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Australia: To resurrect themselves, the Victorian Liberals must remember what ‘liberalism’ means, for a start

Andrews is right — we’re sliding toward a more violent, extreme US political culture

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Coming into Greater Little Sodding-on-the-Wold (London), just as the Victorian state election was being decided, your correspondent thought of ’90s Britart and Gillian Wearing’s classic video installation in which actors dressed as cops stood still for an hour while a locked-off video recorded them — an eerie, slightly wobbly still life.

Sky News host Peta Credlin and exiting Liberals leader Matthew Guy (Images: AAP) © Provided by Crikey Sky News host Peta Credlin and exiting Liberals leader Matthew Guy (Images: AAP)

That came to mind because your correspondent was watching the Sky after dark coverage of the great event, and there was a delicious moment when the panel — Peta Credlin, Michael Kroger, Andrew Clennell and some others — just stopped. They just stopped. They had nothing to say. There was not a single result to spin. The result was as everyone — everyone who wasn’t mad — thought it would be.

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The state Liberals hadn’t made any sort of case as to why anyone should vote for them, and managed to pile up some very good reasons why people should not. The Greens looked like taking five or six seats. Independents were in the lead in three or four. Labor was winning seats from Liberals. There was zip to work with.

  To resurrect themselves, the Victorian Liberals must remember what ‘liberalism’ means, for a start © Provided by Crikey

Has the media ever gotten an election this wrong before?

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Oh, it was gooooooood. Peta Credlin’s face was so long and so sad that it might just make the Miles Franklin shortlist, Stephen Conroy was paying out, and Andrew Clennell was trying to spin the “knew it all along” line. But the garland goes to Michael Kroger, that vacuity, that protestant ascendancy Max Headroom, that cartoon of a jaw in a blue suit.

The Victorian Liberals say the state's debt is larger than any other state and larger than NSW, Queensland and Tasmania combined. Is that correct?

  The Victorian Liberals say the state's debt is larger than any other state and larger than NSW, Queensland and Tasmania combined. Is that correct? Victoria's Shadow Treasurer David Davis and the Liberal Party say Victoria's debt is larger than Queensland, NSW and Tasmania combined. RMIT ABC Fact Check runs the numbers. The verdictMr Davis's claim is gilding the lily. So are similar claims from Mr Guy, Mr Bach and the Liberal Party organisation.It's important to note that Victoria's net debt in June 2022 was $99.98 billion.It is not yet the $165.9 billion it is projected to be in June 2026, despite Liberal Party claims it has already "blown out" to similar magnitudes and Mr Davis's claim that it will reach that level by 2025.

After Credlin expostulated in genuine bewilderment that “people in Box Hill and Narre Warren, they’re the forgotten people Menzies talked about. Why aren’t they voting Liberal?”, Kroger intoned, “To vote for you, people have to believe there are better times ahead” — a variant of which he said about three times, as everyone else on the panel waited, thinking, “Unless my guess is wrong, would you shut up you moron, you nothingburger. You got us into this mess”.

Well, you takes your fun where you can. As it turned out, the Greens may fall a little short, as may the independents. But absolutely everything that was going badly for the Liberals has played out. They had already lost the 2022 election before it happened. Last Saturday night, they set themselves up to lose 2026. That would be 30 years of Labor dominance, with a single Liberal term.

A state that could have been won for the Liberal Party as a natural party of government with a mix of liberal-conservative economic policies and a steadied, very moderate progressivism is instead owned by Labor with the rainbow bulldozer formula. Labor privatises everything not nailed down (and much that is); fills the economic demand gap with vast public works, subcontracted to private mega-corps that get property development rights in exchange; and combines repressive police laws with social liberal policies such as assisted dying and renaming yourself Sparkle Unicorn on your birth certificate.

Has the media ever gotten an election this wrong before?

  Has the media ever gotten an election this wrong before? Throughout a weird, ill-tempered campaign, the mainstream media provided consistently way-off-the-mark election coverage.Even at this premature stage, it was abundantly clear Labor was to hold its majority, with the Coalition picking up well under 30 of the 45 seats required. It was in keeping with the strange disconnect between the media narrative around the election and what the reality turned out to be.

The formula is popular, supported by the majority, and a generation in power has allowed Labor to train the public into believing in it: that this is what governments do, what government is. There’s no wiggle room for the Libs, because Labor occupies the entire spectrum. The only way to do capitalism in advanced economies that don’t have windfall resources is to fill the ever-threatening demand gap with huge state contracts to the private sector, which is, in turn, reasonably happy to work with the union movement.

The transformation of capitalism into state-dominated capitalism changes class allegiance and conflict. Value in key sectors is no longer a struggle between wages and profits: the geysers of money flowing to the Suburban Rail Loop, the West Gate Tunnel, the level crossing removal, etc, gives sections of capital a vital interest in the smooth control of planned economic activity.

The truth is, the peak bodies for business really don’t want the Liberal Party of Victoria in charge — not in its current form, because they know it is filled with incompetents, cookers and happy clappers, and they don’t think a half-trillion-dollar enterprise should be entrusted to the sort of crazies who have been practising a decade-long entrist strategy to take over the party like those parasites that burrow into a praying mantis’ brain and start operating it like a JCB digger.

‘Twas a black night for the Victorian Libs, and a very ordinary night for independents

  ‘Twas a black night for the Victorian Libs, and a very ordinary night for independents Matthew Guy has lost two elections to Dan Andrews, joining a pretty exclusive club of two-time losers. But independents were losers too.Even fewer opposition leaders get a third go, although Lawrence Springborg notched up three losses as leader of the Nationals in Queensland, and the Liberals’ Jeff Kennett finally had a win in Victoria on his third attempt in 1992.

Victorian organised capital hasn’t gone away. For decades it was one of the best political operators in the nation, ceaselessly regrouping, boosting and campaigning because it faced a Labor with genuine socialist features. The initial political collapse came in the 1990s, when Jeff Kennett basically showed them the door and ran government as a one-man band — and, in a personal best, was so appallingly, personally rude to so many on the right that the number of people who simply could not bring themselves to work with him, whatever their shared interests, came to vastly outnumber those who could.

  To resurrect themselves, the Victorian Liberals must remember what ‘liberalism’ means, for a start © Provided by Crikey

Morsels from a perfectly cooked election campaign (part one)

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But once that 1999 victory occurred, the class-capital-political composition shifted decisively. Capital may, will, turn on Labor again — but of course the new political funding rules vastly reduce the capacity to set up the sort of cash pipelines that other organisations used to provide.

So what’s a Liberal Party to do? Well, the first step is to realise there is no single thing called the Liberal Party. The organisation that once comprised three relatively stable castes — the professional protestant ascendency, the suburban petit bourgeoisie, and rural regional groups that transferred en masse from the Country Party in the early 1950s — is now the shell of a protestant ascendency, and a Christian base insurgency, which has replaced the secular suburban petit-bourgeoisie.

‘Twas a black night for the Victorian Libs, and a very ordinary night for independents

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When the party was a collection of social castes, a mutual legitimacy was recognised. That’s in Menzies’ “Forgotten People” speech, if Liberals bothered to read it rather than just namecheck it. Menzies is not stirring up the “forgotten people” to represent themselves — God forbid — but offering that his upper social class will represent them. The whole act of naming someone as “forgotten” is an act of othering. People don’t forget themselves. Someone forgets them. And offers to remember them.

That’s the place the Credlins, Krogers, etc, are all trapped in, private school graduates all. They simply assume that the “forgotten” will consent to be represented by a class whose fortunes, manners and basic comportment in life they do not share. But the secular social frameworks that once created a Liberal world — progress associations, church congregations — are gone, and in their place are churches called things like Rock Breakers or Awesome Love Ministry or whatever.

They are motivated, organised and collectivised in an anomic social world, so they surge forward unstoppably. They don’t care about electoral disaster. They can wait eight years. (Hey, buddy, let me tell you about someone who’s been waiting two thousand years.) In 2030, they hope that the (name redacted) Labor government will be so drained of basic competent talent, so besmirched with revelations of corruption, that an exhausted public will take anyone, anyone, else.

Were this a party like the Republicans, the new groups would be much further along. But here is another sweet paradox about Australian capital city politics: its private school social networks are so strong that they reproduce themselves ceaselessly, a result in large part due to the government funding they receive, thanks to… Robert Menzies. There are few polities in the Western world where “private” education takes up about 30% or more of the student base — and even fewer where a big chunk of that is actually Eton-style “public” schools attached to a larger social body, i.e. organised religion.

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So any attempt by this residual ascendency to take a populist path is going to look like cosplay. This grouping — elements of which go into alliance with, or overlap, the happy clappers — would have to simply hand the party over entirely and withdraw from politics. They may as well, in a way. Their class once had a mission, which was to guard an Anglo-Saxon Christian order in the dominions, one based on pastoral capital, protected manufacturing and tight control of a dominant monoculture. None of that applies now; we all live in the one global world, and nothing Labor does threatens their accumulated intergenerational wealth.

But on the off chance some people do believe in the idea of genuine liberalism, opening out to some new political possibilities, then what they have to do is clear. The parts of the party that are still secular — or mainline Christian, Jewish, etc — have to unite and go to war against the religious groups that have colonised the party. The party’s great disaster was that secular figures such as Michael Kroger were willing to go into alliance with extreme religious groupings to wage petty wars against personal enemies.

Should they want the party back, well, first they’re going to have to drop Credlin, Kroger and Count Binface Jeff Kennett down a lift shaft. This collective omnishambles has rained down so much disaster on the Victorian Liberal Party that you sometimes wonder if some sort of 40-year deep cover mission on behalf of Labor is not the most irrational explanation for their actions. Whatever the case, my God, they are the source of much of the party’s delusion about why it’s in the mess it’s in, the deeply self-serving notion that there’s some cap-doffing, clog-dancing forgottens out there, waiting to be saved by these rejects from a knitwear catalogue modelling session. They’ve got to go.

Teals pass with flying colours

  Teals pass with flying colours The success of teal candidates at the May election was largely due to tactical moves by voters who wanted to boot the Liberal Party, and the youth allowance, Austudy and carer allowance payments will rise by a massive 6.1% on January 1.And it seems Albo is still riding that popularity wave — the latest Newspoll showed the PM’s approval rating hit a record high of 62%, compared with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s 36%. Voters in the survey were satisfied Albanese had done what he had promised to do, The Australian ($) reports, including ramming through the controversial industrial relations laws and the national anti-corruption body in Parliament’s final sitting weeks.

The second thing they’ve got to do is wage the internal war against the happy clappers with a view to it lasting years, and with no regard to how much damage it does while it goes on. It’s got to be absolute Leninist ferocity for as long as it takes, using every procedural dirty trick in the book, and building new sources of Liberal recruits, with actual — gasp — battles of ideas.

That’s the third thing the Liberals have to do, in parallel with the second: develop a liberalism that does not simply regard the state-private line as the mark of political division, and propose alternative and better ways for a mixed society to work. To his credit, Matthew Guy and his team did some of that in the campaign — proposing to switch spending on the Suburban Rail Loop boondoggle to hospitals. But the prosecution against the Suburban Rail Loop — a fiction to create development zones in which mega-capital can operate outside the planning framework — should have been going for a year or more, relentlessly.

  To resurrect themselves, the Victorian Liberals must remember what ‘liberalism’ means, for a start © Provided by Crikey

‘Twas a black night for the Victorian Libs, and a very ordinary night for independents

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Were the Liberals to establish that liberalism is about a different type of state-private engagement, not simply smaller government, new vistas would open up. They could campaign about the absolutely hideous way in which we are doing outer-suburban development in Melbourne — handing land over to developers to create floating non-communities with no centre, no services, no amenities, no quality of life.

This is a point at which a liberal principle — that community should have some sort of subsidiary reality to it — could be counterposed against Labor’s corporatist “pile ‘em high” strategy. That would connect to bad- and over-development issues in the sort of middle-middle-class suburbs they should be totally competitive in.

That of course means being on the side of the consumer — lower-budget homebuyers — against their own class, which is the capital behind a lot of these quick-buck developments. It means a U-turn from Guy et al’s lip-licking commitment to crappy development. But the new political funding rules give party operatives the chance to do that, if they have the courage.

Finally, there are going to be chances to launch a full-scale attack on Labor’s bloodless cultural progressivism. In the next five years, the full disaster of our educational and state-cultural regimes on gender identity will become visible. Our assisted dying laws, if euthanasia regimes in Canada and the Netherlands are any guide, will begin to be petitioned by the chronically mentally ill, who will demand state assistance to painlessly end tormented lives. These and other manifestations of progressive overreach will go live. Which is all the more reason to clear the happy clappers out, because the Liberals will have to come down on the rational side of this debate, the side that emphasises prudence and caution in social change against progressivism’s totalitarian enforcement of a single and simplistic truth.

There’s one other ticking time bomb in the near future, of course, which got a brief airing in the election lead-up (and of which more tomorrow). Trouble for the Libs is, it may blow up too early for them to take advantage of it. To be honest, though, I think we need a viable and rational Liberal Party in Victoria. I’d be happy for them to twist in the wind a while longer. Not forever. There’s nothing like a couple of days in Greater Little Sodding London — Mogadishu-on-Thames — to remind you that you really don’t want to run so long that the gangsters take power eventually. But I could stand to watch a few more hours of Liberal Party-assisted suicide on Sky ADAF.

And there’s little danger they won’t. As said the ABC’s Saturday night Liberal talking head Tony Barry — a man so despairing going in he didn’t even bother to shave; did he turn up shirtless at the Dandenong bowls club later? — “the guilty will be rewarded, the innocent will be punished, and things will go on as before”. Which, it must be said, is the essence of liberalism.

The post To resurrect themselves, the Victorian Liberals must remember what ‘liberalism’ means, for a start appeared first on Crikey.

Teals pass with flying colours .
The success of teal candidates at the May election was largely due to tactical moves by voters who wanted to boot the Liberal Party, and the youth allowance, Austudy and carer allowance payments will rise by a massive 6.1% on January 1.And it seems Albo is still riding that popularity wave — the latest Newspoll showed the PM’s approval rating hit a record high of 62%, compared with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s 36%. Voters in the survey were satisfied Albanese had done what he had promised to do, The Australian ($) reports, including ramming through the controversial industrial relations laws and the national anti-corruption body in Parliament’s final sitting weeks.

See also