The writer is in Australia.
I promised last week to tell readers why I think the only path to victory for conservative political parties is to fight the culture wars. And I foreshadowed this by noting that retreating to just fighting on economic grounds is self-defeating – a healthy economy demands a healthy culture where people understand the benefits of self-reliance, risk taking, delayed gratification and the like. (For the sake of this argument put to one side the fact that the Liberal Party in Australia has no credibility at all on the purely economic terrain, not having run a surplus once in its recent nine-year tenure, being the first of the main parties to attack superannuation [pensions], having printed money and spent like drunken sailors during the pandemic years and so (unbelievably) being in no position to criticise Labour on small-government, thrift-is-important, keep-debt-in-check grounds.)
Another way to put my point is that values matter and that they need to be the basis on which big decisions are made. The Liberal Party instead prefers focus groups and bloodless advisors who disdain the party base. Every U.S. Republican Governor who stood up against lockdowns on principle, on the basis that these massive inroads into civil liberties were unwarranted on the facts, is now politically far better off. Florida’s Ron DeSantis won the 2018 gubernatorial race by just tens of thousands of votes. In 2022 he won a massive landslide; the biggest for a Republican ever. And Florida saw huge numbers move there from other states. Sure, at the time DeSantis made these value-based calls (not to ruin the young by closing schools, not to destroy the small-business sector, not to allow pseudo-vaccine mandates, etc.) he was relentlessly attacked by the Left-wing media (meaning virtually all of it). So he had to learn the data and field hostile questions. And it initially made him less popular with the public. But you believe in certain principles or you don’t. And if you do you act on them. As I said, every Republican Governor who stood up against the lockdownistas is today a big political winner. It would have been the same here in Australia.
The problem is that the then Prime Minister Scott Morrison patently had no values beyond doing what focus groups told him would help in the next election and because of that he tried to ‘out-Labour’ Labour. I still think Malcolm Turnbull was the worst Liberal PM ever, but there is definitely an argument to be made that Morrison was even worse. Name anything the Morrison Government did that could be described as ‘conservative’. Or try to name any policies we conservatives got from nine years of Coalition Governments. I’ll give you Tony Abbott’s stopping the boats, which was in fact an astounding accomplishment. But that’s about it. The universities got worse every year under Coalition Governments. They appointed judges who were on balance barely better than we’d have gotten under Labour, and maybe worse (the Love decision was brought to you by George Brandis appointees, three of the four in the majority which tells you all you need to know, as well as being a knock-out argument against the Voice). Same goes for all appointments including to the Human Rights Commission (whose Commissioners were all Coalition appointees during the pandemic and who didn’t say a single peep, nada, nothing, about the worst inroads on our civil liberties in 300 years – but just wait till someone claiming refugee status comes along with a grievance or there’s a chance for the president to lobby for a bill of rights).
The same goes for the impoverishing Net Zero religion, the fighting against which won the Libs multiple elections till Mr. Morrison (did I remind voters that Morrison was the key player in the Tony Abbott coup?) just decided on his own to throw in the towel on that too. Be honest. The Coalition didn’t fight on any fronts related to our culture at all. It just surrendered to Labour and the ABC worldview, when I would have spent those years defunding or privatising ‘our’ public broadcaster that still lacks a single, solitary conservative presenter or producer on any TV current affairs show. But hey, it’s all just too hard to fight for the current crop of Liberal MPs. If the Libs have ever had a worse cohort of MPs I don’t know when it was. And to be fair, those at the state level are orders of magnitude worse than their federal counterparts. In Queensland the woeful LNP leader Mr. Crisafulli just threw in the towel and signed up to Labour’s treaty lark with its three-year ‘truth-telling’ inquiry. If you’re selling the pass like that you’re not getting my vote. It’s as though Crisafulli is trying to lose the upcoming unloseable Queensland election. Or he is unable to stand up to advisors who buy in fully to the Mark Textor view that the base has nowhere else to go so f— ‘em. Gee, that’s worked really well, hasn’t it?
Look at Europe. Conservative parties that fight the culture wars are winning and winning big. Italy’s Giorgia Meloni is the continent’s most popular politician domestically. She seeks out culture fights (and realise these fights are ones that well over half the population agrees with such as no biological men in women’s sports or in their loos and a stop to big scale, mass immigration).
Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is even tougher on these issues and just keeps winning elections (which the Lefty legacy media tries to paint as undemocratic when it’s just the result they dislike – and notice that their complaint that Orbán gets too much favourable press coverage is laughable when compared to the favourable press coverage that goes to the Democrats and Joe Biden or to the Left in Australia). Ditto conservative parties in Poland. Or in that bastion of social democracy, Sweden. And look at the trends in France and Germany. Meanwhile Britain’s Tories have wasted the huge 2019 Boris/Brexit majority win by becoming more Labour than Labour – the biggest-spending and biggest-taxing outfit since Attlee while caving in on every culture fight going. As a result I’m hoping Rishi Sunak will be destroyed at the next election.
Over in the U.S., the two lasting achievements of Donald Trump (whether he wins in 2024 or not, and I lean to ‘yes, he will’ at the moment) are that he ignored all the great and good and identity politics (a.k.a. ‘got to appoint a woman rather than the most meritorious’) and made superb top Court appointments, the results of which are now clear. And, more importantly, Trump has remade the Republican party. He started a movement that is seeing the ‘wets’ primaried and defeated. This new Republican Party that owes much to Trump most definitely does fight the culture wars. In Australian terms, it would be as though the Libs made a concerted effort to get rid of the Matt Keans of the party, those who either can’t be bothered to fight the culture wars or don’t want to because they agree with Labour and the Greens. Boy do we need a bit of the culture warrior ethos here in this country.
When Labour says “the Libs shouldn’t be fighting on divisive culture issues” what they mean is “we have fought on these issues; we’ve won; and we don’t want them re-opened”.
James Allan is the Garrick Professor of Law at Queensland University. This article first appeared in Spectator Australia.