Dec 22, 2016

You can run, Cory, but you can’t hide from electoral reality

Cory Bernardi's fantasy of forming a new conservative political party faces a grim electoral reality that it's an already highly contested market.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The prevailing wisdom about the possibility of a conservative breakaway from the Liberal Party -- with Cory Bernardi again being touted as the leader -- is that this would stand a strong chance of being successful, and would be disastrous for Malcolm Turnbull. After all, more than 40% of Coalition voters have said they would vote for a conservative party. Only problem is, Bernardi would be hanging his shingle out in a very crowded market. Competition for the right-wing populist vote -- broadly defined as socially reactionary and economically interventionist -- is already intense. The Nationals already notionally occupy that space, although they are hampered by their ties with the economically and, usually, socially more liberal Liberal Party. And One Nation has a first mover advantage in this exact area, with a solid foundation in Queensland, where it is currently the third political force ahead of the Greens, but a presence in NSW and Western Australia (mouthbreather George Christensen, who is also signalling he may split from the LNP, could seamlessly switch to One Nation). In individual states, the challenge for a new conservative party is even more complex: there's not merely One Nation in Queensland but Bob Katter, who has been wooing renegade ex-One Nation senator Rod Culleton. In Tasmania there's Jacqui Lambie, while One Nation narrowly missed out on snagging a fifth Senate spot there to the Greens. In NSW, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party is also taking advantage of the Nationals' difficulties. In South Australia, Bernardi's home state, Nick Xenophon -- socially far more liberal than the right-wing populists, but even more economically interventionist -- has three Senate spots and a House of Representatives seat, while Family First managed to do well enough to return the ill-fated Bob Day to the Senate. And that's before you note the various rats and mice far-right parties like the ADL and the Australian Conservative Party that failed to trouble the scorers during the election and which shade off into the absolute lunatics of the violent right. And let's not forget that Peter Dutton has ambitions of his own to become a local, poorer version of Donald Trump within the LNP. In short, any Bernardi-led party would be fighting against a host of established political alternatives, most with equal or better name recognition than his own. Without the Liberal Party behind him, there's a real question about whether Bernardi would be able to keep his Senate spot -- although he has just won a six-year term, giving him a buffer against immediate challenge. Nor would a Bernardi-led separatist movement necessarily be a disaster for Turnbull -- although the media and Labor would happily paint it that way. A breakaway movement would demonstrate -- perhaps to Turnbull as much as to the Liberals -- that there's no appeasing the far right, that however far backwards Turnbull has bent to accommodate their homophobia, their climate denialism, their indulgence of the wealthy, it will never be enough for them. The reward for compromising with the far right would be shown to be a split in the party, not unity, the "broad church" rent asunder by ego and a delusion that the majority of Australians support the weird views of the Cory Bernardis of the world. Let's consider some issues: on same sex marriage, 60% voters, and majority of Coalition voters, support it. More than half of voters believe in anthropogenic climate change. And 60% of voters believe renewable energy is the solution to our future energy needs, not a threat. Far from being in touch with some mysterious silent majority of voters, Bernardi is at odds with the electorate and much of his own party's base on those issues. For a Prime Minister whose captivity to the right wing of his party has helped cruelled his once-potent political appeal, a party split might be the final straw that enables him to free himself of the shackles of out-of-touch hardliners. Bernardi can join a crowded crossbench, albeit as an independent less likely to vote against the government than most of the rest, with less of a voice outside his party than he had within. And the Prime Minister might find that, forced to finally confront the lunatic fringe, he's all the better for it.

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10 thoughts on “You can run, Cory, but you can’t hide from electoral reality

  1. Dion Giles

    What exactly IS the misnamed “conservative” ideology before which Turnbull cringes? What is the point by point legislative programme of Abbott’s opus dei metastases? All they seem to do is snipe without revealing their plan (if any) for Australia.

    1. Decorum

      I’d like that question answered too! I assumed a Bernardi Brotherhood would favour very small government, but Bernard’s wording about NXT suggests otherwise.

  2. klewso

    It would be Ground-hog Day funny, watching Turbott going head in hands to the cross-benches of Bernardi Inc; to get his plans reworked – before being passed in another form? …. Déjà vu all over again?

  3. Draco Houston

    Check the numbers in the house, if these people break away it would probably cause an election, during which they would be a spoiler party. It *would* be disastrous for Turnbull because he would no longer be PM. In other words, the breakaway party would be like the DLP.

    Sure, the DLP is a joke now, but it wasn’t when it formed and took out labour state governments.

  4. old greybearded one

    I might vote Liberal if the mongrel left, as long as he took Abbott, Abetz and Christensen. The Liberals have lost the fundamental tenet of Menzies, which was that he wanted it to be a progressive party. And in many many ways it was. Oh yes, we laugh at his monarchism, but he saw a path ahead and tried to make it. Howard saw nothing looked in the mirror, and in many ways went back 50 years. Abbott is just a whinger and a sponger as he always was and I reckon Menzies would have strangled Abetz and Bernardi. In his time Ming looked forward and he did not see a country of oligarchs and tax dodgers assisted by ignorant fools disguised as ministers.

  5. Will

    You could barely hope to find two more diametrically opposed articles than this one from Keane and the one from Razer today. According to Keane, Bernardi is likely toast if he abandons the electorally popular centre. According to Razer, the centre is toast because the electorate has moved to the extremes. Of course, Keane’s referent electorate is Australian, while Razer’s is that of the global West. Which brings us to the question – will they follow us, or will we follow them?

  6. Andrew P Street

    One thing I’m genuinely looking forward to is what happens in the reasonably likely event that Bob Day is deemed as being ineligible to have run in the 2016 election: this would make the ballot ineligible (there were only two Family First candidates, the minimum for an above-the-line spot; if one was ineligible, all their above the line votes would be arguably invalid) and the SA upper house vote will have to be held again. In that event, Bernardi would need to convince the SA Liberals that sure, he SAID he’d consider leaving the Liberal Party right after the election after hanging shit on the party’s performance, and he set up the Australian Conservatives as a possible alternative, and he spent the last six months undermining the PM and the front bench, and in December 2016 he refused to rule out leaving – but he’d still very much like a nice safe spot at the top of the ballot so he can keep that six year term there’s no way in fuck he’ll win on his own, thanks!

    I can’t imagine the Libs bumping him down the ballot, since he still holds a lot of sway in the local party machine – but he was already nudged from #1 to #2 this year for Simon Birmingham, and presumably some people in SA have to be wondering why they would be giving him a nice safe seat when he’s obviously planning to smash them over the head with it.

    1. Dion Giles

      In a new Senate poll Labor won’t be hanging back from mentioning Bernadi’s threats. He’ll be out on his ear.

  7. AR

    I signed on to Borey Carnadi’s Conservative Movement soon after he mooted it – every little bit helps when it comes to forcing rabid rightards to make a move and be crushed.
    As for Talcum, he is currently dead in the water, only afloat like a Bondi cigar because the torys know that if they dump him for the Return the Clown Prince he will resign his seat and it could very well be lost, and thus government.
    So in fact he could become a real boy, dare the trogs. & worse in the party room to dump him and, y’know, do… stuff. Though what, he has never made clear.

  8. Venise Alstergren

    Surely, and despite the weak-witted religious fraternity, the Australia of 2017 is unlike the Australia of Bob Santamaria, and the heyday of the DLP. Nuns travelling in groups; their voluminous skirts scraping across the ground. Books banned, movies banned, and so on….and so on.
    Peter Dutton fancies himself as a scaled down Donald Trump? You’re kidding Bernard?? Much as I loathe Donald Trump his mad rants do at least keep me awake. Whereas Peter Dutton is a soporific.

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