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Chasing the latte vote

Across the anglosphere, right of centre parties are ignoring their core supporters

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

27 February 2016

9:00 AM

As I write this column Newspoll is showing that the Coalition and Labor are in a 50-50 tie in terms of the two-party preferred vote here in Australia. I wonder how the 54 MPs who defenestrated Mr Abbott are feeling as they read that news. When it’s all about the polls and nothing about core beliefs and principles you’ve got nothing to fall back on when the polls start dropping.

I’m a long-time volunteer for the Libs at elections, handing out bumpf and all the rest. I’ve made it clear since the Abbott coup that I won’t be lifting a finger for them. Now of course it’s possible that a bevy of ABC employees will be happy to take my, and others’, places. Malcolm’s rekindled romance with Gillian Triggs, the higher pay offer to Commonwealth civil servants, the axing of the Bjorn Lomborg Centre, the recent weakening of border protection, the even worse than Abbott line on free speech, the romance with the renewables rent seekers, the flirting with a 50 per cent increase in the GST before succumbing to sanity, the fluffing about finding a table big enough to hold everything you’re putting onto it, all these and more may well inspire ABC employees and other inner city Turnbullians to ditch Labor and vote Liberal. Heck, it may see them handing out Liberal fliers come the election.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe Mr Textor and the geniuses running this Labor-lite regime will be proved wrong and the Libs will need their core conservative voters after all. If so, well, I’m not going to forgive them anytime soon. You?

Think about this in terms of the disconnect between right-of-centre voters and the political party that nominally represents them. And notice that the disease is not restricted to Australia. You see it in the US, indeed it lies at the heart of the Donald Trump phenomenon. You see it too in the UK, where David Cameron’s leadership helped a newish Ukip party take root and scoop up millions and millions and millions of votes last election and that sees the PM there fighting an upcoming referendum on whether to stay in the EU on the opposite side to the preponderance of the party’s core voters.

So why is that? Why do these conservative political parties in Australia, the UK and the US disappoint their core long-time voters so frequently? To start, I think one cause is that they mistake the attitudes on the ABC and other mainstream media outlets (with a few honourable exceptions, most of them owned by one Rupert Murdoch) with those in the community at large. Look, journalists lean left, pretty far to the left in fact. This colours what they think, what they report, what they omit to cover, and whom they like as leaders.

If you doubt that let me just tell you that there are lots of studies in the US looking at law school professors and their donations to the two political parties, which is public information there. Law profs lean left by somewhere between 6:1 and 8:1. In my view, the imbalance would be even higher here (as the US still has a few right-leaning pockets here and there).

And given what an education in journalism consists of these days, does anyone doubt that journalists here are even more left-leaning? Yet all it takes for Coalition MPs to ditch Mr Abbott is a relentless campaign against him by the media class. Okay, that’s not all. Mr Abbott’s vain attempts to mollify these people only made things worse. His embarrassing capitulation to ‘Team Australia’ in the free speech debate over 18C was ridiculed even by those to whom he caved in. (As I’ve said before, where was Team Australia when Mr Abbott needed help?)

So a mistaken view that the chardonnay-sipping inner city brigade’s values and views line-up with the wider public’s is one cause for this disconnect between right-of-centre voters and right-of-centre political parties. If anything that disconnect is stronger in the UK than here. And it’s stronger again in the US.

I detest Donald Trump. But he is purely and simply a creature of the Republicans’ spinelessness in dealing with President Obama. Signing off on ever more spending, reauthorising the Ex-Im Bank, lying about the immigration laws they’d try to enact once elected, many long-time Republican voters are supporting Trump because they don’t believe a word the mainstream Republican politicians tell them. Not a word.

It’s not that much better in the UK. Yes, Mr Cameron won a famous victory in the recent election. But he also presided over near on four million votes leaking to the Ukip party. And he was exceptionally lucky in facing a Labour Opposition leader who makes Bill Shorten look like a cross between George Clooney and Usain Bolt. ‘Weird’ doesn’t come close to describing Ed Miliband. Still, it was a big victory, proving that the ‘move left my son’ strategy can work. Once. Provided you have a Miliband or better still a Corbyn against you. I doubt it can work against a Shorten myself, though all my friends keep telling me Turnbull can’t lose. (I think he can, and will.) The key question in the UK is: what will be left of the Conservative Party after this EU referendum which is going to see something close to internecine warfare?

And then there’s the Liberal Party of Australia. They seem to find it harder to appoint people from their own side to the Bench and other bodies. You get the sense a good many MPs more or less despise their own voters.

Don’t believe me? Consider the recent Mark Steyn tour. Last time he came four or five years ago, when the Libs were in Opposition, I saw Cabinet Ministers and MPs at the Steyn talk in Brisbane. This time? I didn’t see one (though there was one aide-de-camp there who tried to explain away the party’s direction of travel in a way that even he clearly didn’t find convincing). Think about it. The biggest name in conservative columnists probably in the world and Liberal politicians are too embarrassed to attend. No doubt they were afraid he’d call them on their pusillanimous surrender over 18C – which most of them don’t think is a big deal anyways.

Meantime we have a supposedly right-of-centre Prime Minister who won’t appear on any conservative radio show or face an interview from a known righty. He’s relying on the ABC-types to carry him over the hump. That’s the strategy.

We voters can make it clear what we think of that strategy soon enough.

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