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October 08th 2015 print

Michael Warren Davis

When It’s Party vs. Principle

What is a conservative to do when his favoured party's leadership falls into the hands of a politician of no known conservative conviction? Loyalty is important, make no mistake about that. But so are values, and they are always worth fighting for

wolf sheepChristopher Rath, a Young Liberal branch president, makes the following, quite remarkable confession in his Menzies House essay, “In Defense of the Establishment”:

My critics in the Young Liberals may call me an “establicon” or establishment conservative as a pejorative, but I wear it as a badge of honour. Being an “establicon” means being “dry”, it means supporting the Premier and Prime Minister, campaigning, raising money, supporting branches to grow, pre-selecting talented men and women, and fostering our best future leaders. It means loving the Liberal Party and our greatest living Australian, John Howard.

What Mr. Rath makes abundantly clear, if unintentionally so, is that he entirely misunderstands the accusation of “establiconservatism”. An establicon isn’t one who campaigns for one’s party despite personal disagreements with the ruling philosophy of its leader. Basically, and not to mince words, being an establicon means excusing oneself from the struggle for authentic conservative government on the grounds that blind support for the party is the greater good.

For instance, a true conservative could support the Turnbull-led Liberal Party while still advocating a return to conservative leadership, if not by ousting Turnbull then by pressuring him to abide by the principles of the party’s centre-right rank-and-file. On the other hand, we would expect an establicon to say that, since Turnbull and his cabinet have so far governed in accordance with broadly free-market principles, matters of cultural and social importance can be set aside and overlooked.

Let’s be clear: the true conservative is a conservative first, and a party loyalist second. He or she never sacrifices the core convictions of Anglo-Australian conservatism—civil institutions such as marriage, the Constitution, the monarchy; the sanctity of life; the preservation of Australia’s cultural identity, and so on—as a matter of convenience. He never shies from criticising those who would use the Liberal Party, ostensibly the principle vehicle for conservatism in Australia, to advance fundamentally un-conservative ends. He needn’t openly revolt against the Party’s leadership, but he ought not be cowed by the leadership either.

Let’s be clearer still: free-market economics are not the be-all and end-all of either John Howard’s Liberal Party or Anglosphere conservatism. Mr. Rath writes, “Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood [and] turned their parties into ‘dry’ pragmatic parties built in their own image.” That’s complete misinformation. Ronald Reagan wasn’t merely a free-marketeer. He was a social conservative, a cultural traditionalist, a Constitutionalist, and a stalwart of human liberty and national sovereignty.

And if Reagan was the figurehead of the conservative movement in the 1980s, he was only that: a figurehead. He had no interest in remaking the party “in his own image”, let alone a purely “dry” image. He was a true conservative, devoted to the conservative worldview as a whole. He suffered repeated defeats at the hands of his party establishment for it… and yet he persevered. Which is why he’s the exemplar of conservative statesmanship as we know him today.

Had Reagan been a careerist establicon, a mindless party loyalist, he would’ve simply been another bump in the road, a sorry footnote in the history of the meteoric resurgence of the American conservative movement. We would have found another figurehead, one worthy of the high office afforded him by the American people. Likewise, Thatcher wasn’t  “a dry” in any metaphysical sense. She wasn’t interested in implementing a grand experiment in Austrian School economics. True, she held deep conviction in human enterprise; but this belief  was inextricably bound to a faith in, and defence of, Britain’s traditional social mores and guiding institutions. Her battle with the Soviet Union wasn’t solely, or even primarily, economic: it was moral and cultural. This is why Thatcher was decidedly one of us, the conservatives. She was just as decidedly not a “dry” “establicon”.

One would hope that Mr. Rath, former leader of the Sydney University Conservative Club and a man whose purported raison d’être is the advancement of authentic conservatism in the Liberal Party, wouldn’t pride himself in being an establicon. There’s a world of difference between authentic conservatism and establiconservatism.

Given this position, Mr. Rath would, in theory, have been a supporter of Tony Abbott in the recent leadership spill. But do note the photograph accompanying the Menzies House article in question. It captures the author   with Arthur Sinodinos, the architect of Turnbull’s coup. Need anything more be said.

Comments [5]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Hear, hear! When the leader is not even an establicon, never mind conservative, the party is no longer a genuine conservative entity. The Liberal party will take at least a generation to recover from this shameful episode. Supporting it regardless is not going to aid that recovery.

  2. Jody says:

    Turnbull will have to watch his back; there are several very good leadership contenders in the ranks of the Cabinet right now. A leadership vote of 11 still only translates back to 6 if somebody else is going to challenge and only requires a majority of one!!

    Turnbull will be contemplating this at all times, since it was his fate in 2010!!

    • wse999 says:

      You mean 2009, 1st December.
      If Turnbull succeeds he won’t have to watch anything. Nothing succeeds like success.
      I say it again, Tony blew it. He had become an embarrassment, whatever his Government’s achievements. He learned little from the February 2015 irruption. And more to the point he was trailing consistently in the polls, even up against a feeble Opposition Leader with about the same high dissatisfaction rating. Even Costello and Howard understand this.
      And Mr Abbott has not helped his cause by his self-serving reflex carping since he left. No loyalty to the Party here. Just himself.
      But the meaning of „Liberal“ I favour encompasses freedom, tolerance, an open secular society, not a party clinging to some model of conservatism, some reactionary bigoted concoction of God, Queen, the Mother Country etc.
      Which party would never be elected anyway, would remain a „Right Wing“ curiosity.

      • Bill Martin says:

        The version of the Liberal party you apparently favour already exists, it’s called the Labour Party. As it happens, Turnbull would be a better fit there than in the Liberal party, if only they’d have him. Never mind though, he’ll do his best to reshape the Liberal party to better resemble Labour. That’s sure to please you.

  3. en passant says:

    I must say that I enjoyed and agreed with just about everything in the article. I therefore cannot agree with wse999 who sees power over any principles as the ultimate aphrodisiac for the scum who saw treachery as a first resort to raise a man entirely unfit for high office to the highest office. Tick, that’s another one off the bucket list.

    Well the polls say Mal is a Winner, in fact on the Bolt Report the Victorian Liberal State President said so. I have tried to check my recollection by emailing him but have not yet received a reply. Here is my email:
    “Michael,
    I was surprised to hear you state on the Bolt Report that since the political assassination of an elected Prime Minister ‘more people have joined the party than have resigned’.
    This is indeed good news that you will no doubt wish to broadcast widely by publishing the scale of the improvement and the locations where this is happening.
    I look forward to seeing the figures – which I promise to circulate to the many I know who have been considering resigning.
    The following three other potential winners (plus a catch-all) I cannot recommend too highly. It seems that the following are under consideration:
    1. Taxing the superannuation earnings of the over-60′s
    2. Relaxing the Border Protection policies
    3. Engaging with the most powerful religion in Oz, the 2% Islamic hordes
    4. Agenda-21, FTA’s and TPP and signing up to the Paris World Government

    No doubt that will have swarms of people storming the Liberal HQ.”

    Let me say that I agree Tony was not the tough guy portrayed in the MSM, but an insecure and often silly little boy. However a quiet abdication after Xmas to another conservative would have been supported, whereas a gruesome assassination by Mal the Knife was unforgivable. I heard on good authority that as he went down, Tony cried out “Et tu …” followed by a long list of the names of ‘friends’, associates and people he had assisted, loyally stood up for and placed his trust in. Liberal politics at less than its finest.
    I sent him an email when Turnbull crossed the floor to vote against his own party that that was his cue for expulsion before the Ides of September. Tony ignored me as he did not have the ruthlessness required to get blood on his hands. His enemies had no such scruples.
    I think Mr, Rath will fit the current unprincipled LibPolitiPartiers perfectly”