Blaming Morrison for Liberal’s disastrous collapse is a facile critique

Jan 13, 2023
Canberra Parliament House at Twilight.

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.

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