Gently falling apart – an update

Monday, 29 October 2007 

Maybe Malcolm Turnbull needs to be told, but there were two very important reasons why the government did not sign the Kyoto protocol.

The first is that for the US, refusal was an important part of its geopolitical response to an agenda pushed by its European rivals. Straying too far from the US line is not a choice for the Australian political class, especially the coalition side of it. It is only that the US is now reviewing this position that makes it feasible for an electable Labor government to also change tack

The second reason is tied with the natural resistance that the party of business would have with a global warming agenda that sees growth as a problem or at least slow growth as a virtue (Howard’s attempt to justify not signing Kyoto because it was not doing enough by leaving out the large emitters is highly unconvincing).

Of course none of this seems to matter very much to Turnbull who is clearly resisting the government’s stance to save his own seat. That one of the government’s few distinctive policies is being undermined by the Minister in charge of it, because of pressures from his seat, is a sign of how the cohesion of the Liberals is starting to break down.

He is not alone. The press is picking up that Howard is being left off campaign literature across the country. This is not because Howard is especially unpopular. But then he doesn’t need to be too much of a negative to outweigh any need to identify with the leader. Or even the party for that matter, which is also being left off some of the candidates ads. Again it is not that the Liberals’ platform is especially unpopular (despite what might be claimed about Workchoices). It’s just that there is little in that platform to inspire dislike, or loyalty.

If this does not indicate much party loyalty from the candidates (which seems to be a big deal to some) then they are hardly being led by example. Howard is spending an inordinate amount of time off from what is a very difficult election campaign for his government, fighting for re-election in his own seat. As it happens if he retained government then he would have a good chance of holding Bennelong. But as seen by the preparations going on in Wollstonecraft, the thought of personal humiliation at losing his seat is now clearly intruding on the prospect of losing government. If the head of the government is prepared to give up time saving the seats of its members to look after his own personal interest, why should those members think differently?

The crisis in the Liberals is being underestimated because it does not look like a normal one. There is no clash of interest such as the turmoil in the union movement that led to the Labor split of the 1950s. There is not even a leadership issue, just a periodic collapse of confidence the media keep confusing with a challenge. But if it doesn’t look like a typical crisis, it is because this is a particularly bad one. There is no clash of interest being worked through the Liberals because there is not much interests being represented in the party these days. Business doesn’t really need the Liberals since the unions were wound up. What it prefers is someone to run the state more efficiently i.e. a bureaucrat, not a politician. There is now little in society to bind the Liberals together and as the campaign goes on, they will appear more like a group of independents than a party of government.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 29 October 2007.

Filed under International relations

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