01 December 2009

Get it off your chest

The lunatics have taken over the asylum, but they outnumbered the staff anyway and the matron was a bossy old so-and-so.

I should have known that Turnbull was gone as soon as Nathan Rees said otherwise. If I was still a member of the Liberal Party I would have my head in my hands at the idea of Tony Abbott leading my party. I'm not and it isn't, so I don't. I thought that Turnbull would win, and suspected Hockey might; but I never thought the Liberals would be so stupid as to elect Abbott, the Liberals' answer to Rees (if Abbott is the answer then the question, etc.).

There's only one thing for the Liberals to do now: get all the right whinge crap off your chest. Try out all those ideas of which Howard blunted the rough edges, and go for broke. No ETS, no carbon pollution action except in reaction to the US Congress (and even then it will be weak, with plenty of handouts for US-based polluters who will know what buttons to push to get handouts). Announce that you'll cut spending here and there, and that you'll micromanage those areas of government that involve social investment (i.e. everything but defence and big infrastructure projects). Outsource your foreign policy to Washington so that any twit from Adelaide can become foreign minister. Everything that you wanted John Howard to do but never got around to, make that Liberal policy and go your hardest.

If you're going to rely on the base, and champion the base, you're going to have to embrace the idea that the base will be all you're left with. "I can't promise victory", said Abbott at his press conference: electoral victory would be beside the point. He is leading the Liberal Party to the kind of landslide defeat that all first-term State/Territory Labor governments enjoyed in the '90s, and for the same reason: the Libs think their defeat was a technicality and they'll do less than they did last time, except with more umbrage, so they'll get fewer votes than they got last time.

There's no point moderating those policies any more. Like any moderate leader of the Liberal Party, Joe is the Mr Rochester of Australian politics, courting the heroine (the swinging voter) while the right whingers scream from the attic, wreck stuff, and generally make things difficult impossible. Our heroine will only come back once the edifice has been burnt to the ground and the maddie's dead.

I first met Joe Hockey in about 1989, and thought he was a breath of fresh air as a policy thinker and a natural leader, after a damp squib of two years in the NSW Young Liberals run by a control freak. I understood why the right whingers objected to his rails run into Parliament but I couldn't see them offer anyone better (still can't). He's smart and works hard, and anyone who scoffs at this is in for a hard time.

Turnbull has the opportunity to provide the voice of business on prudence and risk management on environmental policy, but anything coming from him will be portrayed as a leadership gambit by the journosphere. I hope he's like Menzies in 1941, under pressure only to rebound stronger than before, but I could be wrong about that too.

I left the Liberal Party before Tampa. I could not cope with a Parliamentary party that consisted of two factions - the compliant and the supine - both worshipping The Leader in their big broad church. I was an ex-Lib long before Howard's self-indulgence drove his government to oblivion: the country made it out in time but the Libs are still trapped in the twisted wreck, face down in the gutter. The road back will be a crawl, with the Mincheviks screaming all the way about "selling out the base".

If I were Kellie O'Dwyer or Paul Fletcher I'd walk into the party room with an iron bar and beat the shit out of Wilson Tuckey; lucky they didn't preselect me, eh.

It's OK for us bloggers to be political dilettantes, less so - no, not so - for party leaders. I think Abbott is weak for being the front man for the Mincheviks, but he wasn't strong enough to do anything else. Being photographed in sluggos, as he was on the weekend, was an exercise in self-sabotage: he doesn't really want the top job, just like Baillieu and Debnam did with their attempts to look like action men. I've seen Abbott look confident and assured, as he was with the republic; but in recent weeks he's looked and sounded less than convinced, less than convincing.

Tony Abbott is a media tart and nothing else, nothing. He was absent from the economic debates of the 1980s and '90s. His entire ministerial career depended on his ability to attract showers of cash from Howard: as Health Minister Kay Patterson was locked in to a narrow range of policy positions but as soon as Abbott got in he could bend over forwards for doctors' lobbies and drug companies. When he got rolled on RU486 it brought the culture wars to an end in this country (the moderates won; it should have showed anyone who was paying attention that he'd never, ever become Prime Minister). He had no opinions on changes to Australian foreign policy, and shadowed Rudd's weakest minister so ineffectively that she's still there.

Tony Abbott is a much less substantial figure than Andrew Peacock.

To the right whingers; you've won, now show the way ahead. You know you want to, and the way ahead for you is clearer than it has ever been. Delight in your base, but if you want the Liberal Party to win government again, you will have to compromise. My guess is that the right whinge won't have the courage of their convictions, and will start moderating furiously once the Liberal Party gets outpolled by the Greens. Labor knows that there's nothing so true to Labor's traditions than selling out Labor's traditions, and so it is with the Liberals: only when the utter bankruptcy of Minchevism becomes apparent can the long road back to government begin.

Moderates are part of your base, you dickheads. Yes, they* are.


  1. Terrific commentary and I love the Charlotte Bronte imagery.
    But lets be realistic, in time the Liberals will be competitive, Abbott and Minchin long gone, time will heal all.

  2. "He had no opinions on changes to Australian foreign policy, and shadowed Rudd's weakest minister so ineffectively that she's still there."

    Roxon's weaker than Macklin?

  3. Daniel: Abbott was shadowing Macklin.

    Persse: I agree, but yesterday the Liberals stepped away from being competitive rather than toward it. I'm not one of those who believes the Libs have split like Labor did in the '50s.