Exit polls
from yesterday’s first round of the presidential election in Poland
show the more liberal Civic Platform candidate, Donald Tusk, a few
percentage points ahead of his conservative rival, Lech Kaczynski, from
the Law and Justice party. The two front-runners will face off in a
second round in two weeks’ time. Both centre-right candidates were well
clear of their left-wing rivals.

This reverses the result of the parliamentary election from two weeks
ago, when Law and Justice finished ahead of Civic Platform. The two are
still in negotiations to form a coalition government. Civic Platform is
pro-EU, free market and socially liberal, while Law and Justice, as the
BBC says, “puts more stress on Catholic and family values.”

These liberal vs conservative contests, a feature of recent European
politics, deserve more attention in Australia than they get. They might
serve as an antidote to views such as those put forward in today’s Age
by John Roskam, director of the Institute of Public Affairs, who wants
to convince us that liberalism and conservatism are pretty much the
same thing.

“The basis of political conservatism is the recognition that the best
way to make decisions is to allow individuals to make decisions for
themselves,” says Roskam. “Political conservatism is profoundly
democratic because it embraces the idea that in the masses there is
wisdom.” No, sorry, that’s liberalism. Conservatism is the belief that
the powers that be know best, and wisdom lies in traditional authority.

But Tory strategy has always been, in Disraeli’s words, to catch the other side bathing and walk away with their clothes.

It makes sense for Liberal Party apologists to minimise the differences
between liberals and conservatives, in order to try to prevent their
own internal coalition from fracturing. But serious intellectuals like
Roskam should know better.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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