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July 12th 2017 print

Paul Collits

The Liberals, Coming Apart at the Seams

The party whose leadership Malcolm Turnbull schemed so assiduously to seize was once a big tent with seating for all, from old-school Tories to libertarians. Now, sacrificed on the altar of one man's egomaniacal ambition, there is nought but division, betrayal and disgust

turnbull even smuggerThat noted political philosopher Malcolm Turnbull has baldly stated that ‘we are not conservatives’.  Mini Me, aka the Member for Goldstein, chipped in on cue with a relevant quote from RG Menzies. When in doubt, quote something from Ming to seal the argument.  We only now need Hayek’s ghost telling us “why I am not a conservative” to achieve the trifecta.

Just about any political party or, indeed, any formal political organisation needs to be an amalgam of policy positions and shades of ideology, in order to attain and hold power.  Perhaps only single-issue parties are the exception, though even they have to have positions on a range of often complex issues.

The Liberal Party has always been, of course, such an amalgam – of old-style Tories, landed toffs, libertarians sometimes bordering on the libertine, social conservatives, traditionalists, big government conservatives, compassionate conservatives, and so on.  Likewise US Republicans, with their country club types like Nelson Rockefeller to libertarians like Barry Goldwater (then) and Rand Paul (now).  Paleos, neocons, constitutional conservatives, and even “crunchy” conservatives.  Isolationists and global warriors.  Now even populist conservatives are running the joint, cheered on by the Breitbart alt-righters.

At the height of the conservative, post-World War II conservative revival in the US, during the reign of William F Buckley Junior and the early years of National Review, there emerged a serious attempt to marry social conservatism, economic liberalism and Cold War anti-communism.  The project was called “fusionism” and its chief protagonist was Frank Meyer, who, along with Buckley and James Burnham, Russell Kirk and Brent Bozell, fashioned a movement that birthed Goldwater and eventually delivered Reagan.

Meyer’s project was not merely to create a coalition of the willing that would bury differences between conservatism and (classical) liberalism, but to achieve something of a philosophical “fusion” that amounted to much more than a marriage of convenience.  This was a noble if doomed enterprise.  A little book by George Carey, Freedom and Virtue, chronicles both Meyer’s efforts and the often vitriolic-though-entertaining exchanges between libertarians, who value freedom above all and for its own sake, and conservatives, who value freedom underpinned by tradition and leading to virtue.  Another book, not so little and co-edited by that same member for Goldstein and me (Turning Left or Right) – oh and some lefty or other – explored the same issues in a contemporary setting, inviting liberals and conservatives to articulate policy positions on a range of matters.

Do conservatives and liberals have that much in common anymore – if they ever did – and is it worth fighting to maintain a coalition of the anti-socialists, just to keep the other mob out?

Liberals (following Mill) worship the Enlightenment – why has always been beyond me – and sense progress away from a dodgy, theocratic past towards a nirvana of individualism freed  from the influence of Church and State.  Conservatives (following Burke then and Russell Kirk or Oakeshott more recently) lament what they see as decline, the overturning of sensible traditions, a traducing of family and faith in a naked public square, and relativism gone seriously mad at the altar of tolerance.

What has changed since the 1980s when the Liberal Party was similarly riven by ideological strife and a bitter war for the leadership, with its wets and dries and good old nothings-in-between time-servers, is that now we have a new and fundamentally different world in which agreement over common cores is all but impossible.

What has emerged is the full blossoming of the god of tolerance, the embrace of climate change ideology, the abandonment of nationalism and certainly of patriotism, the rejection of tradition as a guiding force for action, the utter worship of Davos globalism and free borders, and cultural relativism as a driver of society.  The embrace of the rainbow tick is de rigeur.

Liberals are actively hostile to the bedrock beliefs of conservatives. Now, liberals and conservatives are not merely not on the same page, they aren’t even in the same book.  They might agree on a few things, but not many.  And the things they disagree on, vehemently, are matters of core business to each, not things that can easily be parked.

I fear Frank Meyer would be laughed out at the goings-on in the Liberal Party room these days.  I am not sure that he would even want to make the case for fusion.

As for the man who says “we are not conservatives”, he will surprise no one in saying this.  After all, he is the Mal-churian candidate, the Macron- and Trudeau-loving globalist, the warmist and the embracer of Islam, the ABC and Gillian Triggs.  He calls his philosophy centrism.  I am pretty sure it isn’t liberalism.

Comments [18]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    This is the most telling paragraph of the article:

    “What has emerged is the full blossoming of the god of tolerance, the embrace of climate change ideology, the abandonment of nationalism and certainly of patriotism, the rejection of tradition as a guiding force for action, the utter worship of Davos globalism and free borders, and cultural relativism as a driver of society. The embrace of the rainbow tick is de rigeur.”

    As for Turnbull, he is absolutely bereft of anything even resembling a principle, except for self interest; not an uncommon trait with politicians, but it is the absolute extreme in his case.

    • PT says:

      He’s certainly bereft of political judgement!

    • padraic says:

      I agree with you, Bill, re the paragraph you quote above. That was the one that stood out for me as a summary of what is the problem. They need to get back to the “broad church” of John Howard’s days. This leaking and talking to the Press is pathetic. Differences should be discussed “in house” and a united front presented to the MSM.

    • Doc S says:

      Bereft of principle and also of political acumen – astonishing in a political leader – and surely a politically fatal combination.

  2. Salome says:

    The embracer of Gillian Triggs? Excuse me while I vomit . . .

  3. Don A. Veitch says:

    You write:
    ‘The Liberal Party has always been, of course, such an amalgam – of old-style Tories, landed toffs, libertarians sometimes bordering on the libertine, social conservatives, traditionalists, big government conservatives, compassionate conservatives, AND SO ON’.

    I’m interested in the . . . ‘so ons’ .

    History shows that, the Liberal Party success at election time was based on:
    * the Australian Women’s National League (AWNL), under Elizabeth Couchman, which recruited 60,000 women and its 600 branches on a platform of ‘women’s; equality;

    * the Country Party brought socialists, rural workers into the coalition;

    * the DLP won patriotic anti-communist workers and trade unionists;

    * Santamaria’s NCC brought the Catholic 2nd preference vote!

    But times have change and Turnbull does other ‘deals’.

  4. Jody says:

    Labor’s primary vote is still stuck at 36% and this seldom changes, so they have no comfort to take from this other. You would expect their lost votes to go to Labor but they are not doing that at all. Both parties are at the tipping point. The polity is in disarray.

  5. Warty says:

    Some of the more conservative commentators on SKY are inclined to say that the conservatives in the Liberal Party are in the majority (vis a vis the wets) and yet the party room toppled Abbot for a Turnbull, whom they’d ditched as leader once before.
    Now perhaps because I’m inclined to read The Australian (avoiding the Peter van Onselens and Niki Savvas) and Spectator, Quadrant, Cattallaxy Files, even XYZ; and because I watch SKY, again avoiding the Nicholas Reeces, Kristina keneallys and Patricia karvelases (I like my little conservative bubble) I’m at a loss to understand why alleged conservatives like Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann should uphold a party brand that is in tatters, stand behind a leader that represents the walking dead and pretend that everything is ‘on message’ despite the polls, and despite the fact that their inability to speak the plain truth is adding to pell mell rush to the minor parties.
    Your establishment figures like Richard Alston, who appeared on Andrew Bolt’s show last night and Michael Kroger, a regular guest, look so defensive they may as well be hedgehogs. And again we take whatever they say with a grain of salt, because our lack of trust is shot, completely shot. There is no longer any justification for defending the Liberal Party in its current composition and its avowed sensible centre alignment. It is on the nose; it is an ex parrot; it is deceased, and no amount of ‘wake up Pollys’ is going to resuscitate a dead Norwegian parrot.
    The irony is the ‘rainbow tick’ Mr Collits talks of is the camel that’s going to break the straw’s back; because a house of straw is what it has become, and an election loss I suspect is going to be the least of its worries.

  6. AlanIO says:

    A good start to stop the rot would be to refuse the salary increase to assist the budget deficit. Why does Australia need a space program now? Appeal to the voters that we all need restraint not the ‘gimmee gimmee’ syndrome. AlanIO

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    Abbott tried that and was stabbed in the back by disloyal cabinet members, even through the polls were at 40% primary vote.

    The polls after that budget fell to 37%, same as today, and had bounced back to 40% after 3 polls.

    Labour was about or less than 36% at that time too.

    So why is Malcom still PM. It is he and his supporters who hold the Liberal Party isn’t conservative and in disarray.

    Tony’s always been conservative and the electors backed him far more than Malcom.

    • ianl says:

      > “So why is Malcom still PM”

      I’ve pointed out before that Waffle wears his vanity like a concrete overcoat – nothing is allowed to penetrate it.

      But the general dislike of him seems to be morphing, I think, goaded by the clear hypocrisy of increasing power prices, the ongoing destruction of civilising power grids and now molestation of motor vehicle market choices big-time, while denying all this in public statements. Frydenberg flips and flops daily, lying though omission without shame; Pyne glories in poking the crowd while Waffle quietly applauds him for it.

      Dislike seems to be morphing into something just a step or two short of quiet hatred. It takes a great deal to rile the Aus public but Waffle seems determined to make sure this happens. Such stubborn vanity seems somewhat dangerous to me. Not funny-stupid any more, assuaging Waffle’s vanity. The last time I remember a growing discord like this was Keating’s last stand – and for much the same reasons of hubristic conceit.

      But the intrepid 54 believe they have nearly 2 years to change this. For the backbench, rebel and loss of pre-selection presents itself … that’s the message, and the answer to your question.

  8. Peter Sandery says:

    There’s no hope for the Liberals in my opinion, but what I find amazing is the lack of attention to what the Nats are doing in all this – I would have thought that now would be the time for them to put the pressure on the Libs by way of making noises like looking towards whether the Coalition Agreement has been breached by some of the Libs latest efforts? Or are they now under the spell of the “Canberra Syndrome”?

    • whitelaughter says:

      Agreed Peter, especially given the Nats did superbly last election. The thought of just gobbling up conservative Liberal seats must be tempting – or are they just waiting for the Libs to finish imploding so they can take over as the major Conservative party?

  9. Keith Kennelly says:

    That’s powerfully perceptive ianl, especially the concrete overcoat and the quiet hatred. I think you are spot on with that. I’ve never seen the like before. There was anger about Keating but not the quiet hatred and I was one of those who sat on the verandah in Queensland with my cricket bat.

    I wonder what awaits Turnbull and what might transpire before an election.

    Peter
    I suspect the Nats will run conservative candiates in liberal seats held by obvious left wingers. I think that’s why Barnaby is so quiet.
    I reckon the planning is will underway.

    I saw the Nats take over the Liberal Party in Queensland in much the same way.

  10. Bushranger71 says:

    The deplorable state of the political landscape in Australia will only change if one of the minor parties has the gumption to generate a bill proposing jettison of Preferential Voting and substitution of Approval Voting. Just keep on retabling such a bill, if necessary, to keep the issue on the boil and make the major parties show their true colours.

  11. mags of Queensland says:

    The past successes of the Liberal party were predicated on the fact that the Party was,indeed, a broad church. Both the conservative and liberal members were able to broker policies that were acceptable to both sides and to promote those policies unequivocally. There were no mixed messages. Everyone sang from the same song sheet. Also, the members of the party had far more input to policy making and the choice of candidates. That has all gone by the board these days and the Liberal party as we knew it has gone.

    The unbelievable stupidity of the parliamentary Party, who think THEY are the party, in rolling a first term Prime Minister and then changing the direction of the party altogether is just mind blowing. Nearly a million votes, lack of funding and volunteers at the last election should have given them the warning that they were heading for disaster but apparently not.There are many conservative voters from both Liberal and Labor. They don’t see the need for change for change’s sake. I think this is the reason that so many conservative voters are now parking their votes with parties other than the two majors. One wonders just how long either party will survive into the future.

  12. Keith Kennelly says:

    Last election, as a protest, I voted informal.

    Next election, I’m so bloody angry, I’m voting labor.

  13. johnhenry says:

    I love my country, which is now governed by Prime Minister Turdeau [why does that squiggly "Spell Check" line appear under his name on my screen?] aka Prime Minister Justin Bieber. I believe “Quadrant” readers on the far side of the world also love theirs, despite their very understandable discontents. Personally, I’m hoping for a most severe correction in our national life – something just short of violence – because there is nothing like suffering to focus the minds of even the most complacent amongst us on where true freedom and happiness are to be found.