Missing from commentary on the change of government last week – and yes it is a change of government, though the parties from which it is formed remain the same – was any analysis of the actual politics. (Politics, here, in the wider sense of how the Coalition right sees the world now, and what model of it they’re working off.)
But it’s easy to understand why. The week’s leadership struggles appeared to be occurring at such a remove from the political-media caste performing it – the media part of the political-media caste talk of a “political class” in order to pretend they’re not part of it – that such considerations could be avoided. But pointing out that separation, as your correspondent does, only goes so far. I’d like to know what these people believe.
For those on the outside of the Coalition and its support penumbra, the level of hatred and fury directed at Malcolm Turnbull is utterly inexplicable. Here was a leader of liberal, centrist instincts, who gave the right about 85% of what they wanted – and suffered for doing so in the polls. Yet for all that, it was as if he had ripped off a mask and revealed himself to be Che Guevara working under deep cover.
Turnbull held the line on official sadism to refugees, the US alliance, the same-sex marriage process, cut federal arts and culture funding, kept the ABCC, pushed through a program of tax cuts on the trickle-down theory, and crafted a too-clever-by-half NEG that affirmed a commitment to dirty brown power for decades to come. I know we know all this, but it seems worth repeating to remind yourself that you are not going mad. Turnbull’s steady decline in the polls came from the series of impossible positions the right put him in, and his unwillingness to stage one big showdown with them – with the sort of ultimatum he gave in the last 24 hours of his political life.
The only really interesting question for me — and the question the actual parliamentary gallery could answer, if they stopped writing the yards of contentless group think verbiage they rained on us last week — is the material structure of money, support and ideology on the Liberal right.
The simplest model of political action would be this: the right knows that the Liberal Party needs every big donor it can get. The party of free enterprise is perpetually close to tapped out, poorly managed and its membership so age-shifted that its ability to field operatives depends on hip-replacement waiting-list times. Elections come and go, the party remains.
The second model is that the Liberal right are stalwarts: that Abbott, Abetz and co genuinely see “Christian Western civilisation” as threatened by a blood tide of secular nihilism, that Turnbull, as the enemy within, is more dangerous that the Greens and left without, and that it’s worth risking a stonking loss to put this kultur-krisis ideal back at the centre of the party.
The third model, overlapping the second is that they genuinely believe the Andrew Bolt et al line — that there’s a genuine conservative majority out there, who could be gathered up with proper policies, and serve as the basis for turnaround and victory. This theory looks like the UK/US “enlarge the polity” strategy pursed by both left and right – except that there it’s rational, because 30-50% of people don’t vote, and grabbing 10-20% of them, with an on-centrist approach can lead to victory. Here, with preferential voting, it’s either simply innumerate — or it relies on a rather complex theory that disengaged people whose votes drift between parties will have a “moment of recognition” when an unashamed conservative stands up and enunciates a program and a worldview.
That’s not impossible by any means — atomised, neoliberal societies have a great fund of need for meaning and purpose, which can be tapped into by a single figure. In the Coalition now, the only figure who could command that, in a couple of years time, is Andrew Hastie. The rest are a gallery of George Grozs-tesques.
But what I would really want to know from the press gallery — who actually speak to these jokers on a daily basis — is a true version of what Abbott, Abetz, Dutton etc are actually thinking, what their world model is (because, I presume, they would never tell me). That is what we do not get. And, I suspect, never will.
What is the true world view of the likes of Dutton and Abetz? Will we ever know? Write to [email protected] and let us know.