Here’s the definition of ‘gaslighting’. It means ‘to manipulate (some group) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity’. That is precisely what the ABC and Fairfax media types, together with the Simon Birmingham wing of the Liberal party room (a wing that post-election can comfortably see itself in a regular bedroom mirror), are attempting to do. They’re suggesting that the Liberal party moved too far to the political right and that’s why it lost last week. Let me be blunt. No sane person who was even as remotely connected to reality as President Joe Biden could believe that guff. In what way did the Libs move to the right? Tell me, because I spent all the post-Abbott coup years desperately searching for any life signs of any right-leaning policies at all. Any.
Was it when Mr Morrison broke his 2019 election pledge and opted to sign us up to an impoverishing net zero program? (Leave aside that ScoMo did this because some of the so-called ‘moderates’ or Labor-lite MPs or, now, the Birmingham wing had threatened to cross the floor over this and the PM had stupidly capitulated.) Was it when the government bought fully into the Modern Monetary Theory fairy tale and throughout the pandemic outspent Justin Trudeau in per capita terms giving us one of the highest trajectory national debt rates in the world? (And Simon, weren’t you the finance minister overseeing this abandonment of small ‘l’ liberal thrift? Not exactly a Mathias Cormann. And the start of this was happening well before the pandemic, not that that is any excuse in my view for the wanton wasteful fiscal profligacy.) Was it when some Liberal MP ‘moderates’ (see what happened to them?) crossed the floor to shipwreck even the pathetically weak Religious Freedom Bill? Was it when the supposed small ‘l’ Liberals failed to stand up against pandemic despotism?
Let me make it easy for the gaslighters. Name one thing the Coalition government has done or enacted since 2015 (when Abbott was defenestrated) that could be characterised as conservative. Just one. I used to put ‘signing up to Aukus’ as the sole thing, but after you read Greg Sheridan’s take-down of how this is largely talk and no walk even that’s doubtful. So it’s not economic handling. It’s not anything to do with any freedom-related concerns at all (because the Coalition was a disgrace during the pandemic, with Mr Morrison not summoning up the will even to criticise Dan Andrews’s thuggery while inventing out of thin air a ‘National Cabinet’ that gave the premiers power without responsibility and failing to join the Clive Palmer s.92 challenge). Meanwhile the universities, where I work, are worse on every count after nine years of Coalition governments – more bureaucratic, fewer conservative academics (even if you include the Birmingham worldview as ‘conservative’, which I don’t), more centralised, lower standards, grade inflation, etc. The judicial appointments by the Libs have been largely woeful (to the point I almost prefer Labor top court picks). Other appointments show a near total absence of choosing anyone remotely conservative – think the ABC, the Human Rights Commission, the AAT, arts councils, the list goes on.
You have to disbelieve your own senses, and doubt your own sanity, to think the post-Abbott-coup Liberal party had moved too far to the right. That’s because it hadn’t moved right one iota. On issue after issue it had moved left. In some cases a lot left. In a recent piece for Flat White I set out how the Morrison government was the least conservative Coalition government in Australia’s history. And it got the lowest first preference tally as a result. There were masses more votes lost on the right to the UAP, Lib Dems and One Nation than were lost to the teal candidates. It’s just that our voting system rewards geographically concentrated support (preferably in super-rich, virtue-signalling constituencies).
Here’s my historical take on this electoral drubbing (one that I argue on Flat White was needed and produced the good outcome of jettisoning most of the Labor-lite Liberal MPs). It all goes back to the 2015 defenestration of then prime minister Abbott by the Liberal party wets. By all accounts Mr Birmingham was one of those who opted for Turnbull. So too, indirectly but effectively, was Mr Morrison. Some voters finally got a bit of a say on that last weekend.
Remember when the so-called moderates in the Abbott party room balked at the prospect of repealing the terrible s.18C hate speech laws? Remember all the briefing against Tony and the faux concern with bad polls that didn’t bother them when it was PM Turnbull or Morrison? The best analogy I can think of is what happened in Britain to the Conservative party when it knifed Mrs Thatcher. It took decades, a brutal Brexit battle and an idiosyncratic Boris even to half repair the damage that dumping of Thatcher did. Mr Morrison had some prospect of healing the wounds but, for me at least, he did not. He ran a government that was possibly more Turnbullesque than his eponymous predecessor’s – ScoMo just had a more common touch and knew how to campaign. But sign up to net zero? Tick. Game the NSW pre-selections so that party members could be disenfranchised? Tick, and look how that worked out. Run the biggest spending and biggest taxing government in Australia’s history? Tick, and thank you in part Simon Birmingham. Cave in to virtually all of the woke orthodoxies? Tick, and let me be clear that I think the vast majority of Australians agree with Katherine Deves, not Simon. Run shy of pushing for nuclear energy? You bet, and despite this being the only – and I mean only – way the net zero religion has any chance of coming to pass. The list goes on and on.
So when Simon says the Libs moved too far right just laugh. When Simon says the recipe is to become Labor (actually the Greens), just in a more tealishly toothsome outfit, tell him he’s joking. Down that road is political oblivion for the Liberal party, for a decade or more.
The inner-city seats are gone for the foreseeable future just as they were some years ago lost in Canada (the Tories get obliterated in wealthy Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), in the US (the hundred wealthiest counties opted for Hillary not Trump), and in Britain (Boris and the Tories do not win seats in wealthy parts of London). The winning coalition for any right-of-centre party in the Anglosphere today is the one Boris put together in 2019 and Trump did in 2016 (and in 2020 it delivered the second highest US vote count ever to him). It’s the suburbs. The regions. The middle and working classes. Those who detest woke orthodoxies and care more about actual energy prices (that have gone from lowest in the democratic world to just about the highest in my 17 years in this country) than about Australian emissions that matter not one whit in world terms. In short, focus on those who want a big dose of conservative policies that a government tries, actually tries, to enact.
If Simon Birmingham can’t swallow that (or any of the other misnamed ‘moderates’ can’t) then he and they should leave. Teal will become them.
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