Much ink has already been spilled on how the Liberal Party is facing an identity crisis in the wake of their 2022 Federal Election loss.
The main issue is the loss of wealthy inner-city seats that were formerly a Liberal Party heartland to the ‘Teal Independents’. The question now is: where does the Liberal Party go from here? How do they reconfigure? Do they acquiesce and tow the ‘cool’ green, left, line or not?
We contribute to this messy discussion by using a form of concrete strategic direction. We suggest that Liberal Party become the voice of the Uncool Economy.
Historically, the stereotype of the Liberal Party is that it has always been the party of the wealthy and the party of big business. This stereotype collapses on closer analysis. The Teal Independents succeeded in disproportionately wealthy electorates and were bankrolled by billionaire Simon Holmes à Court. Not only that, but several highly lucrative and prominent sectors of the economy – Big Tech, Big News Media, and the Entertainment Industry – have well-documented left-wing leanings.
To borrow the terms of demographer Joel Kotkin, the ‘cool’ industries in the private sector are part of the ‘Clerisy’ (a term that encompasses all cultural and knowledge production, frequently by credentialled professionals, across both private and public spheres).
However, an economy cannot survive on the output of the Clerisy alone. We need food, water, physical infrastructure, natural resources, and electricity. Without these things, the cool industries simply wouldn’t be able to operate. The cool industries may generally be in bed with the Labor-Green Unofficial Coalition, but there are many other highly important (if less glamorous) sectors of the economy, and it is these sectors that can become the new bedrock of the Liberal Party.
The Liberal Party must ask, both as an internal strategy matter and an external messaging matter, ‘What About The Uncool Economy?’
One argument for this strategy is that the Liberal’s coalition partner – the National Party – already represents several industries within the Uncool Economy.
The trendy inner-city Clerisy sees the farmer as an avatar of animal cruelty and ecological destructiveness and frequently tut-tuts about the horrors of live animal export whilst expounding the virtues of plant-based diets. The Liberal Party can essentially represent the urban Uncool Economy (retail, construction, logistics, energy, light industry, small business etc.) in the same way that the Nationals represent the rural equivalent – this would foster consistency of message between the coalition partners (for example ‘don’t forget the industries that put the food on your table and power your iPhones’) and perhaps even encourage further amalgamations like in Queensland.
Another argument for this strategy is that it has proven successful in the United States. The cool industries within the private sector (particularly Big Tech) all aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. Uncool industries such as coal were not treated well by the Obama administration, and other uncool industries like realspace retail and smaller businesses, in general, were also disproportionately harmed by the relatively stricter lockdown policies pursued by Democratic state governors during the Covid pandemic. Donald Trump, for all of his somewhat unpopular eccentricities, managed to expand the Republican coalition to include uncool-yet-historically-Democratic-voting sectors of the economy, causing the collapse of the ‘Blue Wall’. The Uncool Economy may indeed be uncool, yet it can still command electoral majorities.
Following these two points, we suggest three planks for an Uncool Economy revamped Liberal agenda.
First and foremost, the Covid lockdowns must be acknowledged as an overreaction and promises must be made that they shall never happen again. Whilst this issue is typically understood in terms of civil liberties (and justifiably so), the Covid lockdowns sharply revealed the divide between the Cool Economy (and the Clerisy more broadly) and the Uncool Economy – the latter was burdened much more severely by the lockdowns. Some sectors of the Cool Economy even thrived (such as digital/online-based entertainment, as well as online retail), and some Big News Media firms even pushed for stricter lockdowns. Small business, realspace retail, the restaurant industry, and the tourism industry were not so lucky. It is no surprise that the Cool Economy and the Clerisy were fine with strict lockdown policies. Cool Economy workers could work from home and were only mildly inconvenienced by the policies they advocated. If the concerns of the Uncool Economy were given more attention, the policy response to the Covid pandemic would have been more optimal.
Our second point is that energy policy needs to prioritise not just decarbonisation but also energy abundance, and this (at present) requires the adoption of nuclear power. Australia has plenty of geologically inert lands that would be exceptionally safe locations for generation and storage, alongside a third of the world’s uranium supply. Renewables will provide strong contributions to Australia’s energy supply, however, without substantial technological advancement, they simply aren’t able to match the efficiency of nuclear power. While an economy powered solely by renewables may be a popular fantasy of persons in the Cool Economy, we have to kill that vibe; the blunt reality is that the Cool Economy is completely dependent on having abundant, reliable energy, and a Liberal Party that served as the voice of the Uncool Economy could provide an important reality check on this matter. The French have achieved this, there is no reason why we cannot.
Finally, the ABC must be privatised. Whatever in-theory justification the ABC once had, the reality of the ABC is it is nothing more than a publicly-subsidised platform for the worldviews and orthodoxies held by most people within the Cool Economy. In this, it is simply performing the same job that The Guardian or the Fairfax press does, but at taxpayer expense. It is a make-work and welfare scheme, and the Cool Economy does not need welfare. The people that do need welfare, some ‘uncool’, are let down and demoralised by the cool elite.
The future of the Liberal party is in remembering the forgotten parts of the economy. They need to be there alongside the National party to advocate for the sectors that are either taken for granted or heavily stigmatised. They need to promise that there will be no draconian laws similar to the political disaster that was our response to Covid, they need to focus on energy in an intelligent way (nuclear is both efficient and green), and privatise the ABC.
Ultimately, they need to defend the Uncool Economy from a Clerisy that wants to either abolish it or regulate it out of existence.
Article co-authored by Lana Starkey PhD candidate in seventeenth-century literature at the University of Queensland and a freelance writer and Dr. Andrew Russell.
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