Brian Mulroney is a former Prime Minister of Canada, for nine years from the mid-1980s. He was leader of the Conservative party, also known in my native Canada as the Tories. He got some things spectacularly right (most notably agreeing to, and then winning an election on the prospect of, a free trade deal with the US that has made Canada a lot wealthier). As his tenure went along he got some things spectacularly wrong (including bringing in a GST without going to the voters first, which is why in Canada all prices are listed before GST, with the tax coming at the cash register – this being the only way he could ram an incredibly unpopular tax through even his own party). By the end of Mulroney’s tenure things were so bad he resigned, months before an upcoming election, and Canada’s first female PM took over and – due to Mulroney – was slaughtered. And when I say slaughtered I mean to an extent that makes the recent Coalition result in WA look really, really good. In Canada’s then federal parliament of 1993, with 295 total members in the de facto unicameral House of Commons, the Tories went from a majority government holding 156 of them down to the fourth or fifth largest party with a grand total of two MPs. Yes, one more than one. It was annihilation.
And that takes me to one of Mulroney’s lasting quips. Early in his career he coined the political adage that ‘you dance with the one that brought you’. What he meant is that a PM and a political party should never, ever ignore his/her/its party’s base. They brought you to the dance. You gotta dance with them or you’ll sooner or later be stuffed.
Of course like many politicians Mulroney later in his prime ministerial career forgot his own advice, with terrible results. Witness the above 1993 election results. (In non-political terms it reminds me of possibly my favourite fiction writer of the last century or so, Somerset Maugham. Near on everything he despised in his wonderfully cynical short stories and biting novels he managed to become or personify in his old age. I think the young and middle-aged Maugham would have hated his elderly self, and for good reason.) The Mulroney who understood dance etiquette had it right. You aim to support and enact policies that your core supporters want, rather than those for which your opponents are clamouring.
Fast forward three decades, change hemispheres and consider Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison and the federal Coalition in the light of Mulroney’s injunction. It’s not a pretty sight, is it? There is still overwhelming support amongst the Liberal party faithful for gutting the s.18C hate speech laws that make unlawful speech that offends others, not to mention being strongly in favour of other freedom-related issues. Morrison and co. couldn’t care less. In fact, since former Prime Minister Abbott unwisely (never jettison big ticket principles, Tony) decided not even to make the Senate reject s.18C repeal because over half of his partyroom liked these laws, the Coalition has shown zero concern for any matters related to individual freedom, be they tied to religion, due process, the presumption of innocence or anything. Meanwhile Team Morrison has handled the pandemic as though it were indistinguishable from a European socialist government. Again, no concerns about the worst inroads on our civil liberties in two centuries or about doubling the federal debt in a year. No attempt to use this supposed crisis to ram through big ticket productivity changes. And don’t tell me the s.92 High Court borders case (another poor effort from our top justices) would have had the same outcome even if the feds had stayed involved. Leaving it all to Palmer made it easy for our High Court. If the federal government doesn’t care about borders why should the seven top judges?
Yet if Team Morrison had gone to court on this you know what he’d have had going for him? Australia’s last century of federalism case law is the most ‘pro-centre’ of any country in the world. Unlike Canada and even the US, our top court, in cases that matter, virtually always sides with the centre, throwing the odd meaningless bone to the states once in a while. I am no fan of that jurisprudence. I think it stinks. But it’s a fact. Sure, no one knows for sue what would have happened if it had been the feds against WA instead of just Palmer. But I think the odds were with Morrison.
Want more? Well, they are daily pummelled by the one-sided public broadcaster ABC, which since my arrival in 2005 has not had a single identifiable conservative presenter, and they do nothing about it. Zero. Half the population pays taxes to support a broadcasting behemoth that hates their views and the Libs don’t lift a finger. Also, the Libs have been infiltrated by the rent-seeking renewable energy crowd, a big reason why we spend more per capita on wind and solar than anywhere which in turn explains why when I arrived here in 2005 Australia had the democratic world’s cheapest electricity and 16 years later has pretty much the most expensive. How many in the Liberal party base wanted that?
For the universities they draft in the Labor-appointed ex-High Court judge Robert French who delivers up some pretty wishy-washy recommendations as regards free speech on campus. And they still haven’t even put those half-measures in place. They appoint more lefties than conservatives. In fact, try to think of a single hard-nosed conservative that they have appointed to anything.
It would be impossible to say that since Abbott was rolled that the Coalition in Canberra is dancing with the party base. They are eking out wins because of Labor’s total incompetence. (Note to Labor: before the 1993 election, the major left-wing party in Canada decided to move a noticeable smidgen to the right and so got rid of the only excuse the Tories could find for their base to support them. That’s not rocket science is it?)
During election campaigns the Liberal party elites go back to pretending, ever so briefly, that they care about the party base. But really, since PM Abbott stopped the boats, can you name a single enduring thing eight years of Coalition government has delivered to its base? Inroads into freedom. Tick. Pretty much the world’s highest energy costs and minimum wage? Tick. Lousier and lousier, but ever more woke, school results despite throwing ever more money at the problem? Tick. Terrible productivity growth or, yes, per capita GDP growth? Tick.
The list goes on. At some point refusing to dance with the one that brung ya is gonna turn ugly. And recent polls and state elections might just be a harbinger of that. Is there still time to ask the wallflower for the last dance? Yep. But the clock’s ticking. And Mr Morrison seems to be surrounded by advisors who can’t stand that dance partner’s views.
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