BOSTON, UNITED STATES — Back in 2015, shortly after the coup that brought Malcolm Turnbull to power, I contributed to a symposium hosted by the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. The question: ‘Do traditionalists have a place in the current party political system?’
Terry Barnes’s latest for the Speccie would’ve fit right in. We, too, mostly argued that ‘Bernardi would do better to stay inside the Liberal tent and continue to agitate from within to help the party rediscover what it stands for,’ for the sake of maintaining a ‘powerful, viable centre-right force for good in Australia.’ Then something changed. Or, rather, everything changed – everything except Australia, which remained horribly the same.
Brexit and the fall of David Cameron. The rise of Donald Trump. The increasing likelihood of a Fillon/Le Pen showdown in France. Viktor Orban’s overwhelming referendum win. Norbert Hofer’s upset in Austria. It has been an amazing year for conservatives, and 2017 looks set to continue that trend.
But what have Australian conservatives to show for it? Turnbull’s pivoting back toward the hard Left, resurrecting the ghosts of republicanism and the carbon tax. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party leadership’s retrenchment against democratization ensures that a grassroots conservatism like Senator Bernardi is practicing – and that’s carried Brexit, the Donald, and the resurgent Right in Europe – will bear no fruit. There will be no conservative revolution in Australia. Not without a party room coup, anyway.
Look: I’m over here in Trumpland, where the question of whether traditionalists have a place in the party system is now basically rhetorical. And it’s the same in the rest of the West – again, except Australia.
So from where I’m sitting, it’s not conservatives’ responsibility to toe the moderates’ line, for the sake of putting up a united front against Labor. We have the momentum behind us, not them. We’re on ‘the right side of history’ now, not them. We’re not standing against the tide – they are.
Turnbull and his fellow centrists need to start asking themselves how they can keep conservatives on board and use our momentum to carry him through the next election. He needs Bernardi more than Bernardi needs him. It’s time he started acting like it.
And it’s time for journalists to update our paradigm. I know it’s disorienting, but 2016 was the year conservatives gained the upper hand. Our profession won’t recover from the humiliation it suffered over the last six months if it keeps operating with this Fukuyama ‘end-of-history’ mentality. Conservatives aren’t fortunate for whatever silver-haired, silver-tongued fox comes ambling down the via media offering to lead them to victory. Not anymore, if ever.
If the moderates and small-‘l’ liberals keep treating conservatives as a distasteful but necessary and reliable component of their voting base, a revolt against the Coalition shouldn’t come as any surprise. If Senator Bernardi or George Christensen decide to help Aussie right-wingers get a piece of that pie their American, British, and European cousins are so thoroughly enjoying, who can blame them?
Australian traditionalists do have a place in the party system. Whether that place is within the Liberal Party or elsewhere is entirely up to Turnbull and his lieutenants to decide.
So let’s update Terry’s closing argument: Turnbull would do better to make broad concessions to the Tories and try to keep them within the Liberal tent. But if he is to keep alienating the party’s base, the sooner Bernardi or Christensen break off, the better. That at least would allow the new Conservative Party two years to regroup and try to stay competitive with Labor before the next election.