The Liberal Party of today is a paradox.
Peter Hartcher SMH

In a recent attack on Abbott’s refusal to support government moves to rationalise fuel excise, Minchin said that he will always put pragmatic politics ahead of ”policy purity”.

Oh dear. Because such policy purity, rather than pragmatics, was precisely the reason that he backed Abbott for the leadership in the first place. Should we take that as a little hint?

If you were under the illusion that the normal two-party system is still in operation, none of what is happening in the Liberal party at the moment would make sense. The Liberals are polling the best they have done for years, and you can run a finger along the government’s polling slump and pretty well trace it back to when Abbott took over.

So why is he being destabilised now? Describing the current state of the Liberals a ‘paradox’, as Hartcher does, is really an intelligent person’s way of not wanting to admit that he simply doesn’t get it.
Because what we are seeing is not the two party system in operation but two major parties with exhausted programs struggling to remain viable. It is their own irrelevance that is the problem, not the other side.

Indeed, in as much as both the left and the right have more of an interest in keeping the whole ‘sideshow’ on the road, they are more likely to prop each other up, preferring to blame their current abysmal state on the meeja and, of course, us.

For the Liberals, this crisis reached its height 18 months ago when, torn between a “battle of ideas” and brand-fretting v Turnbull’s naively thinking it was all about adopting whatever policy would get him into the Lodge, the leadership of what had been the most successful and flexible political machine in Australia threatened its own electoral viability by turning to an unelectable former Minister clutching his ‘Battlelines’.

Just how much both sides prop each other up, whether consciously or not, was shown by Labor’s reaction to the ascension of Abbott and the way that they did their best to make Abbott appear electable. The dumping of the ETS, the squalid panic over asylum seekers, all made it seem as though Abbott had his finger so firmly on the pulse of the demos, that he was to be taken seriously.

Of course, the real reason that Labor didn’t have the ability to push through the ETS program was because it had neither any real social base at home it could call on and, after Copenhagen , nothing to cling to overseas either. But admitting to no social base is a painful thing, especially to those sections of Labor who had made a living out of selling that base to the highest bidder, and it was far preferable to joining the media and political commentators in thinking that Abbott and Joyce were whipping up a ‘silent’ (not so much) army from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Riverland.

In fact at a good guess, about the only ones who didn’t believe the power of this neo-con revival were the senior Liberals who put Abbott in the top spot in the first place. Stumbles at the start of this year, especially over Afghanistan, highlighted Abbott’s weakness and the recapture of the traditional Liberal heartland last November gave the clearest sign that Labor’s decay was now so prevalent, reaching even the most successful technocrat model, that there was less pressure to worry about the state of the brand, and less need for Abbott.

Into this increasingly fragile environment steps Turnbull, as oblivious as ever. It was striking how well he demolished Coalition’s climate change policy the other night on Lateline. Not just by stating the obvious ludicrousness of giving billions to the polluters, but explaining why the Liberals chose such a climate change policy, so that they could pull it whenever convenient. This hugely expensive way of not having a climate change policy summed up the contortions of a leadership that took over on ideological purity, in this case climate change scepticism, but was unable to bring it out in actual policy.

Turnbull put Abbott in an impossible situation, so blatantly trashing shadow cabinet policy, which is why Abbott made the mistake of reacting. In doing so, but without getting rid of Turnbull, it can be portrayed as ‘unstable’. Now, with the leaking of an angry stoush with Hockey, weekend reports can ratchet it up a notch to ‘poisonous’, i.e. something must be done. Hockey can come in now and pose as the great healer in the interest of the party, hoping that the party may find his willingness to compromise more acceptable than 18 months ago. Maybe. What we do know is that they won’t turn to Turnbull who, if he had read what was happening to Abbott, would have kept his head low and do the best to keep him there, but now is being used by the leadership in a way that makes even Costello seem astute.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 30 May 2011.

Filed under State of the parties

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12 responses to “The Liberals start to normalise – an update”

  1. Persse on 30th May 2011 11:24 am

    As usual, very interesting. But I have to say this about ‘exhaustion’, of which I can only ever bring myself to half agree on. The technocratic side of government is so dominant now, it sets its own agenda, plus the implication that political parties should necessarily be leading political change, as they have done in the past, is no longer as valid because our society is experiencing such rapid changes, any public organisation is going to be trying to catch up rather than lead.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 30th May 2011 12:31 pm

    I tend to see political parties reflecting social change, rather than leading it. It is those social forces no longer finding their reflection in parties that sums up the parties’ problem. The technocrat model was the solution of the old parties to fill the gap by essentially pretending such representation doesn’t matter.

    But I think that technocratic model has passed. I see it as suspended animation after the end of the old two party agenda, but it is quite contradictory. It tries to pretend that government is about no more than services, but has no basis for authority.

    That is why they can be swept away so easily and on such little pretext eg. WA and Vic. Look what is going to happen in SA next election.

    I also think that the technocrat model relied on stasis than a fast change in events. It’s passing I think would speed things up.

  3. Riccardo on 30th May 2011 1:38 pm

    If I dig deeper, as I usually do, I wonder whether Australia itself is viable. Big Kim used to call it ‘independent initiative’ ie Australia actually had some separate interests from the rest of the world.

    I see our CEO class now and wonder whether they are just the white faces of the Chinese Communist Party (Sydney office).

    I think it is much worse than merely Dutch disease. Dutch disease with mining killing off every other consideration – education, health, environment – not just manufacturing or services.

    I would have no problem with this if labour was truly mobile, earn my opportunity cost on other shores where mining isn’t the one and only job. But there is no labour mobility – only CEO mobility and capital mobility.

  4. The Piping Shrike on 30th May 2011 7:14 pm

    Seems a bit harsh!

  5. j-boy on 30th May 2011 11:03 pm

    Our coal exports are giving us dutch disease
    and giving the world a dutch oven…
    its full speed ahead in New Holland

  6. Cavitation on 1st June 2011 11:04 am

    Pragmatism vs principle? Maybe short-term vs long-term problem solving. Abbott has adopted populism which has worked a treat in the short-term giving him good polls. But if the Liberals get into government they will have to govern, and Abbott’s populism will make that difficult for them. Abbott has been pissing in the drinking water (or doing laps in the rainwater tank, if you prefer).

    Climate change issues will not go away, and will get worse and harder for any government to deal with. The Liberal party’s denials about the problem and opposition to commonly accepted remediation will be remembered, and will disadvantage them for decades to come (just as Labor’s flirtation with communism harmed their brand). Illegal immigrants who are poor and disadvantaged will continue to borrow money and hop onboard little boats whoever is in power, and their numbers will continue to grow as knowledge about the west permeates the third world. Broadband expansion, while disadvantaging newspaper proprietors, will be increasingly popular and economically essential. All their other campaign issues are going to be hard or impossible to implement, in government.

    Rudd was a brilliant opposition leader (not so good as a PM tho), because he picked carefully the issues to go populist on, choosing only those he could hope to deal with in government. Abbott is not as discriminating and is championing issues he does not have any solutions for if he gets into power.That’s a sensible goal for him, since his hold on leadership is knife-edge, and he has to stay lucky to still be leader at the next election, so anything that keeps him in front is worth a try. But for the others in the party who have the time to ponder life actually in government, it is going to be a nightmare when that comes to pass. Or it will be Abbott’s undoing, since in order to backtrack, and follow the only policies that can work, the party will have to remove Abbott and install a leader who is not linked to his current unworkable policies.

  7. nick on 1st June 2011 12:52 pm

    that was the point of henry’s mining tax ricardo – for australia to maximise our cut of the mining boom and for all australian’s to be able benefit from it.

    Unfortunately rudds initially diluted version of it just got more and more diluted.

    We literally give away billions and billions of our assets and are squandering the opportunities the booms given us.

  8. The Piping Shrike on 1st June 2011 5:17 pm

    Cav, I agree that if Abbott got into government, there would be a good chance that it would be chaotic. Everything he does is designed to spook an insecure ALP, not to give any indication what they will do instead. I think the closer they get to power, the more they will think of an alternative to Abbott.

    Climate change as an issue may continue, but the moment when government could convince it could do anything about it, or reap any reward pretending it could, has passed.

  9. Giles Anthrax on 2nd June 2011 10:44 am

    Mr Shrike,

    Good insight that now the Libs are in front and expect to win the next election they feel safe in dumping Abbott i.e. no longer need him.

    So, who exactly of the Libs, no longer needs him. I suggest that ‘who’ is Nick Minchin who has been running the Libs for some time.

    Minchin was dominant in the post-Howard, post-Nelson Liberal Party and still is. Minchin picked Abbott and destroyed Turnbull. Minchin is now retracking on cigarette packaging, so undermining Abbott. Is it my imagination or does Abbott bear the look of the hunted these days ?

    Who is Nick’s choice as next Lib PM ? Dunno. But it will be someone malleable to his will.

    As for Turnbull, he was far from ‘oblivious’ in cutting up Abbott on Climate Change. Turnbull’s motive is revenge on Abbott. he will gladly see the Libs crash and burn to achieve this objective after which they will reach out to him in supplication and beg him to return as leader of a new Climate Change friendly Lib Party, which will aslo be devoid of Minchin…or so runs Turnbull’s narcissistic fantasy (I believe).

    Look no-one humiliates Turnbull the most intelligent man in Australia from Turnbull’s own perspective; not least some suburban anti-intellectual wanna-be triathlete like Abbott.

    The narcissist destroys everything while pursuing his own interests, and affronts to their own vanity most of all.

    Malcolm is a v. angry man. Watch him burn (them).

  10. The Piping Shrike on 2nd June 2011 3:25 pm

    I’m sympathetic to the Turnbull destructive mode thesis, similar to his counterpart on the other side, apparently our two most popular politcial leaders these days.

    But presumably they are torn, they also want to get back in the saddle of the horse they must hate, and Turnbull’s timing didn’t help him in that. But he did a good demolition job, no doubt about that.

  11. j-boy on 5th June 2011 5:45 pm

    it would be the supreme irony if Malcolm T. did a DLP on the liberals who have been commandeered by the progeny of Bob Santamaria..

  12. Riccardo on 7th June 2011 3:56 pm

    A Rudd-Turnbull party? Would only get two votes, but would be a useful antidote to the ALP/Liberal paradigm.

    The Mad Katter has missed the opportunity to set up a new party, and has instead set up a campaign committee for his electorate, which he is referring to as a party.

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