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The Liberal Party is dead: can it be revived?

We see a tendency to blame individuals for the crisis in our politics across the AUKUS nations. This is facile. Donald Trump did not create the farce of a Republican party seen in the vote for the Speaker in early January. Boris Johnson did not create the catastrophe that is the British Conservative party displayed over the Liz Truss moment. Blaming Scott Morrison for the Liberal Party’s disastrous collapse is another shallow critique.

These figures damaged their already compromised right wing parties and their nations. They were, all three, also reflections of the damage that the right (and its donors and media allies) have inflicted over recent years. It is not only conservatism they have destroyed.

To read RJ Southey and CJ Puplick’s essay defining Liberal Thinking from 1980 is to mourn an Australia where Capital could engage with Government and the Worker in a far more nuanced and thoughtful way. The Liberal party they espouse is one that their ideological offspring killed stone dead.

Milton Friedman’s American definition of the interests of capital came to infest the Australian party, the “thinktanks” that fed it, and the corporate media that shaped the party as well as propagandised for it.

To argue that government is the enemy is to serve the tiny donor class; it wants government crippled so that regulation and programs that require tax funding can both be eliminated. We have seen the result of ideologues who embraced ultra free market libertarianism trying to enact these ideas in our governments. The damage shows in the growing chasm between rich and poor in our nations; in the crushing of the middle class; in the surging fury of masses irate at the death of hope, now harnessed by populist-nativist grifters.

The capitalists reveal repeatedly that without regulation too many of them will act without scruple. The fact that human civilisation is plunging towards existential crisis without concerted action to cushion the collapse is only the most dramatic example. We have had decades since Maggie Thatcher and George HW Bush discussed global warming as uncontroversial to steer away from carbon-based energy production. Instead we only mired ourselves in the tribal divisions that the lobbyists created, despite the fact that deaths and displacement have begun.

The Liberal party has, like the Republicans and Tories, invested itself in being the party of culture war division rather than a force for government. If one does not believe that government can solve problems but is rather purely a drag on the capitalist, destruction can be embraced. There is profit in chaos and dysfunction: disaster capitalism is even more lucrative than the peacetime version.

If a party has no real platform other than obliging the donors and keeping the opposition out of power, there is no campaign possible aside from disinformation and distraction.

The culture war focus across the AUKUS nations is powered by fear of progressive policy platforms that embrace equality. The religious right (rapidly growing out of America but with its own Australian tradition) is targeted and in turn shapes the social platforms of these right wing parties. The social libertarianism that should accompany economic libertarianism is anathema.

So to say that the Liberals need to encourage women to contest for preselection is a trite solution for a party that has embraced culture war games to the exclusion of governing for the nation. To argue that the Liberals failed to use social media campaigning well is part of the longterm problem of blaming “messaging” instead of examining the broad failure of the party to represent the majority.

Australia needs a genuine opposition to Labor for conservatives. The review completed by Brian Loughnane and Jane Hume has apparently attracted laughter as a superficial “cover up” like that of a mafia family for its “crimes.” If this displays the party’s scope for self-analysis, we are in trouble.

One factor Loughnane and Hume appear too cautious to tackle publicly is the systematic takeover of branches and party apparatus by extreme religious groups. If to vote “conservative” is to vote for a religious radical, our Australian politics will be transformed. It is not surprising that American religious right figures have joked (?) that America should have supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is certain that their America shares many policy prescriptions with those agents of oppression.

Pandering to the “base” as the Republicans have done has made them beholden to this radicalised group, violent and conspiracy-imbued. Republicans who have tried to counter Trump narratives and actions have either retired from politics or skipped back into line behind him, fearing the death threats they receive. The attempt to ride the tiger of radicalised populist energy has, as predicted, strengthened the beast until it devoured the party.

The Liberal party’s power brokers together with friends at the IPA and News Corp need to re-evaluate. Are they, like their equivalents in the US and the UK, willing to continue to destroy their inheritance? Can they rebuild the shredded remnant of past grandeur to try again? Or will a new descendant of Southey and Puplick be ready to start over with a truly liberal party that can fight for measured conservative values more reflective of Australia?

Last week a group of QAnon-adjacent drongos delivered a request at Duntroon for the Australian armed forces to stage a coup, overthrowing all levels of government. It is easy to laugh at these figures now, staging their embarrassing Iwo Jima photograph. To ignore them is foolish.

The forces – conspiracy-populist and Pentecostal – that attacked the Capitol in 2021 and the Brazilian government this week grew out of such seeds. They were nurtured by populist-nativist politicians who used their grievances to gain power.

Australia’s conservatives must look at what the radical right has done to them, and their political allies around the world. The teal victories were a cry for substance. To continue to radicalise a base with culture war fury can only harm us. Their review must offer something much more profound, or we all suffer.

 

This first appeared in Pearls and Irritations as Blaming Morrison for Liberal’s disastrous collapse is a facile critique

 

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12 comments

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  1. ajogrady

    Once you strip away the blatant ingrained insidious and systemic corruption, the obvious and absolutely consistent poor judgement, the culpable and dangerous incompetence, the continual deception and the constant distortion, the endless creations of laws and opportunities to suppress and stifle contrary debate, the flagrant sneaky and self serving promotion of religious faith at the expense of political integrity, the erroneous attempts to hamper voting, the anger and disgust generated by cutting and running leaving our Afghani comrades in arms to their fate, the crippling of living standards, the devious and unfettered betrayal of Australias sovereignty to the US, the culpable treachery in the ruination of good international trade and international relations, the trashing of Australias good international reputation, the shambolic and totally inept governance standards, the deceitful marketing spin and hypocritical sloganeering plus being a constant and continuous impediment to Australia and Australians reaching their true potential what does the L/ NP actually stand for? What is left? What is left is a snide, sneering, sniping, selfish, smug and contemptuous ideology that nurtures, coddles and promotes corrupt to the core thugs, swindlers, chiselers, fraudsters, shysters, cheats and con artists, solicitors of anonymous brown paper bag donations, pathetic debauched degenerates and perverted misogynistic misfits, pseudo Christian cult wack jobs, fanatical religious lunatics, QAnon advocates, cowardly saber rattling war mongering hawks, sadistic and selfish economic vandals, problamatic climate skeptic fundamentalists, environmental saboteurs and desecrators, first nations people apathetic Judases, handicappers to the handicapped, oppressors of the needy and the disadvantaged, enablers of the obscenely wealthy parasitic profiteers, drunken lecherous fornicators and provocateurs plus egotistical born to rule privilaged narcissistic sociopaths and psychopaths that are devoid of standards, principles, values, morals, ethics, honesty, and basic empathy always rorting, stealing, fiddling, fudging, obfuscating and basically out and out blatant lying while being protected by a maliciously biased, pathetic sycophantic and delusional media.
    Influenced by professional predatory lobbyists whores and directed by crooked callous conservative think tanks whose shadowy underbelly of criminality makes Ned Kelly look like a gentleman. The L/NP not only do not represent most Australians but do not respect them.
    Members of the L/NP are selfish corrupt cowardly sooks of, at best, average talent. They are defined by their privilage and family connections that explains their mediocrity. Merit and ability is always a secondary consideration when deceit and deception is considered meritorious and rat cunning and a Machiavellian character is considered ability.
    The L/NP have managed to create a massive trust deficit not only domestically but internationally that has left Australias once good reputation in tatters and Australia is now bordering on pariah state status. “Private and confidential” is a misnomer to the L/NP. Diplomacy, critical thinking and cause and effect are foreign concepts to the L/NP. These failings will have or result in dire consequences and outcomes for Australia and Australians. In particular the L/NP believe that success is the ability to go from one total failure to another total failure with no loss of enthusiasm or any sign of a guilty conscience or any shame.The L/NP not only rewards lethargic sneaks, cheats and sly back stabbers but consider mediocrity as their gold standard.
    The L/NP are an insult to equitable governance standards and egalitarian rule. The L/NP are not fit to hold any form of public office in a functioning, vibrant nation that is a cohesive humane society. Australia was built on the egalitarian theme of “a fair go” for all where “the greater good” is paramount to its fundamental beliefs. These values created strong and proud foundations that builds better futures for the many not just the few. These strong ethical values are an anomaly and an aberration to the L/NP. Somebody once said that Fascism comes wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
    Enough is enough.
    Australians dont need “can do” capitalism they need a “can do” government.
    Nine years of the insanity, turmoil and malfeasance that masqueraded as governance by the L/NP has seen Australia become barely recognisable as the once great egalitarian nation it once was.
    Australians have got to stop voting against there own best interests or they will forever be remembered as the people from the land of boiling frogs.
    Lest we forget.

    The rot began with John Howard

    Myth of Coalition govts: Howard the biggest spender of all

    https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7141990/john-howards-legacy-lives-on-and-we-are-worse-for-it/

  2. andy56

    i totally agree. I would add, the liberals are always looking for the white knght to come lead them to salvation, ie victory. They place all their trust in this mythical leader. And so what ever personal failure or personal moral fault, they die on the hill for him. Policies? what ever wins an election. They dont do the the backroom grunt to develop policies. All their feeble attempts under morrison were fucked up because how do you appoint a leader of the gas industry to a position that requires a more nuanced approach? And the result was as was demanded , a gas led recovery. When climate change is stabbing us constantly, you double down on the emissions? same as abbotts fraudband. Totally at odds with what the country needs . fuck them all i say, good riddance. I can live without an opposition for a while.

  3. GL

    With the baked spud and Annabelle running (ruining?) it and the scummo lurking in the background along with his coterie of rabid religious nutters slowly but surely taking over then I see virtually no hope of the party reviving. Turning undead is another question however.

  4. Clakka

    Indeed, the plunge and the ravages of culture wars since time immemorial.

    Those with loveless power (via resources or capital) over labour copy one another until they have accumulated such that labour has nothing better.

    As time passes, those with loveless power build their sieges against each other and against the discontented labour.

    Clowns, criers and mercenaries will be engaged but to no lasting consequence.

    As labour becomes disaffected and impoverished it will heed and feed only its own.

    Those in their sieges have only themselves to consume. Labour remains as collateral damage or moves on.

    Such is generational contagion and the cyclical entropy of the loveless entrepreneur.

    Not governance, not conservatism, rather greed, stupidity and waste.

  5. Cool Pete

    Okay, here’s another thing. I know the AUKUS nations have differing systems, but we wouldn’t have had a Howard, Botty or Morrison Government if people hadn’t voted for them. The UK would not have its Brexit disaster if people hadn’t voted Leave without really asking what it was about. And then, if they hadn’t given Johnson a majority.
    The Liberal Party has essentially become the left faction of One Nation and has been since Whittle Johnny Howard! One Nation is a party of crackpots, conspiracy theorists and fools.

  6. Benjamin

    There’s a sign on the LNP’s door saying, DO NOT RESUSCITATE !!!

  7. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks for the thoughtful (and poetic) responses.
    We can’t just manage without an opposition, remember. There will be people who refuse to vote for Labor (or Greens) etc on the basis of legitimate reasons or totally distorted representations of what the parties stand for. We also need an opposition that is in the contest to keep the government from becoming complacent.

    If the opposition is basically PHON or UAP or worse, then people who need an opposition to vote for, will vote for them. Save us from them gaining power!

    Furthermore, the often lazy or under-intellectual media tries to both sides issues, aiming for “balance.” If one side is bonkers, then the apparent “middle ground” is a long way towards bonkers. We need to keep the Overton Window where it better reflects Australia, around the centre.

  8. Michael Taylor

    I’ve often held the view that we need a strong opposition in order to have a strong government, but I detect a shift.

    To have a strong Labor government we might now rely on having strong, progressive independents.

    I might be showing my bias – because she is my local member – but imagine a minority Labor government with a half a dozen Helen Haines’s in parliament.

  9. Fred

    Lucy: Nice work. It’s not theory, reality is ‘the apparent “middle ground” is a long way towards bonkers’. E.g. the lazy Nats, as per modus operandi, have not bothered, despite available information, to research or put any effort into understanding the “Voice” or how the Constitution is structured and are likely to drag the vision-less Libs with them. A “strong opposition” does not involve dogmatically taking the simple “opposite position”, rather offering a workable alternative solution to the challenge at hand and appearing to be a govt in waiting. The current opposition doesn’t have the talent to be a “strong opposition”.

  10. Andrew Smith

    Good read highlighting several issues with the nativist ‘libertarian’ right locally and in the Anglosphere; good luck expecting much to change when they appear ‘owned’ like the GOP and UK Tories who often descend into internecine warfare, at the expense of the centre and future?

    Retired relatives in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, both live in Frydenberg’s former Kooyong electorate, one rusted on big ‘L’ vs. a centrist small ‘l’ shows the dichotomy that has emerged, just in the Liberal Party. The latter and wife voted for Teal Monique Ryan due to LNP going crazy on confected and imported US GOP social policies while the other, who is a Lib member and is familiar with Frydenberg, when asked how do the Libs develop policy vs. taking from the IPA, his glib response was to claim the latter (having any influence) a ‘conspiracy theory’…. head in the sand.

    Meanwhile the National Party was used to promote fossil fuel and climate science denial or to be simply obstructive, a la Koch’s US ‘bill ‘mill’ ALEC that leverages GOP Reps as internal lobbyists to wedge uncooperative colleagues, into voting the right way; hence the consequences of Teals peeling off.

    In a parallel universe, UK Tory PM Sunak like the Libs, if he wants a lasting legacy, then develop a new fresh, broader and deeper membership with branch input into policy making, based on grassroots knowledge, developed further by their own experts, then avoid Koch Network linked think tank ‘oven ready’ policies, Tanton Network nativism and much legacy media could also be ignored, especially Murdoch, Barclay (Spectator Oz) et al., as the above median age vote becomes more educated and diverse.

  11. Terence Mills

    “If a party has no real platform other than obliging the donors and keeping the opposition out of power, there is no campaign possible aside from disinformation and distraction.”

    Nicely put !

  12. Barry Tucker

    The corruption of western democracies began in 1971, with the adoption of the Lewis Powell Memo to USA Chamber of Commerce, a blueprint for corporations to dominate US Congress, the courts & US culture.
    Links available in pinned tweet on my Twitter account: @btckr

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