Let’s say you’ve recently been hired to earn a living as an opinion piece writer for a newspaper. Let’s really have fun and imagine that you are on the right side of politics. Your readers tend to see the world in small government, strong borders, socially conservative terms. Once in the job you go a bit soft. You start mouthing more than a few ‘moderate’ or left-leaning views in your articles in an attempt to woo readers slightly on the left of centre. Some of your readers feel you’re selling them out by not being the writer you were before you got the new job. Sure, you hold the line on some things, but on others your articles read not all that differently to something one might find on the ABC, or in the Fairfax Press.
What happens next in this hypothetical of mine? Well, let’s suppose that there is a coup and you are defenestrated. Your job is taken away from you and it’s given to someone else – as it happens it is given to someone else who has been not too circumspectly bad-mouthing you behind your back at every opportunity. The new guy then gets your job as the newspaper’s top columnist.
And you know what? The new guy is considerably more left-wing than you ever were. To the extent the new guy produces any right of centre articles at all, without exception they are copies of your earlier articles. He is a lefty (or if you’re charitable then a centre lefty) parading as a right-wing writer.
Okay, we all might assume that this new top columnist will lose an awful lot of readers, people who like their politics unashamedly conservative. (Do I hear a million and a half lost readers anyone?) But here’s the thing. How sensible would it be to defend the new top columnist by pointing to the fact that the guy he defenestrated – the former top dog – wasn’t conservative enough for your liking? Crazy, right? In any head-to-head match-up the former guy not only was more conservative, he actually accomplished more conservative things than the new guy, however much he might have been a bit weak and ‘bending over to the left’ on important issues.
And that brings me back to real life. After the recent and thoroughly enjoyable election of Donald Trump (did I mention that I won $100 on the result, that the ABC coverage was unwatchable, and even the Sky PVO and Kristina Keneally feed was very one-sided?), there is a school of thought that has been criticising Tony Abbott for not being Donald Trump enough. There has been more than one of these sort of critics. They’re running the line that Abbott could have been an Australian Trump but, in effect, he wimped out. He played to the ABC-watching moderates; he bent over backwards to the left on 18C; on higher taxes and more; he got axed because he stopped being Opposition leader Abbott and became ‘please love me’ PM Abbott. That’s the gist of the critique.
Then these ‘wish Tony had been The Donald’ critics go on to opine that it’s now too late for Abbott, but not too late for Turnbull. If Malcolm turns right he can still save his leadership and the Libs.
Well, frankly I think that whole line of argument is bollocks. First off, it’s too hard on Tony. Yes, he was pathetic on 18C, I agree. I think, too, that Abbott showed incredible naivete in thinking it a good idea to bring in a ‘temporary’ tax increase first before the Senate passed any corresponding spending cuts. (Okay, I think it was a mistake to increase taxes at all.) But Tony did some very good things on the boats, on the mining tax, on free trade.
Still, let’s assume the whole blisteringly caustic set of criticisms on Abbott’s days as PM were correct. (I don’t, but let’s just assume it is.) That in no way at all alters the fact that Abbott was replaced by the most left-leaning Liberal leader ever. Abbott may have been dragged over to some left of centre positions; but Turnbull personally agrees with those positions. To the extent Turnbull has produced anything at all, he has produced nothing right of centre that wasn’t already started by Team Abbott.
Conservatives know him to be a phony; they know that if he got a big majority he’d move the party even further to the left; if they are at all like me they will never vote for him for that reason alone.
What we need from the ‘Abbott wasn’t conservative enough for me so I prefer Turnbull’ people of the world is not an account of how Tony failed us.
No, what we need is an account of why it is they think – head to head – that Turnbull is a better choice than Abbott for conservatives who care about all the free speech, smaller government sort of things. Mad about 18C? Me too. But Abbott was miles better than Turnbull on that one. Yes, Tony caved in on something he really believes in. Yet Turnbull has not shown the slightest soupçon of concern for free speech. And hands up anyone out there who doesn’t think, with me, that in the light of the QUT fiasco and the Bill Leak travesty that an Abbott government would have taken on 18C. I think there is no doubt that Abbott would have. If you care about 18C, then a Turnbull government is simply worse on that issue than an Abbott one would have been. That’s now unarguable.
To be blunt, I can’t help thinking that there are more than a few embarrassed conservatives who were sucked into the ABC worldview in which Turnbull was preferable to Abbott and now, after the fact, are looking to offer up some rationales for their support for the insupportable. And there are plenty of these people out there, including more than one of the columnists for the Australian.
I can only speak for myself. The only plausible argument for Turnbull is that he’s better than Shorten. If you blinker your thinking to cover only the election in front of you that’s right.
But in the longer term it’s a bad call. The Liberal party under Malcolm now leans so far left (climate idiocies, no guts on 18C, more taxes on super, caving in to renewables rent-seekers, signing up to the Paris Accord, and being so tone deaf that virtually the entire top echelon insulted Trump before the US election) that unless Turnbull goes we will all need to hold our noses and vote in Shorten in order to give the Liberal Party a chance to cleanse itself.
Drain the swamp, as Mr Trump was wont to say.