The recent ‘spill’ in the Australian Liberal-National Party (LNP) resulted in Prime Minister Tony Abbott retaining his job by a vote of 61% of his partyroom. However the spill has cost his government its sense of stability and added to a growing sense that the Australian public is disillusioned with its government.
The problems facing the Australian conservatives are not unique. Elsewhere is the Western world, conservative voters are increasingly voicing their discontent with the political elite which is failing to adequately represent them. You only have to look at the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the Tea Party in the United States and the National Front in France to see that Western conservatism is fracturing. Partly responsible is the mainstream conservative debate’s acceptance of much of the prevailing progressive worldview, where principled opposition has gone unrepresented and is relegated outside the political establishment. Most apparent in Australia is that debate on issues surrounding culture has ceased as mainstream conservatives give up on the ideals of national unity, cohesion and social order.
The Neo-liberal belief in free markets as the guiding force for society has overtaken any such concerns; alienating a whole host of conservatives to outside the mainstream political debate.
In this article I hope to outline the features of this fracture in conservative thought. In my next article I will propose that dissident and mainstream conservatives must unite on several key issues to continue as a cohesive and powerful political force. Edwin Dyga’s “The Future of Australian Conservatism: Mainstream or Sidestream” elucidated three key trends in the conservative sphere of Western politics. These were:
- The continuing ability of centre-right parties to win popular elections
- The groundswell of discontent among conservative or right-leaning voters with their elected government (especially governments with a “conservative” political identity) and these voters willingness to organise independently of the existing political establishment
- The apparent and increasing failure of these dissenters to trust the media commentariat and perhaps even the democratic process itself.
“The most important act for the conservative in the context of Australian politics at the moment, is to take a serious look at what tradition is and what he wants to conserve by way of tradition.”
Whilst I disagree with many points in these articles, it is important to recognize a growing diversity in strands of conservatism, all being ignored by the conservative establishments. This growing sidestream of reactionary or dissident conservatives need to be incorporated into the mainstream political debate. In Australia, the divide between Labor and the Greens has been nothing but unproductive for their electoral chances over the past two decades. Such a divide in the conservative sphere would be equally damaging and to dismiss the sidestream of conservative political debate as unimportant would be a terrific mistake.
David Cameron’s comment that UKIP were “a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” in 2006 has come back to haunt him. Whilst many of the demands of this sidestream are objectionable, most are not. The desire for a healthy and non-racial national identity and a stable and traditional society are normal, but recently sidelined aspects of the conservative disposition. As such, the sidestream of conservatives represents a significant proportion of the electorate that is currently rendered voiceless by pragmatic, moderate conservatives. As such, conservatives would do better without the confused pragmatism of Tony Abbott’s conservatism and the appeasing moderate conservatism of the likes of David Cameron and Malcolm Turnbull.
Sources & Further Reading:
Waleed Aly discussing how Conservatism has developed
Edwin Dyga on the Future of Conservatism
Luke Torrisi on a new brand of reactionary conservatism
The Telegraph reporting on UKIP
The Age stating the Abbot Government is not Conservative
NPR describes the development of the Tea Party Movement