Flat White

The Libs go AWOL in the battle of ideas

15 February 2017

7:22 AM

15 February 2017

7:22 AM

Cory may have abandoned us and Pauline might be nicking our base from under us, but at least we die-hard Liberals have a broad membership and a depth of talent with which we can devise visionary policies for the future. Hmm, we’re sure we do, but there’s no clear evidence to back this claim.

It may shock Speccie readers to know that there is no division-wide attempt to even pretend to engage in novel policy generation in our most populous state, New South Wales, the state that accounts for close to a third of the House of Representatives.

The lack of even a basic annual policy-oriented publication speaks volumes. All is not lost, though, the Young Liberals (‘the conscience of the party’) have just published their answer; the Liberal Review.

Boy, was it a disappointment. Thankfully, reading the Liberal Review is no prerequisite to being right-wing. And just so you don’t have to, we will study this dumb publication!

The Review’s theme was ‘21st century Liberalism’. Being 17 years into this millennium, ‘21st century’ stopped being fresh 16 years ago. The cover treats us to a full-page photo of Malcolm Turnbull looking wan; as blank as many of the pages that followed.

First up was the Young Liberal President’s report. Formatted like a very long Facebook status, the general gist was how fantastic everything is in the Young Libs. Drinks all round! Its main aim was evidently to distribute credit far and wide, to all the favourites and the odd enemy the President couldn’t ignore – their names lovingly ‘Bolded’.

You know the rehearsed social-media panegyric; “Great to be here with @Ken Lib. Great initiative by @Joe Bloggs and @Jane Blah. Thanks to the hard work of @Big Mod and @Small Elle.” The President concludes that it is ‘an exceptional time to get involved in the Young Liberal Movement’. Who knows, maybe you’ll see your name up in Bold someday too?

On Brexit and Trump, the editor claimed in his report to be ‘gladdened by one and ambivalent about the other.’ Come, come, don’t pretend! We know you loved both.

After acknowledging these events, the rest of the publication does its best to ignore them. The editor went on to indulge himself with about seven gazillion pages of what really matters; his one-on-one time with good ol’ Malc and Gladys. We’re sure there’s probably some gems of wisdom in there, but it was far too long and we didn’t read it.

The first question (we got that far) asks our illustrious leaders to hark back to the olden days when they were at uni. OMG, you’re meant to exclaim. They were in the Blah University Liberal Club like ME! *squeals*. As flattering as these comparisons are, nostalgia isn’t enough to animate a youth movement. Especially a post-2016 youth movement.

Now, onto the good stuff. We readied ourselves for some witty opinion and original policy ideas from our learned friends.

On a piece asking the crucial question ‘why aren’t there more women in the Liberals?’ this is what one of the best and brightest of the movement concluded:


“The road to increasing women in leadership positions is highly debated. There are many thoughts on how to get there – but the discussion needs to continue…”

Ground-breaking, glass-shattering, tectonic-plate-shifting insights there.

In fact, we found there was a real penchant for completely settled concepts throughout the mag. For example, the end of the White Australia Policy. A piece on ‘The Proud Multicultural Legacy of the Liberals’ lets everyone know that the Party knew a long time ago that racism was bad. Holy crap, move on. The WAP came to an end about 50 years ago. We still wasted space in 2017 telling everyone ‘we did that’.

If you like living in the past, the next article was just for you. A lot of energy is spent debating an audacious non-event Malc floated over a year ago – returning income taxation powers to the States – a policy that never eventuated and probably never will. A series of tables are then produced to bore you even further. We’re not sure exactly what the conclusion was, but we did discover all over again that the answer always involves supply-side economics. Perhaps more time with books and less time ‘doing the numbers’ would help these hacks come up with a compelling idea.

Finally, we get something on Trump. According to ‘Tim’, a former Liberal student (now a real boy?), we must remember that Trump will be affected by the fact that ‘governing is hard’.

It is, Tim. It really is. Thank God Hillary lost.

Liberals (with the littlest of ‘l’s) hope desperately to immunise themselves and the Party from the energy and insight of popular movements which get right-wingers elected. Heaven forbid, what would we do if we figured out what the people actually want?

Tim makes the same mistake as the left: boiling Trump down to a (supposedly) white-nationalist meme. He’s virtue-signalling to everyone except the Liberal Party base: to hell with the frustrated conservatives.

Oh well, there’s always Cory.

Due to major editorial errors, we only got half of the usual homage to Israel. A well-trodden path in the search for right-wing credentials; these gushing odes come every year. The contributor’s love-fest simply rattled off percentages, stats and opaque data. In desperately trying to show us he’s right wing, he instead showed us he had nothing to say.

The editor claims the Young Liberal movement is a powerhouse of ideas. If so, it’s of the South Australian variety.

Why this energy failure from our youngest and brightest?

There is an underlying assumption that the Liberal Party is just an infrastructure ready for them to inherit; ready to preselect them when they so desire. These Young Liberals complacently rely on the leaders, ideas and political structures of the past to see ‘the ship of state’ through a right-wing revolution.

Historians who dig up this Review in fifty years will find it astounding there’s just a short whinge about Trump, one line on Brexit, and nothing about Pauline Hanson’s One Nation – the single greatest threat to the Liberal Party of our generation.

Further evincing this complete lack of situational awareness, today’s Young Liberals are fond of calling themselves ‘The Howard Generation’. Yes, Howard is a hero, but he was also last in parliament ten years ago.

Looking to the past for guiding principles to address present needs is a hallmark of conservatism. That’s not what this Review does; it regurgitates what we knew decades ago and ignores practically everything that’s happened since. There is no sentence that has not been written somewhere else; no policy idea that is remotely challenging and no strategy untried.

If we’re not going to find direction in a lazy regurgitation of old ideas, where then?

Most Young Liberals were first inspired by an uncompromising firebrand parent, or an insightful principled relative or loved one, who spoke their mind. Someone close to them who saw the world how it really was and espoused right-wing values. Every Young Liberal, every conservative, knows their political ‘prime mover’. Touch base with them, and you’ll discover your prime mover has moved on.

So must we. In a time of political upheaval, the opinions of fellow-travellers outside the party machine are crucial.

We’re pleased to say that one thing in this Review held our attention to the end. A piece by a young high school student where he says with sincerity and enthusiasm: ‘Becoming a part of the Young Liberals has been an amazing new step in my life!’

We’d like to thank him for reminding us all how we once felt, for giving us hope that there are some with fresh outlooks, ready to learn the lessons of 2016.

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