 48 per cent wanted out of the Paris climate change agreement (with only 38 per cent in favour of staying in) but, likewise, that’s not the policy of either major party.

When major political parties consistently ignore what voters want, they are at huge risk. But the risk is much greater for the Liberals because what the voters want on immigration and on climate change are more right-wing policies, not more left-wing ones; and if the Liberals don’t provide them, eventually someone else will.

Consider what’s happened overseas. In Italy, the Christian Democrats that had dominated government since World War Two now hardly exist and the latest Italian government is a novel coalition of new anti-immigration, and anti-EU parties of both the left and right. In Germany the once dominant Christian Democrats are now governing in coalition with their former arch-rivals while the official opposition is an anti-immigration party that’s much further to the right. In France, the Gaullists and the socialists that alternated in power for 50 years are both on life support with a previously relatively unknown newcomer in the presidency. In Britain, anti-immigration sentiment that both main parties largely ignored was at least partly responsible for the Brexit vote. And in the United States, Donald Trump first beat the Republican Party establishment and then the Democratic Party establishment promising to build a wall and drain the swamp.

This is the age of disruption, in politics as much as in economics. Parties that ignore their baseline supporters are vulnerable to be disrupted almost to the point of extinction and, at least in Australia, it’s the Liberal Party that’s most susceptible.

If the federal Liberals hardened their position to cut immigration substantially, and if they rejigged their energy policy to favour cutting price over cutting emissions, the risk of being usurped on the right would greatly recede. But that will never happen while Turnbull remains their leader. What the polls suggest is that a centre-right party with a centre-left leader might gain some votes in the short term but only at the risk of being replaced altogether when something finally emerges that’s more appealing to conservative voters.

Disruption is easier in political systems with a popularly elected presidency or with legislatures elected by proportional representation than it is in Australia. Here a prime minister needs the support of at least half the members of the House of Representatives and they, in turn, need the support of half their electors on a two party preferred basis. Even parties with 20 per cent of the vote can end up with almost no representation in the Reps. But if dissatisfaction with the political establishment is high enough, even in a country like Australia it will eventually be swept away.

What’s saved the Liberal Party so far is that its competitors on the right have lacked authority and plausible alternative policies while the Labor Party has moved to the left rather than to the centre. As Speccie columnist Mark Latham’s fraternisation with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation shows, sooner or later, some figures who were once politically important will join even fringe parties if there are key issues that the big parties ignore.

The longer Turnbull lasts as leader, the more likely it is that the Liberal Party will split or that it will face a serious competitor on the conservative side of politics. Hence a Turnbull victory at the next election could be more dangerous to the Liberal Party long term than a defeat that would enable them to rethink and regroup in opposition under a centre-right leader like Peter Dutton or Tony Abbott.

Emeritus professor of politics and history at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald AM is the author of 40 books, including the political satire ‘So Far, So Good’ (Hybrid).

The Spectator Australia, 28 July 2018, p vii.

One Comment »

  • Andrew Bolt & Michael McLaren said:

    !. The latest Spectator Australia is out now. Great reading again.

    Rowan Dean:
    The news that, behind our backs,the team that signed us up to the greatest betrayal of this nation by its own government since federation –the Paris Agreement on climate change– has been secretly co-authoring a that will rob Australia of its sovereignty and border security is beyond belief. Yet that is what has been happening: the Global Compact for Immigration is officially in the works. It will hand ultimate control of our borders to UN mandarins.

    Tellingly, the US and Hungary (whose leaders have closely copied Tony Abbott’s border policies) refuse to sign.

    Mark Latham on the Leftist takeover of universities:

    How can the scale of the takeover be measured? Fortunately there’s a ready reckoner: the essays published daily on the Conversation website, billed by Australia’s university sector as ‘unlocking the knowledge of researchers and academics to (solve) society’s biggest problems.’ I’ve read this material for the first three weeks of July, a total of 122 items, reflecting the priorities of the nation’s scholars.

    What type of issues are they interested in? By far the largest category is environmental advocacy, with 27 articles or one-quarter of the total. This includes a couple of global warming gems. Academics have discovered that ‘instant coffee has the smallest carbon footprint’ and ‘artists can put us in touch with our feelings about climate change’. Mainly BS artists.

    I was fascinated by the findings of a Melbourne University research fellow on the ‘psychology of meat eating’. As a keen carnivore, apparently I’m suffering from ‘unconscious bias’ against the ‘mental lives of animals’. It sure doesn’t taste that way.

    The other categories were predictable enough. There were seven essays on Aboriginal victimhood, three on refugees and ten on foreign policy, mostly Trump Derangement Syndrome. Left feminism was also prominent, with ten items.

    God spare us.

    Ross Fitzgerald puts the dilemma for conservative Liberals:

    The longer Turnbull lasts as leader, the more likely it is that the Liberal party will split or that it will face a serious competitor on the conservative side of politics. Hence a Turnbull victory at the next election could be more dangerous to the Liberal party long term than a defeat that would enable them to rethink and regroup in opposition under centre-right leaders like Peter Dutton or Tony Abbott.

    Andrew Bolt, Melbourne Herald Sun
    July 29 2018
    By-elections: Labor-lite Turnbull sends conservative voters elsewhere


    Super Saturday quickly turned into a Somber Sunday for the Coalition, who experienced heavy losses across the board in this weekend’s by-elections.

    Formidable defeat awaited the Liberal Party in the three seats they contested, with the results suggesting traditional conservative voters are abandoning their Liberal Party base and searching for other independent alternatives. It seems those on the ideological right are fed up with the Labor-lite tendencies of Turnbull’s leadership. No better microcosm of this could be seen then in Longman. Government was thrashed, losing by around 45 percent to the Opposition’s 55 percent, in what was a marginal, knife-edge seat.

    Meanwhile, there was a One Nation resurgence, with voters turning to Hanson’s party to the tune of 16% in the seat.

    Ross Fitzgerald says this is symptomatic of the conservative voter’s disillusionment with the party that is supposed to represent them.

    “I really don’t think Malcolm Turnbull can win this federal election,” says Fitzgerald.

    “That’s because in many ways, he is Labor-lite. If for example, the Liberal Party listened to the general electors who are very concerned about immigration, who are very concerned about prices, rather then emissions, they might have a chance. But they won’t change their policy so long as Malcolm Turnbull is leader.”

    “A Turnbull victory at the next election could well be more dangerous for the Liberal Party long-term than a defeat, which would enable a Liberal Party to rethink and regroup in opposition under a centre-right leader.”

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