Authenticity for Liberals need not be at the cost of continuity

Authenticity for Liberals need not be at the cost of continuity, by Jennifer Oriel.

Whether intentionally or not, Scott Morrison has just set the agenda for the 2019 Liberal election campaign. Get used to these three words: authentic, pragmatic, fair. In his speech to the Liberal Federal Council, the Treasurer sounded like a leader. Malcolm Turnbull sounded like he was trying. And Julie Bishop, the usually composed foreign minister, looked assailed by reality. If whispers are anything to go by, the truth is now unavoidable: Turnbull’s farewell tour has begun.

Subtle jostling for the PM’s chair is under way. Morrison is campaigning as authentic. It’s a tactical coup but he will struggle to convince as the leader of an authentically Liberal campaign. As Treasurer in a party philosophically aligned to classical liberalism, he has rubber-stamped big government programs, stimulus policies, a bank levy and a range of measures perceived as punitive to wealth creators. His get out of jail card is printed “pragmatic”. …

In his speech, Morrison touted post-partisan politics to accommodate a non-ideological age. … A party for the times, for the people. Change, hope, fairness. He said it so well. The delivery was smooth, the tone was warm and the pacing perfect. The only question is, who said it better: Turnbull, Morrison or Barack Obama? …

A right-leaning political party that rejects traditions on the basis they are traditions is doomed to failure. Conservatism is built on the method of preserving what works and developing it, while being open to new ideas that might advance Western civilisation. The government’s new agenda and the rhetoric used to pitch it are more reminiscent of American progressivism than the classical liberal ideas and conservative values that form the philosophical basis of the Liberal Party. …

The Liberals must face the reality that they can’t fake it to make it. If they choose an agenda of authenticity — and I think they should — it means radical change. Politics will go local. … Cut out the PC virtue signalling on social media. Don’t talk down to people. The “outsiders” aren’t stupid, they’re angry — for good reason. …

At a structural level, authen­ticity requires a set of clear party principles and demonstration of how policies flow from them. At present, the Liberal agenda looks like chaos. There is no policy ­coherence. There is no sense of a unified vision. There is no clear translation of enduring party principles into a coherent policy framework. Turnbull’s rejection of ideology and fondness for agility and disruption has led to a breakdown in the system of ideas ­required for any party to govern coherently. …

For all its lethal contradictions, ideology provides a system for ideas with beginning and end points that ground political movements and parties when they veer off course. There is a risk that the Liberal ideology-free zone will be seen as a road to nowhere.