January 23, 2008


Conservative path is the best for Libs (Noel McCoy, January 21, 2008, The Australian)

IT was 2000 and up-and-coming NSW state MP John Brogden confidently declared that Liberals must match their progressive economic policies with progressive social policies.

Citing social policy examples such as multiculturalism, gay marriage and decriminalisation of drugs, Brogden proposed a program of social liberalisation that would transform the Liberal Party into what he described as "consistently liberal, not a hybrid of economic liberalism and social conservatism". It was a vision that promised to radically reform the Liberal Party and make it relevant to what he perceived was a new generation of voters who had grown up in a "modern, tolerant, progressive Australia".

Yet in the short period that intervened, the Howard government proved, almost as if deliberately, that the opposite was true. Slashing personal income tax rates, erasing $96billion of government debt, opening up the workplace to competitive market pressures and the introduction of private health care incentives are just a few examples of Howard's voracious appetite for economic reform.

But in virtually the same breath, the Howard government reaffirmed marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, pursued a "tough on drugs" strategy, rejected indigenous apologism and replaced multiculturalism with integration, among its many socially conservative projects.

John Howard summed up his approach in 2005 when he described himself as an "economic liberal and a social conservative", and rejected incompatibility between those two strands, suggesting that it was "some of the oddest pieces of political philosophy" to say that an economic liberal had to be a social libertarian. [...]

Despite an emphatic victory for Labor at the 2007 federal election and a shift in the youth vote, the success of Howard's formula has surprisingly been left intact. And Kevin Rudd knows it. After all, the media and marketing reinvention of Labor as a Howard-like conservative force was a recognition of the success of Howard's formula of blending free-market economic policy and socially mainstream values.

Which is why, for example, Rudd went as far as to slap down his party's foreign affairs spokesman on the issue of opposing the death sentence for the Bali bombers. He has also repeatedly referred to himself as an economic conservative, rejected gay marriage and made his Christian beliefs a matter of public record.

The constant and successful use of catchphrases such as "new leadership", "fresh ideas", "plan for the future" and the Kevin07 brand meant Labor was distinguishing itself not on the basis of a Left or progressive policy agenda but, rather, on personality and the impression of being more forward-looking than Howard. In many ways, Labor's 2007 campaign capitalised on the strong electoral synergy between free-market thinking and mainstream social values.

Who were the last elected leaders of America, England or Australia not to--at least rhetorically--toe that line? In America it's probably Richard Nixon (Gerald Ford having not been elected).

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2008 8:19 PM

Let us not lose sight of the fact that these so-called "socially progressive" positions are, all of them, profoundly reactionry.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 24, 2008 5:10 AM

Yes Lou, they want a return to the glory days of the 1970's, when government programs had to be expanded to care for the people that progressive policies had harmed.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 24, 2008 8:27 AM