I began life as a resident of The Shire and continued as such for my first quarter-century. I was, so far as I was political at all, a supporter of the Liberal Party in early adulthood. I was a religious conservative. I even subscribed to Quadrant, though I would venture to suggest the Quadrant of the 1960s bore small resemblance to the Quadrant of today. I supported, at first, the Vietnam War.
In due course I changed my mind about the Vietnam War, but always felt the extreme left’s take on it was hyperbolic and in its own way bigoted. The treatment of soldiers returning from that war in the early 70s was disgraceful. As I went into my teaching career I began to see through the conservative religion to the pit of absurdity at its heart, leading to a considerable (but useful) period in the wilderness in that regard. I became involved, in a small way, in the Teachers’ Federation and came to see the value and necessity of the trade union movement.
In 1972 I voted for Whitlam. Since then I have tended to favour Labor, the sadly dying Democrats, or The Greens, or, on occasion, Independents.
I have learned much from some left-wing, even Marxist or neo-Marxist, writers without ever being or even wanting to be a Marxist. Like Bruce I read Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies (or some of it), and Orwell, and S I Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action. Take just one quote from Popper:
Liberalism and state-interference are not opposed to each other. On the contrary, any kind of freedom is clearly impossible unless it is guaranteed by the state. A certain amount of state control in education, for instance, is necessary, if the young are to be protected from a neglect which would make them unable to defend their freedom, and the state should see that all education facilities are available to everybody. But too much state control in educational matters is a fatal danger to freedom, since it must lead to indoctrination. As already indicated, the important and difficult question of the limitations of freedom cannot be solved by a cut and dried formula. And the fact that there will always be borderline cases must be welcomed, for without the stimulus of political problems and political struggles of this kind, the citizen’s readiness to fight for their freedom would soon disappear, and with it, their freedom. (Viewed in this light, the alleged clash between freedom and security, that is, a security guaranteed by the state, turns out to be a chimera. For there is no freedom if it is not secured by the state; and conversely, only a state which is controlled by free citizens can offer them any reasonable security at all.)
I have, partly through linguistics and English Studies, taken on since then much from postmodern and postcolonial sources — generally speaking so long as they can write like human beings, which many of them cannot. So my thinking may even be described by some as conservative. It is certainly not terribly profound or original. However, given all the above I found myself increasing alienated by what has in the past decade or two masqueraded as conservatism, a set of increasingly fevered and unreasonable right-wing fetishes starting with the kiss of that spider woman Thatcher — though it has to be said of her that she was a very progressive figure in her day on the subject of global warming, but then she was after all really a scientist.
In 1984-5 I found myself working full time for the then Liberal Party candidate for Sydney, not that I ever voted for him. That was when the Howard career really began with his first stint as leader, stalling soon after, but reviving to take him to power in 1996. I saw at that time the forces at work, viewed from my desk in a Glebe bookshop, or fielded by telephone. I saw, met, spoke to, or at least heard of many of the players at that time. I saw the beginning of the trajectory that has delivered the Liberal Party now in the wilderness. At the centre of it all has been John Howard. (Yes, I had taken time out of teaching.)
That potted background leads to an excellent letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
Liberals must return to tradition of decency, diversity and tolerance
It’s hard to see the Liberal Party re-establishing itself as a credible force without it reconnecting with a significant part of its one-time base: the small-l, compassionate tradition that was for so long such an important part of the party’s make-up, allowing it to operate as a “broad church” of anti-Labor tendencies. They used to call it the Whig tradition.
It was a tendency that recognised an obligation on government to look after those less able to deal with the world than others more fortunate; a tendency that saw people as people, rather than as economic units.
It used to be in the Liberal Party, too, that members were able to vote against their party if it came to a matter of real conscience. It was tolerated, and the party was proud of it as one of the most important distinctions between it and the ALP. It was a key reason for them naming themselves Liberals.
These days, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would do well to have a look at the Liberals for misleading advertising, for liberal they ain’t.
One of the most poisonous trends throughout the Howard era has been the crushing of the small-l tradition in the party with the at-times systematic elimination of MPs and strains through the organisational wing.
Even with a handful of moderates surviving idiosyncratically, they are nothing like the force they were supposed to be in the Menzian Liberal Party. And when they do survive, they are there more often as numbers manipulators than as forces for altruism.
The Howard Liberal Party, fashioned by him and for him by the likes of Michael Kroger and Peter Costello, made people such as Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and Bruce Baird nothing more than an accidental ginger group.
It became, with them, a matter of note when this ginger group took stands against the party and the leader, when it should be something almost normal: an important check and balance within the party.
The Liberals used to be proud that they tolerated dissent. Now, they punish it as vindictively as the ALP, except that vengeance within the Liberals is often behind the back, not up front.
The Liberals’ liberal tendency should be an indispensable component of the party. That’s where the party’s compassion is: its humanity. Without it, they will forever recede into more of an intolerant right-wing rump undeserving of broad support from the electorate.
Paul Ellercamp Gymea
Also from The Shire, you may note.
The worst thing they could do would be to elect Tony Abbott as leader; when I saw him extolling his “people skills” on TV last night I almost fell off my chair!
But the problem with Abbott is deeper than that; in fact he is part of the problem being a product of the rot that set in after 1985. I can’t help thinking Paul Keating was being mischievous in proposing Julie Bishop; let’s face it, he hardly wishes the Liberal Party well. I would also reject Brendan Nelson who has displayed an amazing talent for following all the worst advice he can find, in my opinion.
So that does leave Malcolm Turnbull really… And put Alex Hawke in a cage.
The Liberals used to be proud that they tolerated dissent. Now, they punish it as vindictively as the ALP, except that vengeance within the Liberals is often behind the back, not up front. That is something I hope the current ALP will learn to change…