When will the Liberal Party learn you don’t win elections by being Labor-lite? Only against long-term Labor governments showing obvious signs of incompetence is it enough for the Liberals just to be “better managers”.
To succeed in politics, you must create a contest. Telling voters you’ll run things slightly better than the other side is hardly inspiring or even persuasive, especially as Labor is usually much better at the crude politics than the Liberals are.
Lessons from South Australia:
Last weekend’s South Australian election was a classic illustration of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of politics. A first-term Liberal government that had been reasonably good at running the state was trounced by a Labor opposition that was much better at politics.
Having kept mum on the pandemic for nearly two years, Labor managed to make the Omicron outbreak somehow the government’s fault. Then, Labor managed to turn ambulance ramping into a symptom of callous incompetence, even though Labor’s leader had been a health minister in a government that had turned shifting the Royal Adelaide Hospital down the road into one of the world’s most expensive construction debacles.
Yet by cleverly enlisting the nurses union and getting its members active at polling booths alongside unionised ambulance paramedics, Labor got away with blaming the Libs for a health mess of its own making. …
Part of the problem in SA was that this was a relatively left-wing Liberal government up against a relatively right-wing Labor opposition. It was a Liberal government that ticked all the socially progressive boxes: sponsoring late-term abortion laws, promoting even more renewables at the expense of baseload power and scrapping the V8 Supercars in favour of more cultural precincts.
Thanks to the Marshall government’s pro-business outlook, the economy had improved, unemployment had fallen and new businesses were attracted to what had been a rust-belt state where young people of talent tended to leave to succeed.
But up against a charismatic Labor leader, without scary social policies and claiming to be pro-business too, managing the economy better just wasn’t enough.
The party of bureaucracy and more government is winning the long game:
Because of the Liberals’ loss after just one term, Labor will have governed SA for 20 of the past 24 years. And when you look around the country — at entrenched, long-term Labor governments in Victoria and Queensland, Labor’s smashing victory in Western Australia and the Liberals’ wobbles in NSW — it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Labor is becoming the natural party of state government. Even though the party is not very good at it, with bloated health bureaucracies, budget blowouts, teacher union dominated schools, left-wing policing and anti-development planning policies that make it nearly impossible to get anything built, even roads and housing, let alone mines or dams.
What Labor is good at, though, is forcing state Liberals into contests over who can spend the most money rather than do what Liberals used to do: ensuring that taxpayer dollars were spent wisely and carefully to deliver actual outcomes, not just headlines.
Is it any wonder, then, across the country, when faced with a choice between a big-spending, politically correct Labor Party and an only slightly less politically correct and almost equally big-spending Liberal Party, long-term Liberal voters are scratching their heads and wondering where their party has gone?
To win, the Liberals must have product differentiation from Labor. That’s what John Howard and Tony Abbott had but it’s what Malcolm Turnbull and now Steven Marshall in South Australia palpably lacked. And it looks like being a real problem for Scott Morrison going into the federal poll unless something big emerges very quickly, perhaps from the budget next week.
So far, the government’s key policies are net -zero carbon emissions by 2050 and nuclear-powered subs by 2040, and Labor has said “me too” to both. Last time, the Liberals had Labor’s new taxes on retirees and investors plus job-destroying emissions reduction targets to fight against. This time the Prime Minister won’t have these so he has to create a contest on something else. But with fights over civil nuclear power and leftist brainwashing in schools apparently ruled out, it’s hard to see what options the government has left.
But whatever Morrison chooses, it must be an issue where Anthony Albanese’s leftist instincts will be at odds with those of middle Australia.
One of the paradoxes of modern Australian politics is while Labor has won a majority only once in the past nine federal elections, the whole political spectrum has moved to the left.
The elites, hectoring corporations and so-called modern Liberals all fail to appreciate that the vast bulk of the electorate is centre-right in its views. If it were otherwise, Labor wouldn’t have lost so often.
Oh but they do appreciate it, I assure you. But they also believe that it’s nothing a bit more narrative control via their media can’t fix.