Wednesday, 18 February 2009
There is only one way to interpret an intriguing piece by Dennis Shanahan in The Australian today warning that Turnbull is threatening to split the party – it is a feed by those attempting to undermine him. After all, it is hardly unusual that a Liberal leader would attempt to put his own people in influential positions in the organisation, what Liberal leader has not? The fact that Turnbull has so few in the party to already call his own just illustrates that he came to power more because the old guard lost control than he won it in his own right. Where the article strikes a false note, however, is in comparing what is happening now to the Howard-Peacock merry-go-round in the 1980s.
The Howard-Peacock rows were essentially how to respond to an external development, namely the way Labor was handling the economic restructuring of the time through the social accord with the unions. Roughly the Liberals were split between that section of business and the Liberals represented by Howard, that wanted to break with the accord and nobble the unions directly, or the Peacock wing and business that were happier to accommodate to the accord. The irony was that both sections lost. Peacock’s chances faded as the accord ran its course while Howard watched Hewson try to take economic reform further and fail. In the end Howard returned pretending to be a faux Thatcherite but really someone who stood for nothing at all.
This time the Liberals are not responding directly to any external event but a more internal one of their very relevance. The troubles now are not a response to differing views of Australian business, but more a response to the fact that business has little interest in them at all. That is why the lines are much harder to determine and the issues less clear. Certainly it is not accurate to talk of a split between the left and the right in the traditional sense. It is probably more accurate to see this as between the old guard, who would look on the Howard years to cling to, and those who think it has to be something else, without being quite sure what that is.
It is why reports that Turnbull has support from the “mad young right”, while possibly surprising to those who see Turnbull as being on the party’s ‘left’, look entirely credible. It is also why Costello, often distrusted in the past by the Howard camp, is increasingly being brought closer to it, the more he becomes identified with a lost past. It would suggest that with neither side seriously representing anybody’s interests, other than a party trying to work out what it is for, so it will be difficult for either side to achieve a convincing ascendancy even for the periods seen in the 1980s.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 18 February 2009.Filed under State of the parties