ANY GUTLESS FOOL, knowing they can’t win a lower house seat, can “start a party” by standing in the Senate and rustling preferences to bolster single-digit support, but it takes a special kind of cowardice to do it by deserting a party that six months ago delivered up a six-year term. If Cory Bernardi leaves the Liberals to do just that, he stands to kill off the Liberal Party, the prospects for non-Labor government in Australia and, eventually, himself.
It’s a short post from me this morning: I suspect we will be returning to this theme very soon, and possibly as soon as tonight.
But the apparent putsch by Cory Bernardi to desert the Liberal Party to set up his “Australian Conservatives” party — fortified with cash from mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, if media reports are to be believed — seems set to occur very shortly, and as much as readers know I despair the inability of conservative forces in Australia to get their shit together, this is simply not the way to go about it.
(I emphasise, conservative forces: not whack-job right wing garbage almost exclusively focused on Muslim immigration, abortion, and vilifying homosexuals en route to stopping gay marriage — a measure I don’t support either).
Thanks to the endlessly updating speculation that filled large portions of yesterday’s press, we know Bernardi will likely stand alone if he walks out on the Liberals: the likeliest fellow travellers in any defection — Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz and Queensland MP George Christensen — have both ruled out joining their colleague on the crossbenches, for now at any rate.
Anyone seeking their five minutes in the limelight can try to start a new “party” by running for a Senate berth, armed with the knowledge they could never assemble a majority in a lower house electorate, and using a strategy of preference harvesting to bolster single-digit direct support; we’ve seen it time, and time, and time again.
But it takes a special kind of cowardice to use the money, resources and manpower of another party to secure a fresh six-year Senate term, and then “start a party” by biting the hand that fed you and walking out.
Bernardi, to be clear, is a creature of the Liberal Party, whatever he suggests to the contrary: he has been the president of the SA division, a vice-president federally and, of course, a Senator in SA for some years.
And the idea that walking out on the party that gave him a profile and a career will somehow empower the millions of frustrated voters looking for genuine action on mainstream conservative policies is fatuous, to say the least.
The Liberal Party has its problems — and we have explored them at great length in this column — but nothing a change of leader, a sweeping cleanout of the ranks of its advisers, a few astute preselection changes and some backbone wouldn’t fix.
To make those changes would take great effort, hard work, the making of enemies and the termination of the careers of many vested interests; the reward, however, would be to restore the Liberal Party to its role as the mainstream conduit for conservative sentiment that I passionately believe informs the outlook of a majority of the Australian electorate.
In recent years, this connection between party and base has certainly become strained, to put it most kindly; the present occupant of the federal leadership wears a heavy share of the responsibility, but he is not alone: the risk-averse advisors, the state Liberal Parties filled with deadwood and/or factional hacks, and the perennial desire to offer all things to all people — meaning the party actually ends up pleasing nobody, with the leaching of its support the most tangible consequence — have all played a part.
I note that Bernardi, despite his position on the backbench, has remained largely mute in terms of mass communication where any cogent conservative agenda is concerned; it’s hardly a state secret to advocate for a proper slate of conservative policies in government, and the inevitable conclusion is that no such platform is in the offing.
And it is dubious as to how many of the 50,000 people he has “signed up” will follow him if he walks out on the Liberals: as I noted some time ago, I too signed up — to keep an eye on what Bernardi was up to — and no doubt a fair slab of that 50,000 bloc was doing the same thing.
However, once I published those remarks, the flow of emails from Bernardi’s Conservatives abruptly stopped: a clue, perhaps, that his will be just another maliciously vindictive cult of personality in the Clive Palmer mould, rather than a constructive force for conservatism at all. After all, as I have said repeatedly, I’m typical of the kind of voter Bernardi should be trying to convince if he’s serious.
The headline observation this morning is that with Coalition primary support already splintering off to One Nation, the ALA, the Katter crowd and many others, simply adding another breakaway to the plethora on offer will simply cause more fragmentation — and more preferences to direct to the ALP to “punish” the Liberal Party for not being “conservative enough.”
In turn, Bernardi may prove to have a low degree of support, but it might just be enough to tip the balance against his old party and stop it winning elections. The mishmash of right wing options springing up will never win an election between them, and the kind of people joining them seem determined to stop the Liberal Party from doing so too.
In other words, Bernardi can cripple the Liberal Party, kill off the prospects for non-Labor governance of Australia, and — in the medium term, when all of this proves to have been illusory and histrionic nonsense, destroy his own career as well.
It’s some price to pay for the gutlessness and inability and unwillingness to try to fix the misfiring Liberal Party from within, rather than taking the option of the coward, the cheat, the wrecker.
Let’s see what the day brings, but if anyone thinks this particular conservative advocate is remotely impressed by what Bernardi appears determined to do, they should think again.
I will be back with more comment this evening.