Rather than pander to a loud and privileged elite in teal seats, the Liberal Party must start asking itself what it believes in and seeking support for policies that reflect those beliefs.
If its behaviour in the three days since it lost the 2022 federal election is anything to go by, the Liberal Party is going to spend the next few years asking itself entirely the wrong the questions.
It’s no great mystery why the Liberals lost.
A lacklustre, tired, policyless and visionless, three-term minority government was asking for another three years in office. Absent another “miracle” the Liberals were always going to lose, exactly what the polls had been showing for at least the last two years.
The Liberals’ task was hard enough as it was, and it wasn’t helped by an entirely misconceived campaign.
Normally, presidential-style campaigns are built around leaders who are popular. The Liberals built their campaign around Scott Morrison. His appeal, such as it was, appeared to be along the lines of “I know you don’t like me – but I’m not as bad as the other bloke”.
Never has there been a better demonstration of the truism “oppositions don’t win election, governments lose them”.
There’s precious little evidence the Liberals moving to ‘the centre’ to attract the support of ‘professional woman’ would get the party more votes.
And despite all the myth-making of the progressive media, the Liberals didn’t lose to the Teal independents – they lost to the Labor Party. Even if the Liberals had held all the six seats it looks like the Teals have won from them, the Liberals would not have come close to a majority.
The Liberals losing seats to the Teals certainly bruises a few egos and perturbs the burghers of their well-heeled former heartland, but it doesn’t much change the realpolitik of the electoral equation.
There’s precious little evidence the Liberals moving to “the centre” to attract the support of professional women would get the party more votes.
Leaving aside the issue of how much more to the centre they can go, it’s not clear what sort of promises on for example climate change or integrity the Liberals could make to a Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at a big four accounting firm that haven’t already been made, and made more sincerely, by the ALP, the Greens, and now the Teals.
The world of post-material election promises based on emotion and feelings is a crowded market.
The key point of differentiation they once had against their opponents – as responsible economic managers – the Liberals gave up years ago.
Hence, the question, What is now the Liberal Party?
Which is a question some thoughtful Liberals have been asking for a lot longer that just since Saturday. And they’ve been pondering what exactly has the Liberal Party achieved in eight and a half years in office federally. And they’ve been pondering what would Morrison have done if somehow the Coalition had won a fourth term at the weekend. To that question, many thoughtful Liberals reply “not much”.
The truth is the federal Liberals haven’t known what they stand for since May 2014. That was the month of Tony Abbott’s first budget as prime minister.
When Abbott’s and Joe Hockey’s efforts to end “the age of entitlement” failed, not the least because many Liberal MPs, like most of the population thought, the country’s prosperity was guaranteed into perpetuity, the Liberals lost their sense of purpose.
And they never got it back. Abbott who had won the Coalition 90 seats at the 2013 election, was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015, and the Liberals have spent ever since engulfed in “the climate wars” because they’ve had nothing else to fight about.
Rather than asking itself what it believes in and seeking support for policies that reflect those beliefs, the Liberal Party is reduced to pandering to the enthusiasms of a loud and privileged elite.
The 2022 federal election has already been called the “Realignment” election in the wake in the collapse of support for the major parties.
Whether this trend continues we, of course, can’t know. But another aspect of this realignment of formerly safe, blue-ribbon seats away from the Liberal Party will almost certainly go on.
Morrison as prime minister was in many ways a symptom, not the cause, of what ails the modern-day Liberal Party. A leader of no fixed beliefs for whom everything was merely a problem to be fixed perfectly reflected the attitude of a party unsure of its principles.