The case for courage in defence of conservative values

Quo vadis the Liberal Party? The Victorian election appears to have delivered a loud and clear answer to this question. Conservatives are standing athwart history and yelling ‘stop’ — but vast swathes of the electorate simply aren’t listening. This is certainly the lesson being proclaimed by moderate Liberal parliamentarians and their boosters in the media following the stunning Labor victory in what Premier Dan Andrews boasted is “the most progressive state in nation.”

If this analysis is right, the Liberal Party will in future no longer function as a politically viable vehicle for the promotion of conservative views. This might bring the party’s very existence into question in the long run, as rival alternatives fill the political vacuum. In the short-term, a deliberate retreat by the Liberals from conservatism will also rob our political life of a real contest of ideas over important social issues at a time when the progressive Left is aggressively ramping up the culture wars in both public and private institution — from the humblest pre-school to the upper echelons of corporate Australia.

If the Liberal Party adopts the moderate position and doesn’t engage in these cultural battles, the ramifications and transformation of Australian society will be major. We cannot afford for the Liberal Party to conceive of politics purely as a PR exercise. The art and challenge of politics in a democracy demands politicians be responsive to public opinion, while at the same time endeavouring to shape public opinion on vital matters of policy and principle consistent with their party’s core values.

It doesn’t take a political genius to look at the results of the same-sex marriage plebiscite or the Wentworth byelection and suggest that the Liberals would be better off cutting their losses and giving up the cultural fight. The conventional wisdom is that issues such as free speech and identity politics only matter to ‘the base’. The presumption is that the issues that absorb the energies and angst of rusted-on Liberal voters, who are said to have nowhere else to park their votes, can therefore be safely ignored in pursuit of broader electoral support.

It is curious to recommend a political party disregard its strongest supporters. Ignoring the values of the rank-and-file who join the branches, man the polling booths, and who donate and raise money to fill the coffers is a recipe for killing the backbone of the party.

However, the moderates rightly argue that the Liberal Party must appeal beyond the base and must focus on mainstream economic and quality of life issues to appeal to a broader base of voters. They also argue, quite legitimately, that the social or cultural questions which exercise the base do not preoccupy Middle Australia. But they are quite wrong to suggest that these cultural and social questions are therefore mere fringe issues — given their intrinsic importance.

The moderates believe the electorate has become more progressive over time, and that speaking out on conservative issues risks alienating the majority of voters. However, the argument that the culture war has already been lost — given prevailing community sentiments and/or lack of interest — is also only half correct. In truth, the war has not been fully and properly prosecuted because Liberal politicians have not taken up the political challenge of shaping public opinion and have been largely silent on cultural issues.

Those who urge the Liberal Party to fight the culture wars are not political masochist or kamikazes willing to spill the electoral blood of every marginal seat candidate in pursuit of what they believe. To the contrary, they believe it is worth fighting these vital battles — and incurring the political risks — because of the fundamental importance of the issues and principles at stake.

They believe suggestible primary school children should not be exposed to confusing ‘gender is fluid’ theories under the rubric of preventing bullying. They believe public-funded universities should be required to protect free speech on campus and not cave into intolerant protestors who want to silence debate and discussion of so-called ‘offensive’ ideas. They believe the monolithic and increasingly influential ABC should not run its own agenda but provide balanced and impartial coverage that respects and reflects the opinions and perspectives of all the taxpayers who fund it. And they believe freedom of religious people and organisations to practice their faiths should not be restricted in the name of promoting ‘diversity’ — as a liberal democratic society should protect the rights of all citizens equally.

To take up the fight on these issues is not to indulge in reactionary fantasies. It is to practice politics in the best sense of the term: to seek to convince one’s fellow citizens about the things that matter and thereby win the support and consent of the people in a democracy.

This conception of politics-as-advocacy is an anathema to much of the contemporary political class that lacks strong ideological convictions and is content to operate as mere weathervanes blown whichever way by opinion polling. But if the Liberal Party is to save itself, much less the nation, it must not shirk the challenge of pushing back against the progressive zeitgeist in a conservative fashion.

Failing to take up the fight over the content and direction of key culture-shaping institutions would not only leave our politics poorer for the void, but also undermine the future and character of our society. For a modern Liberal Party to be a worthy heir of the political testaments of Robert Menzies and John Howard, it should not sacrifice the protection of fundamental freedoms and principles on the altar of progressive consensus and political convenience.

Dr Jeremy Sammut is Director of the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society Program at The Centre for Independent Studies

8 thoughts on “The case for courage in defence of conservative values

  • Biggles says:

    We are too cowardly to call out the ‘progressives’ for what they really are; Socialists. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews is a self-confessed Trotskyite. Rememember Trotsky; Stalin’s side-kick in the November 1917 Bolshevic revolution? How does the average Victorian feel about being governed by a man whose political idol was a mass murderer?

  • ianl says:

    > ” … Ignoring the values of the rank-and-file who join the branches, man the polling booths, and who donate and raise money to fill the coffers is a recipe for killing the backbone of the party”

    Except the ALP has thrived, state and federal, doing just that. The “rank and file” of the ALP is long disregarded, discarded for the inner-city demographic. ALP back-room demographers, amongst whom I would suggest there are many Assistant Professors of various humanities well lubricated with grants, have long recognised that the dwindling union membership (leaving only the various public services) was a lost cause; in its’ place, the inner-city populations are there, swelling from gentrification, together with compulsory superannuation management fees for guaranteed, if filtered, funding. Combined with the selectivity of MSM protection, this is a very formidable force, leaving the ALP the luxury of a squabbling co-dependency with the Greens while pursuing craziness such as “Safe Schools”.

    In this game, the Libs are nowhere to be seen. The Waffle experiment did not work – he lost 14 seats and 30+ polls, then his own position, trying to be a superior leftie. What next indeed.

  • whitelaughter says:

    ianl – fair sum up, but for one thing: Labor is being eaten alive by the Greens. By abandoning their base and pandering elsewhere, they are merely reinforcing the message of the Greens, and so destroying themselves.

  • gray_rm says:

    …and yet, after speaking with a Liberal Party apparatchik, they made it very clear that the Liberal Party woes were entirely due to Abbott, T and his ‘right-wing wreckers’, who took down a glorious Prime Minister filled with traditional Liberal Party values. This apparatchik hold Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson to be the leading lights in the Liberal Party, restrained by the vicious ‘far right’.
    It’s beyond belief – and when the party loses spectacularly, and very few traditional supporters show up to man the booths etc. it will be Abbott who gets the blame.
    They are too stupid to survive. It must be burnt to the ground.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    grey_rm, I agree entirely. Much as I share Jody’s dread of a Labor Government, especially one led by Shorten, the only way to save the Liberal Party is to destroy it, to use the old Vietnam War ‘cure’.

  • Biggles says:

    ianl Re Green craziness. As an electrical engineer, Jo Nova’s presentation to the GWPF regarding destruction of Australia’s electrical grid will break your heart. Evey Australian, no matter how tech-savvy, should see this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYHX-Ib3Q5Q&t=55s

  • Jody says:

    Yesterday we had visitors here for lunch and we were discussing Shorten. One friend was reiterating what he’d read in the SMH and when I discussed the loss of our 25% retirement income from 1/7/19 under Shorten (yes, my accountant has confirmed the date!) he piped up ‘you must be rich; just go down to Centrelink. This won’t affect us”. My other friend piped up, “yes it will, even if you have a very small amount in your superannuation fund”.

    Take care with low resolution ideological thinking spewed out by regular media like Fairfax et al. These will dull your brain and set up resentments about expectations denied/thwarted. On all counts. My friend surprised me since he was once a corporate accountant and his children went to exclusive private schools. Let’s say that when people run out of money they often run out of principle!!!

  • Bushranger71 says:

    Jeremy; it irks that you equate John Howard with Bob Menzies.
    It is more appropriate to pair Keating and Howard as joint wreckers of Australian society. Keating laid the groundwork for financial mayhem and Howard embellished his laissez-faire initiatives.
    I agree that Australia has become enveloped in cultural warfare; but it is broader than just a contest of ideologies between the major political parties.
    Our federation model is fundamentally flawed, as evidenced by States/Territories being able to contravene national interests.
    There is a dearth of strategic direction by politicians at the highest levels of governance, with Public Service mandarins – some of whom are paid more than double the Prime Minister’s salary – more or less determining public interest matters.
    Why are politically correct notions allowed to float to prominence instead of more fundamental national interest concerns being debated? The media has been politicised of course and exerts huge propaganda influence.
    The cultural warfare is more broadly propagated at the lower levels of government where some seek prominence as a first step toward a political career. They will say or do anything to further their ambitions and mostly support crony capitalism without apparent concern for downstream impacts on communities.
    But local Councillors actually only have minimal authority, as that is vested in unelected well-paid Local Government bureaucrats, many being zealous in exercising control over communities and driving politically correct concepts.
    To illustrate; Rockhampton Queensland has historically been a charming big country town with advantageous very wide streets. These thoroughfares are now plastered with unused cycling corridors and a proliferation of other road surface markings/obstructions choking traffic movements. Hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars are being wasted on this political correctness folly and the charming character of a big country town is being frivolously altered. Additionally, the Queensland Government is also now fostering use of footpaths for cycling, although the cyclist fringe pay no registration fees nor hold public liability/third party insurance!
    Consider the recent thumbnail sketch by Ross Gittins of privatisations of government agencies to grasp how we have forfeited control of national functions; also the expanding multicultural composition of the population with an increasing economic immigrant component of dubious national loyalty.
    Alas; Australia is totally fragmented from top to bottom in governance and populace respects and is now an irredeemable mess.
    Having forebears from the mid-1800s, multiple family casualties in World Wars and a Grandfather Shipping Master at Sydney Harbour; it pains me to say the sad likelihood is the Australian nation we once envisioned will continue to fade in parallel with the Anglo-American realm and just morph into a dysfunctional multicultural conglomerate advantaged by the globalist throng.
    The politics will hardly matter.

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