Showing posts with label social liberalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social liberalism. Show all posts

Friday, February 20, 2009

social liberalism

Economy still the main game | The Australian
MALCOLM Turnbull hasn't been around that long. He has only been an MP for four and a bit years. Still, he should know what happened 100 years ago.

The year 1909 is as important in Australian conservative politics as 1944, the year Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party.

It was the year social liberalism ceased to be a force in national politics and economics became the dividing line.

It was the year Alfred Deakin folded his liberal Protectionists into the conservative Free Traders. Until then, federal politics had been, in Deakin's phrase, like playing cricket with "three XIs". Since 1909, there have been two teams, Labor and conservative.

Deakin's party had lost its constituency. The Free Traders had lost their leader. A marriage of convenience ensued. Social liberalism has been the unwanted child in the house ever since.

Like all children, social liberalism can be noisy, and it enjoys being the centre of attention. Like children, too, it has a certain appeal. But social liberalism doesn't win elections. Since 1909 they have largely been battles about economic management.

There are those in the modern Liberal Party who have hailed Turnbull's leadership as a victory for social liberals. It may well be, but that doesn't mean the Newspoll ratings have improved. Indeed, Newspoll shows the Liberals have lost their ace: their standing as economic managers. That only happens to conservative parties when catastrophe strikes.

Last August, as Brendan Nelson's leadership entered its dying days, Kevin Rudd turned up on Nine's Today show with some generous advice for his opponents.

"It's a matter for those guys to turn their current soap opera into something else," the Prime Minister said. "It's not a question of personalities; it's a question of policies."

The soap opera has kept running. The current plot line asks, "can corporate raider Malcolm recast the Liberal Party in his own image?"

Turnbull may be arrogant but voters would not care if he had a plan. If voters did not care, neither would his colleagues. Look at the example of that other social Liberal, Jeff Kennett, at elections in 1992 and 1996. They were won on economics.

Rudd has a response to the global financial crisis. It may well be firing all his bullets off at once, as Turnbull says, but he still has a plan.

Turnbull isn't even firing blanks. He's firing duds. Economics is the only thing that matters now. Social liberalism is a luxury.