It is disappointing that Malcolm Turnbull appears to be taking part in the same headline-grabbing antics for which he has criticised others. When his efforts to get clean air and run with a political narrative were disrupted by an intervention by Tony Abbott, prime minister Turnbull and his supporters were rightly frustrated and would blame his conservative rival for many of the government’s problems.
Now, by publicly calling on Prime Minister Morrison to bring forward the federal election, and intervening in Liberal Party factional matters, Turnbull is allowing his legacy to become entangled in the same personal bitterness and vitriol he so despised as prime minister. It is an act of woeful hypocrisy.
There is no doubt that the revolving door of prime ministers has caused instability over the past decade. From this instability has flowed policy paralysis, which has led into the federal Liberal Party lacking a reform agenda to rally around.
What the Liberals have to understand is that a cultural narrative is just as important as an economic narrative. A cultural narrative also needs to go beyond wearing a lapel pin.
Turnbull’s key mistake was focussing solely on economic matters, and even there he disappointed.
His reasons for toppling Abbott were solely about an economic message and Newspolls. His signature tax policy was to return a portion of income tax to the states, a good policy to address a serious issue of fiscal imbalance. Yet he disappointed many by ruling it out just a few days later.
But more fundamentally, Turnbull as prime minister was not interested in culture. He once said that he supported protecting religious freedom just as much as he supported same sex marriage, only to flick the issue off to the review for someone else to deal with.
If a leader is purely focussed on economic policy, then who is there to defend religious schools that could soon lose the right to teach their ethos according to their faith? Who will stand up for freedom of speech on campus? Who will stand up for workers once every coal mine in Australia is run out of town? And who will argue for literacy and numeracy in schools, over trendy activism?
It was only after a fierce effort by those that believe in freedom of speech that Turnbull was prepared to put a bill to the Senate to deal with 18C, something his predecessor was unable to do; Turnbull should be credited for this.
But his latest entry into the public consciousness is unhelpful and hinders the party from building the holistic story that can capture the imagination of voters. Voters will support a party with a coherent plan and a vision for the nation’s future.
Many journalists and commentators are running the line that the Liberal Party lost in the Victorian state election because the party was too right wing on issues such as climate and energy policy.
This is wrong. The exact same journalists and commentators were not as forthcoming with an equal analysis of the left of politics after Labor’s defeat at the 2013 federal election, or the defeat of the Labor government in South Australia, both largely based on climate and energy policy.
Mainstream Australians want lower power prices rather than global warming gesturing.
They don’t think it should be illegal to offend somebody. They find identity politics grotesque and anti-ethical to the spirit of egalitarianism and merit-based selection. They want lower taxes for themselves and for their children through lower debt. And they want to celebrate Australia Day, sing Christmas carols at Christmas time, and for their children to receive a first-rate education regardless of the income of their family.
If the Liberal Party can rally behind a united economic and cultural message to sell to voters, without being distracted by former leaders, it will go a long way to winning the next election, whenever that may be.
This article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald