James Allan’s take on the worst night on the Liberal Party’s history is, by and large, right.
The leafy suburbs of Sydney have for years not been Liberal heartland in fact, and now they are not in name. People who are loaded and don’t have to worry about the cost of keeping the lights on, and can afford to indulge in their climate warrior fantasies and champagne socialism, vote Left as part of their virtue signalling. Allan is right: preferential voting delayed the transformation, but it’s now happened.
Allan’s long-time thesis, repeated many times here, is that the Liberals’ recent time in government tossed aside its social and economic liberal roots, and that a spell in the opposition paddock will soon set things right. Well, he’s got his wish.
But he is also confident that this period of agistment will be brief. ‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a renewed conservative Liberal Party win in 2025,’ he wrote on Monday. Provided, of course, that the Liberals follow the prescription and ‘opt to go down the conservative renewal path’.
The truth is, Jim, that the appropriate response is what The Castle’s Daryl Kerrigan used to say about classified ads in the Trading Post: you’re dreamin’.
Renewing the Liberal Party will take more than one term. It will take years beyond that. What happened on Saturday is so much an existential danger that long and extremely hard looks need to be taken by the party not just to consider what went wrong, but to determine exactly what its values and principles should be in an age where voters don’t much seem to care as long as they get free stuff, and parties believe they can substitute the character assassination of opponents for the hard work of policy-making and shaping a programme for government.
That means it’s too early to say, as some already are, that the traditional heartland-turned-Teal should be abandoned for the outer suburbs and regions. It’s too early to say that going hard to ‘dump Dan’ or ‘maul Mark’ is a key to renewed Liberal electoral success at state level. In fact, it’s too early to say anything. Just trying to make sense of Saturday’s every which way slaughter of the Liberal parliamentary party does my head in.
And when it comes to ‘conservative renewal’, just how do we define conservative? What does that definition include, or exclude?
It seems there are a lot of instant Roger Scrutons out there at the moment, each putting their own spin on what it is to be a conservative. That there is a plethora of views is far from a bad thing as, from disagreement, hopefully comes consensus. But reaching that consensus may take years.
We in the Liberal party need to return to our centre-right conservative roots, but are they the roots of Menzies in the 1940s, or of a new plant more attuned to the realities of the 2020s? Is it simply standing firm against the climate warriors and social engineers, or is it something more innate? Is it going full libertarian or accepting, like Burke, that the state and community have a respected place in our lives?
As for the politics of the Liberals returning to government, truly this was a good election to lose. The social, economic, and security headwinds Mr 32 per cent Anthony Albanese, his Left-leaning government and even further Left-leaning upper and lower house crossbenches, will try the competence of a far more talented and balanced ministry than Albanese’s will be. But an invigorated Labor also will continue to outplay the Coalition on politics, and drive wedges into the new Opposition to exploit existing divisions and create new ones – do you really think that Albanese committed to implementing the Ayers Rock Statement from the Heart ‘in full’ entirely out of altruism?
And what about the MP talent pool? Will there be enough heavy lifters in the Opposition party room, and can the Liberals preselect top-flight talent who can both appeal to voters and not be passengers the party’s rejuvenation? Short answer: no.
Lastly, there’s the Liberal Party itself. Balkanised, factionalised, riven by egos, little interested in policy and principles, and with one division – New South Wales– consumed by factional wars, and two – Victoria and Western Australia – unable to organise a chook raffle, let alone provide a foundation for returning to federal government by being credible alternative state governments. Furthermore, losing federal government will cause bloodletting and eating of young that will consume the party and make feuds and vendettas even more intense.
Jim, it’s like this. Change won’t be overnight, if it happens enough at all. Turning the Liberal party in the current political climate will be harder, and take much longer, than turning the Queen Mary.
Indeed, the Queen Mary is the perfect analogy. Once the Queen of the Seas, highly successful patronised by the rich and famous, was made obsolete overnight by jet airliners. Today, she is moored as a museum ship, her engines removed, her structure rotting, and nobody visiting her. Her owners are now talking of scrapping her.
Both she, and the Liberal Party, are worthy of extensive restoration. But it will take more than three years to get them back into a serviceable state. You can’t do a Tinker Bell, and clap your hands to make everything right, which is what some on the Right want to think.
Jim, you’re welcome to dream on, but the reality for the Liberal Party’s wilderness years is more bitter and harsh than you want to believe.
Terry Barnes edits the Morning Double Shot newsletter.
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