Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Liberal Party and the political wilderness

I can't say I don't enjoy watching the Liberal party tear itself apart these days. The moderates-Turnbull, Hockey, Robb-desperately trying to keep the party together, whilst Mad Monks, Mavericks and Crazy Uncles are doing their best to keep the Coalition as unelectable as possible is better than most paid entertainment.

The one thing possibly better than this is the quiet knowledge is that this is the result of the Australian Reagan, John 'the Rodent' Howard. His desperate refusal to hand the reigns to Costello and his push to the far-right (economically speaking) with WorkChoices doomed the Liberal Party to defeat. His refusal to sort out the factional war between the small-l Liberals (such as the green Turnbull and humanitarian Georgio) and the hard-right Liberals (Abbott, Tuckey, all of the Nationals) meant that these factions would inevitably turn on each other in defeat, and will doom the party to many years in Opposition. That the Liberals' lord and saviour could become their Reaper is a truly scrumptious thought.

As far as I can tell, there are two predominant factors that led to that fateful defeat now two years ago; Australia's political apathy being broken by climate change and WorkChoices, and Labor's leader. Kim Beazley was to Labor as Brendon Nelson was to the Liberals; would make a solid frontbencher with a sizable portfolio, but fundamentally unelectable as leader. This helped Labor lose the 1998 and 2001 elections. Later, Labor went in the opposite direction with Latham, which scared the electorate so much Howard was handed the balance of power.

Australia apathy enabled Howard to survive despite the corruption that his government enabled; children overboard, Iraq, the dogged refusal to accept responsibility and the his indifference towards Indigenous Australians to name a few. In his last term, however, a 'perfect storm' began to build. WorkChoices wasn't selling; it was turning many voters off. Then, the issue of climate change finally hit with bushfires and the ongoing drought. All of a sudden, voters were shaken from their sleep and didn't like the government they saw; screwing over the workers and the environment to please big business and big coal. 'Good economic management' wasn't worth this.
Finally, Labor put forward Rudd, an electable, pleasant-looking leader, who rivalled Howard in political smarts; differing from the Liberals in climate, industrial relation and Indigenous policies, and the same everywhere else, thus maximising ALP chances. Labor was now electable. Howard tried to remake himself as more of a lefty by making 'aspirational' carbon-reducing goals and placing Indigenous Australians in the preamble of the constitution, but it (thankfully) wasn't enough. The only slim chance Howard had was to resign and allow the slighty-less-unlikeable Costello to run, but the Rodent enjoyed the power too much to give it up. After all, what if Costello was able to win? Howard would become the coward to jumped ship when it all became too difficult, with Costello becoming the new Reagan. And that simply wouldn't do. Instead, Howard took the party to the inevitable defeat. Quickly after, most of the brain-Howard, Costello, Downer-jumped the sinking ship

So now, the Liberals are in disarray, pulled at the seams by the warring factions. The only way for the party to pull itself together is (ironically) to tear off the rotten limbs-splitting from the Nationals, and purging the party itself of the hard-right. They'd be more at home in the DLP or One Nation anyway. The moderates, however, are unable and unwilling to do so. The Tuckeys and (Bronwyn) Bishops are called 'Howardites' for a clear reason; mindless loyalty to the dear leader. Turnbull, as much as he may want to modernise the party, knows that doing so would be seen as a betrayal of Howard's principles. This would reduce the party's support from the right, which is unfathomable, as Labor has already reduced Liberal (and next year, is set to take more) from the centre.

Hopefully, the Liberals' reformation won't happen for a long time. Labor, in Rudd's me-tooing push, now occupies most of the Liberal party's positions (tax cuts and marriage, anyone?) and is establishing itself, if anything, as the mainstream conservative party. With the Liberal party floundering, the Greens have a chance to fill left-wing party vacuum. Here's hoping they take it.

1 comment:

Aussie Unionist said...

I pretty much agree with most of what you've said here. With the ALP going to the right the Greens will pick up votes from those disenchanted with their policies on gay marriage and their second rate stance on fighting climate change.