Regular readers will know that James Allan and I agree to disagree on the direction of centre-right politics.
There is one thing we both agree on, however: the Liberal Party has lost its way and must either rediscover what it stands for or become irrelevant.
Unlike Allan perhaps, I see the Liberal Party as small ‘c’ conservative, not libertarian. The state has a constrained but necessary role in society, and we have duties to the community as well as the community having duties to us. But which party advocates a sensible Burke-Mill vision these days?
Not, sadly, the party of which I’ve been a member for over 40 years, to which I owe much of my career.
The problem with the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government is it has been almost entirely transactional, with Liberal values and principles merely incidental, if present at all. In Tony Abbott’s case, after the political crisis of the 2014 Budget, this involved his shelving personal principles, because he has them. In the case of his successors, conviction values are as hard to find in them as a nun in a brothel.
Our collective pandemic experience, where Liberal federal and state governments embraced authoritarian overreach (in the federal government’s case, condoned authoritarian state overreach), didn’t help.
As Allan often says, It’s no wonder many in the Liberal base are disaffected.
On Saturday, I’ll be voting Liberal, but out of loyalty rather than conviction. The party is no longer that of Menzies, Howard, or Abbott, and instead is riven with power-hungry egos and factional warlords.
The Liberal Party needs reform. It needs to rediscover its roots. It needs to be a party of the mainstream centre-right and to stop being so desperate in trying to appease affluent progressives on issues like ‘climate action’ and public health, even while knowing they’ll never vote for it.
Where I differ from Jim Allan is this. He wants the Liberals to have a spell in the paddock to regroup and reform, presumably thinking the wilderness of opposition will be a short, sharp shock, and then the rejuvenated Libs will be back in power in no time.
On the contrary, I believe the only way necessary change will happen is from the heights of federal government, because the country can’t afford the Left-Labor alternative. Incumbency brings purpose and demands at least nominal discipline. Opposition would bring nothing but an open invitation for Liberals to eat each other alive, unleash ferocious factional wars, and set federal and state organisations against each other.
It’s a recipe for long-term opposition and unelectability, not a quick return to government. Exactly what the likes of Simon Holmes à Court want.
As a Victorian, I also know that the shock of losing office to an inferior opposition can lead – not to a brief spell in the paddock – but decades in the unelectable wilderness.
In Victoria in 1999, Jeff Kennett’s governing style cost him office in a hung parliament, but most Liberals thought Steve Bracks and Labor weren’t up to much, and we’d be back next time. In 2002, Bracks’s unthreatening Labor won in a landslide. Over twenty years on, bar the accidental single term of the Baillieu-Napthine government, we’re still waiting and will be for several terms yet.
Jim Allan has given you his how-to-vote advice. Now here’s mine.
If you can’t bring yourself vote Liberal on Saturday, follow your conscience, but consider your preferences.
Put your Liberal or National candidate ahead of Labor and the Greens. If you are saddled with a Climate 200 so-called independent in your seat, put them below Labor.
Ideally, give the Coalition your second preference, if you can’t bear to make them your first. But if even that is too much, keep those three menaces to civil society at the bottom of your ballot paper.
If you think it doesn’t matter, think back to the 1990 federal election – many of our current contributors weren’t even born then! – Labor was in trouble and indeed lost the two-party preferred vote.
But Labor’s strategic genius, Graham Richardson, crafted a last-minute appeal to left-leaning voters. Not for their first preference, but their second. And it worked. Green preferences got Labor over the line: and the consequence was Green influence over Labor policy has grown ever since.
On the right, the same thing needs to happen now. The prospect of a hard-left Albanese government is too high a price for purging the Liberals of their policy and philosophical impurities. Give them your second preference, and they may get over the line on Saturday.
Beyond that, however, if you’re a disillusioned Coalition voter, the Liberals’ need to retain your support gives you lasting influence and leverage over the Liberal Party’s (in a wordplay readers under 40 won’t get) future directions. You are their true base. Your preferences matter. Please use them wisely.
Terry Barnes edits the Morning Double Shot newsletter.
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