LEAKING AN ILLICIT RECORDING to The Age — presumably in an effort to embarrass incoming state President Michael Kroger — has perversely legitimised the mammoth overhaul needed by the Liberal Party’s moribund Victorian division, if not nationally; it is a reflection of sorts on whoever leaked it that they chose to broadcast Kroger talking good sense. Even so, that this occurred at all is symbolic of the deep problems the party faces.
I must confess that I’m unsure just how annoyed to be at what can only be construed as a malicious leak against Michael Kroger from the confines of a Liberal Party membership event, when weighed against a sense of amusement over the fact that whoever did it had the stupidity to divulge material that depicted the new party state President serving up a dose of hard-nosed and long overdue common sense: probably not the image that was meant to be conveyed.
Whichever way you cut it, though, it isn’t a good look, and it neatly underlines just about everything wrong with the Liberal Party in Victoria, its get-square culture of factionalism, and the total ignorance that abounds in some quarters of it around exactly who it is the party ought to be fighting against: Labor and the
Communist Party Greens, not ourselves.
To be honest, the same observations can be made, to varying degrees, of the rest of the state divisions of the party across the country.
I was at a Liberal Party membership function in Bentleigh on Saturday morning that was attended by Kroger and the new state Liberal leader, Matthew Guy, and for a moment when I saw the Fairfax press this morning I thought the recording had been made there; The Age notes, however, that the tape came from another function in Mordialloc, not that it really matters: the points Kroger made at both were virtually identical. And whether some in the party like it or not — or feel aggrieved enough to leak them to an unfriendly newspaper — Kroger is absolutely right.
In sharing this link I urge readers to not only peruse the article from The Age that covers Kroger’s remarks, but to listen to the (obviously) edited version of his comments the newspaper has seen fit to include with it; to me there is not one syllable in what Kroger has been telling membership meetings of the Liberal Party across Victoria for some time now that does not make perfect sense, and any member of the party who objects to the sentiments that he expresses should take a hard look at themselves, and leave.
There are a couple of obvious giveaways that this was an attempt to damage or embarrass Kroger: the fact it was given to the Fairfax press — no friend of the Liberal Party and/or the Right at the best of times — reflects a calculation on the part of whomever did it that their handiwork might explode in Kroger’s face; the phraseology used (the talk of learning from the Greens, being out-campaigned by Labor, being “killed and killed and killed again” by Labor) shows that whilst it did little more than quote Kroger, The Age has done so in such a way as to portray that message in a light that reflects upon the Liberal Party in the poorest way possible.
And it seems a logical conclusion to draw that whoever is responsible comes from that group in the party that is about to be cleaned out of the sinecures and centres of power and influence within it: and frankly, if this is the calibre of their expression of the best interests of the Liberal Party, the sooner they are pushed out and back to mere branch member status the better off the Liberal Party will be.
For the full duration this column has existed (and for many years prior to that, privately, as those who know me would attest) I have been saying that one of the crucial weaknesses the Liberal Party faces is that when it really comes to it, the Labor Party is far better at hard politics than we are: variations of that sentiment are sprinkled throughout the archives of this website.
I don’t see how anyone could take umbrage at Kroger’s assertion that the Liberals are “a party of old people:” one visit to your common-or-garden local Liberal branch meeting is evidence enough of a membership whose average age is pensionable.
His remarks about the recruitment practices of the Greens (aptly citing the methods of Mao Zedong) and being “killed” by Labor might be colourful, but they are exceptional only insofar as they are brutal in their candour: and honesty in self-appraisal and blunt realism in self-evaluation are attributes that have been sorely lacking in the Liberal Party for far too long.
All of this echoes sentiments I have published on Kroger’s return to the Liberal state Presidency, and on the mess generally in which the party finds itself after a state election loss in Victoria, and the prospect of additional pain at the fast-approaching federal election if nothing is done to try to avert it.
The party needs to improve in all areas if it is to generate for itself the sustained electoral success (and the dividends they can deliver to its core constituencies) that is increasingly enjoyed, by and large, by the ALP: in tactics, strategy and communications; in central and local campaigning, and campaign management; in doorknocking, membership recruitment and policy development; in fundraising and central party management; and — as Kroger has highlighted beautifully in the speech that has found its way into the willing arms of the Fairfax press — connecting emotionally with the voters we expect to deliver us into government, and to prosecute both the logical and emotional cases for people to vote for us.
None of this is rocket science, of course, and in the final analysis the worst crime that has been committed here — any malicious intent notwithstanding — is to telegraph to the party’s opponents an itemised list of the things that are now firmly on its agenda for redress.
Still, if the party’s internal discussions are to be made public, then the better it be that those conversations exhibit a healthy dose of good, common sense: the restructure that is soon to commence in Victoria can and should be a model for other states (and, indeed, the party’s federal wing) to follow.
Political parties exist — as I have written many times in this column — for one reason, and one reason only: to win elections, and as useful as the social aspects of party membership might be, they are actually meaningless if the party is not achieving success at the ballot box to deliver on the principles and beliefs its offering is based on (and yes, the party’s suite of policies is also in line for a rethink).
A good start is an end to internecine leaks and silly factional games that ultimately benefit nobody aside from the ALP.
In this regard — and given the vested interests inside the party clearly find such a course distasteful — Kroger is an ideal choice to oversee the demolition of amateurish and self-immolating practices and their replacement with a more professional approach to the business of electoral politics.