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April 27th 2016 print

Steve Kates and James Allan

Hold Your Nose vs. Punch His Nose

Should Coalition voters endorse Malcolm Turnbull's coup and policies by setting aside reservations and voting for his party in the belief that Labor would be even worse? Or should they pin their hopes of reform and revival on the creative destruction of defeat? Two of our contributors argue the toss

turnbull down mouthEver since the Turnbull coup, those of both conservative and libertarian bent, have been troubled by the prospect of endorsing the latest PM’s treachery at the ballot box. Does one wish for a dose of poetic justice and the usurper’s once-and- forever exit in ignominy or defeat from the leadership and, most likely, the political stage? Or is it better to subsume resentment and reservation and back the Coalition, the notion being that any party is better than Labor?

Below, James Allan and Steve Kates, representing each of those conflicting views, have at it.

_____________________________________________

Dear Steve (aka Mark Textor’s Man),
I have one question for you.  If you see all decisions as snapshots – one-off calls between two choices on the current table – then here’s what follows.  Presumably you will always opt for the least bad choice (and I grant you that Turnbull is less bad than Shorten for us small government, right-of-centre types), without an eye to longer-term consequences. But my query is, what’s wrong with a longer view?  We know that, at some point in the future, Labor will win an election.  That is inevitable and desirable in a democracy.  So I wonder which of these two scenarios you think better:

Scenario A:  Turnbull squeaks home.  He moves the Liberal Party left, and the country left, but the latter not as far to the left as Shorten and Labor would do.  Meantime, more Turnbull people get preselected.  More guff about ‘the Religion of Peace’; more on renewables; more money to the ABC; just not as bad as Labor.  You might even assume that a few Conservatives keep a lid on the worst of the Turnbull’s Labor-like schemes.

Then Turnbull either wins again or he loses and Labor gets in.

Let’s assume Turnbull wins again and there’s more of the same. After that, Labor wins. By then the whole political spectrum has been moved left (see continental Europe and the so-called Christian Democrats over the last 25 years).  We get Labor in that context, with a Liberal Party more left wing than it has been, possibly ever. So that means when Labor does win it will surely be more left-wing than a Shorten-led Labor this July. And this more-left-Labor will win once, maybe twice. So that’s the next four elections on this scenario, as in Libs then Libs, then Labor then Labor.

Scenario B:  Turnbull loses and Shorten gets in. Labor has to deal with the debt problems it caused. Taxes, of course, go up.  Things are worse than under Turnbull, a bit.  The Liberal Party has some sort of accounting for what it has done in axing a winning PM (unlike in Canada, where the Tories stuck with an unpopular Harper in his first term and he delivered two more wins).  And some sort of accounting for choosing MPs who opted to replace Abbott with the most left-wing person in their party room.  After this first Shorten win either he loses or wins the following election.  I reckon there’s a good chance Shorten loses, and to a reformed and cleaned-out Coalition.

But let’s say I’m wrong.  Shorten wins again.  Now we’re doubly worse off.  But we have an actual conservative opposition and, as Quadrant‘s John O’Sullivan points out, the sort of Opposition you face matters; it affects governments. The third election goes to them, the Coalition.  And then they repeat and win one more.  So, on this scenario, it’s Labor then Labor, then Libs then Libs.

You and the ‘Oh My God, you can’t vote for Labor!’ crowd of reluctant Turnbull supporters seem to think that Scenario A is unarguably better than Scenario B. I think there’s much to say in favour of Sscenario B. In each the Libs win twice and lose twice.  But in my opinion the endpoint for Australia – for those of us of a small government, strong border security, Hobbesian sensibility – is miles better under Scenario B. I am not welcoming a Shorten win in any short-term sense.  I am saying that in the long-term, thinking four elections down the road, this is the better choice, and by a fair way.

Notice that I have said nothing about the good consequences that flow from not rewarding bad behaviour, not to enton pusillanimous MPs, and cheap, venal ambition in the service of a political perspective we don’t share.  Nor have I pointed out that there are very good consequences in not allowing yourself to be played for a mug. If they know you will always vote Lib, provided the party is perceived to be just a smidgeon to the right of Labor, then Mark Textor is right in asserting that the base doesn’t matter.  we become irrelevant to their thinking, or virtually so.  In evolutionary psychology this is analogous to the person who does not take retribution when double-crossed (see my Spectator pieces from immediately after the coup).  It is a ‘loser gene’ and will die out.   The best long-term strategy is niceness and co-operation until you are stabbed in the back. Then you get even.  This has no good short-term consequences for you.  But it has great long-term consequences.  You are seen not to be a mug – in this case a Textor stooge.

Now you can respond in three ways.  (1) The Libs will never lose another election so vote Turnbull.  (2) We can keep stop the political spectrum from moving to the left under Turnbull.  We really can.  (3) It is wrong-headed to think long-term and dynamically.  You should always think super short-term, like some inner city guy who won’t marry his girlfriend because he wants sex with lots of different chicks.  (And I wonder, Steve, if when you write about economics you take a short-term, snapshot view of the economy or a long-term dynamic one?  Just asking.)

Personally, I don’t buy any of those three.  Nor is it convincing to pretend that all those who differ from you are apostates or morons.  There is a case to be made here; I think it’s a strong one.

The best consequences will flow from a Turnbull loss.

Cheers,
Jim

Dear Jim,
Let me begin with a story I have told before, which I wrote about just before the spill that replaced Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull:

When I used to work in Canberra, our offices backed onto the Liberal Party headquarters, and I was asked one time, even before Malcolm entered Parliament, what I thought about him. My answer was that if I was in the constituency that would decide the fate of the next election, and my vote was the one that would put him in or out, that I would hesitate about which way to go. That was then. Today I would have no doubt.

Since the post was titled, “I would never vote for a Coalition led by Malcolm Turnbull” you can see which way I would have gone. You can find the whole thing at the Catallaxy blog via the link above, so I do have some history in thinking about these issues:

But that was then, when the question was purely speculative. This is now, when we are faced with a Turnbull-led Liberal Party versus Shorten-led Labor. The issue is whether it is worth enduring three (or more) years of Labor with all the damage it would do, versus a Liberal Party led by someone farther to the left than Shorten, but surrounded by a party that has more sense than its leader and his far-Green beliefs.

While I am at it, a word about Tony Abbott, who let the side down with his cavalier approach to policy even when he could see Malcolm lying in wait. I don’t know how much Abbott had to compromise in keeping his cabinet together, but I don’t think he thought about what might happen, even though it looked menacing enough at the time. And since here we are and in this mess, he must carry at least some of the blame. But Malcolm carries the most.

These are, moreover, really dangerous times. The left (which encompasses Malcolm) is not just merely socialist and high-spending. The left is now open borders, with its aim to submerge every facet of Western civilisation it is able. Obama set the pattern and it has been evermore in this direction, with Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn the models for the future and Hillary Clinton not far behind. Watching the modern left in action, we find attacks on everything that has made the West great, from its freedoms to its objective science to its market economies to its Judeo-Christian ethos and traditions. These are the battle lines and if we can preserve some of it here, then that is what I want to do. I do not wish to live in the New Australia patterned after the New Europe post-Merkel.

The choice is between a left-wing pseudo-Liberal who leads a party that, as of last September, still had 43 ready to vote against him, versus a more centralist Labor leader who will have nothing like even remotely close to 43 willing to support his more moderate views. Malcolm is a known quantity, and what is known is that he is a strategic and policy incompetent, politically far to the left of the party he leads. He will of necessity lead the Coalition into the election, but – and this is where we differ – I don’t think he will call the shots after that, even assuming he wins, which is far from assured.

Out beyond, my best case scenario has Donald Trump as President in 2017, which will change everything. Malcolm, being devoid of any useful ideas of his own, will find the world in which he is trying to legislate very different. Our cultural dynamic may hopefully have changed. No more open borders, no more state-sanctioned global warming hysteria, no more undisciplined spending. And the 43 will have grown to the majority of the party – they may already be there – and Malcolm will find himself shunted towards the exit, with Morrison or someone of a similar disposition taking his place.

You cannot craft the replacement team among the Libs. Bronwyn went and was replaced by someone ideologically much worse. Politicians are not philosopher kings, and I have no expectation that things are going to get better. I can see, at every turn, genuine regret about the change even by those who supported the shift. I now have my list of people whose views on politics I no longer feel the need to listen to, and the list grows longer.

Nothing would scare me more than an un-reformed Labor Party winning the election. You are kidding yourself if you think the Libs will ever be anything much different from what they already are now, even after three years in opposition. But at least they can hear what people like us are saying. The other side, Labor, is deaf to it all and would make this country a shambles. I cannot see the advantage of such a risk for so little potential gain. Let me give you Tony Abbott’s words from just the other day:

“Just how much lasting damage was done by the worst government in our history is only now starting to become apparent.

But Labor hasn’t learned and would do it all again – and more.”

Everyone seems to like happy solutions to difficult problems. Malcolm has himself discovered that he has not a single solution to the problems we face, not one. Not one of the policy ideas he has floated lasted even a week. If the Libs get over the line, it will be in spite of him and not because of him. Three years seems like a long time to put up with Labor once more — and there is no certainty that it will be only three years. Being in government, if you don’t have destructive white-anting at every turn, makes for serious efort invested in policy-making. Thrown into opposition, the Libs’ disintegration could be far worse than you might imagine. My worst case scenario is Labor in Australia and Clinton in the US. I cannot do much about what they do opn the other side of the Pacific, but here I can only hope to do as much as possible to maintain things as best as we still can.

However, I will go at least this far with what you said: If I thought a Coalition win at the next election would mean the Libs under Malcolm would become the New Green Party of Australia, I would take a flamethrower to the lot, and then salt the earth after.

Kind regards,
Steve

James Allan teaches law at the University of Queensland. Steve Kates teaches economics at RMIT University.

Comments [18]

  1. Peter says:

    An interesting and topical debate. But it leaves me still not knowing where I stand. I definitely intend to vote for the ALA in the senate but in the lower house? Before the Electoral Commission redistributed me I was in Tony Abbott’s electorate. No choice there; I most definitely intended to vote Abbott one. Now I have been switched to North Sydney, Joe Hockey’s old seat. I don’t fancy the replacement – for a start he is a fan of gay marriage and a party political apparatchik to boot. I will not give him my first preference. But that is not the same thing as hoping Labor will win. I find both Allan’s and Kates’ views persuasive and well made. What a complete mess those poltroons who voted Abbott down have got us conservatives into. Instead of being glued to the tele this election night I might watch an old movie.

    • pgang says:

      The ALA in the Senate? No way. When they put up some democratic candidates for the lower house I’ll take them seriously, but I think you might be seriously disappointed by a group of people who want to control government the under-handed way.

      My lower house vote doesn’t count in federal elections as it’s a labor safe seat. So I can vote Labor with impunity and send a message to the libs that way. But the senate will require some thought – it will likely be a LibNat vote for me there.

  2. Margie Joan says:

    There is a solution to this mess. Those Liberal politicians who remained loyal to former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, after Turnbull’s long planed, secret coup, could hold the balance of power in the Coalition Government if they were to take the heroic step and remove Turnbull now. This could be done before the election, so that the Conservative voters of Australia can once again have a clear and obvious choice at the 2016 federal election. The terrible situation where the only choice the voters have, at the moment, is between two Left wing political parties, would be gone, pttf!

    One of the Loyal to Tony Abbott Liberals, for example, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton, Josh Frydenburg, Angus Taylor etc., could call a spill tomorrow. What warning did any of us get about the last spill on the Day of Infamy (14.9.2015) when the white anting, politically back stabbing Turnbull snatched the job of PM from Tony Abbott whose Coalition Government had won in a landslide at the September 7th 2013 Federal election. The voters of Australia were certainly kept in the dark about that spill.

    Turnbull has no born right to be the PM of Australia. It would just take one of the above loyal to Tony Abbott Liberals to check the numbers, find the ones who now regret that they voted for Turnbull, and go for it. Whoever does it would be an overnight hero for the Conservative voters of Australia who have got nowhere to go for the House of Representatives. This is the solution to the present impasse. Please call a spill and call it now.

    • Bill Martin says:

      If only they had the wisdom and the intestinal fortitude!

    • pgang says:

      Margie remember that you are voting for your local member, not for the PM. If you are happy with your Coalition rep then why wouldn’t you support them?

      • Margie Joan says:

        pgang – let’s think about your hypothesis that we vote for our local member, not for the PM.

        In 2007, Kevin Rudd was the leader of the Labor Party and John Howard was the leader of the Liberal Coalition. Kevin Rudd entered the campaign saying that he was a fiscal conservative but was offering new leadership with fresh ideas. Rudd also ran a presidential style campaign with the slogan Kev07. Rudd won with a 5.4% two party swing. John Howard lost his electoral seat and the prime-ministership.
        Yes, the majority of voters in 2007 voted for the Labor Party candidate in their electorate, but they did so BECAUSE Kev07 was the leader of that party.

        • pgang says:

          Rudd didn’t win the election. The Coalition lost it because they had gone stale and the public knew it (work choices also had little to do with it – this was a myth of the leftist media). This was largely Howard’s fault, as he wouldn’t hand over the top job when it was time for change, and thus the party (not the prime-ministership) became ineffective. The same went for the following election. The public could see that the Labor party were a mess and clueless – it wasn’t about the individuals Rudd-Gillard. So they expressed this through the votes they gave to their local reps. The media love to play up the party leader, but the public aren’t that shallow. The Coalition will struggle in this election not because of Turnbull as the leader. It will be because the public can see that this party is little better than the one it superseded. If Abbott had remained in charge it would have shown to the public that they were at least cohesive and stable, which the public were craving, and I think the election would have been an easy win, albeit with an inevitable swing to Labor.

    • ianl says:

      > if they were to take the heroic step and remove Turnbull now

      Don’t have the numbers, pointless wishlist

  3. Wayne says:

    While I consider the sacking of Mr Abbot was an act of insanity the main problem is who replaced him.

    The argument for voting for Mr Turnbull is that he is not as left as the Opposition. The lesser of two evils.

    Well I dont consider that a good enough reason to vote for him.

    Alternative voting choices will be available in the Senate and Independents may be in the offing for the Reps although this would still leave preferences.

    The only sure course is to vote informal and damn the consequences.

    Cry havoc and a pox on both their houses.

  4. Joel B1 says:

    Myself and my spouse will be voting for PM Abbott in the lower house, albeit informally via a hand-drawn box etc.

    Not sure yet about the upper house.

    • Joel B1 says:

      Feel free to nix that previous, it’s just a thought bubble.

      The main issue is this: “Malcolm is a known quantity”.

      That is incorrect.

      Does anyone have any idea of what Turnbull proposes? The answer is “no” and that includes the great ditherer himself.

      And can I point out that at the last election only two people voted for PM Turnbull and I’m not so sure about Lucy.

  5. ianl says:

    Irrespective of the deliberate and, unhappily, some what puerile ambiguity of out two resident academics (no one wonders any more why only the ABC and Fauxfacts ask their opinions – sorry Steve and James, but I mean that), the *ONLY* useful vote in the Lower House is:

    e) none of the above

    Get over your “schlock, horror” and answer this question honestly (no arm waving):

    what would you really think would happen if, say, 60% of the vote was deliberately informal ?

    Remember, answer honestly.

  6. Bran Dee says:

    It would be a cop out if ianl votes informal and then says don’t blame me I didn’t vote. Make a decision man, democracy was hard won.
    There are other options beside Labor and the loony Left.

    • ianl says:

      You didn’t reply honestly .. sigh, why would I expect that in any case.

      The question is:

      > what would you really think would happen if, say, 60% of the vote was deliberately informal ?

      I’m not asking what you may or may not think if I, alone, deliberately voted informal. Bluntly, you should tell someone who may care.

      But, instead of accusing me of cowardice, answer the question I actually did put forward.

      For a supposedly intellectual forum of discussion, this place is deplorably weak.

  7. ron.house says:

    SOLUTION: If you live in MT’s electorate, vote Labor 2nd last and Liberal last. Anywhere else, vote LNP. Hopefully 1 electorate won’t be the decider, but if it is, so be it. Otherwise LNP gets back with MT absent or with a noticeable swing against him. Give the signal.

  8. Ross B says:

    It’s hard to count the holes in the “hold your nose” viewpoint. We’ve been mostly holding them since 2007 Steve. If you want nine or twelve more years of Leftists given alternate shots at running the show – go your hardest. If you want the party of Menzies and Howard to eventually corroborate all of the absurd arguments Shorten and Plybers make, go and help hand out how-to-votes for the Libs. While James does the punching argument no disservice, it’s striking that we aren’t more thoroughly concerned that Australian society now smothers the slightest hint at conservative prescriptions. Meanwhile, the default position of our institutions and media is an amazingly brazen hostility to anyone with the gall to place a conservative viewpoint above the political parapet.
    The Liberals, having degenerated into gormless Keating-Lite facsimiles of the ALP, in-thrall to a kind of Textor/Richardson get-elected-whatever-the-cost mode, let the rot perpetuate in government and out of it – scared out of their wits by the opposing forces arrayed against them every time a journalist happens to thrust a mike in their face. The result? – a whole stack of people who’ve supported them through thick and thin are asking “why bother?” I stopped bothering a while back, but the party confirmed my membership of the Why Bother Brigade (also known as the We Don’t Matter Army courtesy of that gift to the ALP – Mark Textor) on September 15 with possibly the dumbest self harm a political party could possibly inflict. We certainly can lay blame on Abbott and others who managed to drop their version of the conservative baton while in government, the fact is conservative forces within the Liberal Party, and the huge often silent forces in the wider community, are in a structural retreat that makes Napoleon’s famous retreat from Moscow seem like some victorious advance. There is no reason for a Liberal Broad Church if all the sermons do is validate the lessons taught by opposing religions.

    • ianl says:

      Yes indeed.

      As before, my solution is mass civil disobedience – ie. mass informal voting.

      We’ve already seen Bran Dee respond weakly to this by pretending it is cowardice, but in fact it is courageous as it punches everyone of them in the nose. [No, Brand Ee, I do not blame other people when I haven't voted. My exact comment, BEFORE an election, is that people get exactly the politicians they deserve.]

      Perhaps not well known here, the ABC and Fauxfax did not see fit to report it in case the lumpenproletariat got ideas, but only a few years ago, the Netherlands went without political govt for well over a year as the voters persistently produced what was essentially an informal vote. The only people perturbed by this were the non-employed politicians. No one else at all noticed.

      Absolutely love it. I recognise this is an impossible dream here in Oz – people get exactly the politicians they deserve. But wide-spread informal voting is the *only* way to shake this up.