Australian Conservatives at Bleak Point in Cycle

Australian Conservatives at Bleak Point in Cycle. By Tom Switzer.

It is certainly true these are bleak times for the [Australian] Liberals. …

Following Harold Holt’s death in late 1967, Robert Menzies told his daughter, Heather: “I am witnessing the destruction of the party … (it’s) a leaderless rabble, and I have great fears for the future.” And yet the party of Menzies has been in power in Canberra for about two-thirds of the period since his lament.

Following its fifth consecutive loss in 1993, Liberal senator Chris Puplick wrote a book called Is the Party Over?. In it, he warned that the Liberals were “exclusionist, hostile to new ideas and new people and too concerned with trying to bring people back to the ‘good old days’ ”. Less than two years later, John Howard won a massive landslide election victory and held power for another 12 years.

When Kevin Rudd was in the political stratosphere in 2008-09, eminent historian Judith Brett warned that the Liberals risked “becoming a down-market protest party of angry old men in the outer suburbs”. Yet Rudd was brutally knifed by his own colleagues and the ALP resembled nothing so much as a pub brawl.

When Tony Abbott narrowly won Liberal leadership, the doyens of the press gallery had marked him as a right-wing throwback to a bygone era. Yet the “Neanderthal” Abbott led his Coalition to a resounding victory, handing the Labor Party one of its biggest defeats. …

Conservative renewal is coming:

Bear all this in mind when you hear pundits hail a new progressive era after Aston. Labor victories, with the exception of Victoria, do not signal some great ideological shift. Nor do the Liberals face an existential crisis.

In 2022, middle Australia did not embrace a new philosophy. It was rejecting a man: the country had had enough of Scott Morrison. Remember Labor won only 32 per cent of the primary vote and a two-seat parliamentary majority. All this is why the Coalition should not, as Howard warns, descend into a “woe is us” mentality.

The key to Liberal renewal has been to not just reinvent itself with the times, but to broaden the appeal of sound policies rather than copy the agenda of its opponents.

As Malcolm Fraser in 1975, Howard in 1996 and Abbott in 2013 showed, only centre-right Liberal leaders win power: cowardly, ideologically rudderless leaders, in thrall to fashionable orthodoxies, fade into the media mind-meld.

They just need the courage (or desperation) to seize it and explain what they stand for.

They have allowed the left to portray them as bigots on every issue. And at the root of this (and it has become central in the US) is the lie that systemic racism is the reason for differing outcomes by race — because it couldn’t be genetics, could it? Got to grasp that nettle. Truth matters.