Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Best op-ed of the year

This is as good an op-ed as you will read this year: Dr Robert Dean via the SMH.com.au

The day the sheep sold out the farm
ROBERT DEAN
December 8, 2009

By not backing Malcolm Turnbull, the small ”l” Liberals have betrayed the Menzies dream.

I AM one of the poor bastards who is a liberal Liberal, not a conservative. I’m a lifelong member of the Liberal Party now feeling like I don’t have a party any more. I feel like a child who has been left on the footpath alone because his mother and father had a fight and were so full of each other’s anger and vindictiveness that they stormed off in opposite directions completely oblivious that they had left me standing on the footpath inches from whizzing traffic.

In a real family, before they got too far they would come back and pick me up. But neither side in this dispute is going to do that because, in fact, they never had the slightest bit of affection for the members of the family. The truth is, the members are just there to provide the money and the ego strokes to make some MPs feel more important than they already feel.

The right-wing minority faction who brought the house down rather than not get their own way would not have behaved in such a self-obsessed and selfish way if they gave even a hoot about the party they all professed to love – and my liberal MPs would not have let them do it.

When a child throws a tantrum oblivious of the destruction caused to other family members, you can put it down to immaturity. When adults throw tantrums and vengefully stab other members of the family, we call the police. Where there are no police, we have a choice – we fight back and take away the knife or just move out of home and the neighbourhood and look elsewhere for a family.

I don’t know how many members of the party the warring factions have lost but I would be amazed if the membership does not plummet over the next 12 months.

I am a Menzies progressive Liberal – a liberal, not a conservative. I don’t really know what conservatives are doing in a Liberal Party and why they don’t go and start their own bloody party rather than screwing up my party. Until John Howard took over, I was content with seeing liberal leaders from Menzies to Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Fraser and Peacock. I never for a moment thought my commitment to social progress would be something scorned as leftish weakness.

What is really disappointing is that the Howard conservatives didn’t form a party and peddle their wares; they infiltrated my party and took it over from the inside, leaving me without a party that believes in social progress, save for the Labor Party – which means no party at all because, for liberals, the road to social progress is via individualism, combined with equal opportunity and a safety net, whereas for Labor the road is via collective institutions and central manipulation. The two roads never meet.

But what is worse for Menzies liberals, is that liberal MPs in the Liberal Party – 50 of them, as opposed to 35 conservatives – let it happen. The only thing worse than allowing such a vengeful fracas to occur is to then be too gutless to win it when you have the majority.

The liberals turned out to be just what the tough-skinned conservatives have always said about us – weak and ineffectual. All heart, no stomach. They were herded like sheep by the barking and snarling conservatives – first religious dogma devotee and dull conservative Kevin Andrews jumped (or was told to jump) into the herd, scaring the sheep witless then Minchin and Abbott rounded them up and penned them. Now their bleats can be heard reverberating up and down the corridors of Parliament House. Having caused the chaos, the conservatives now cry ”Unity! Unity!” and the little sheep bleat their acceptance. Next stop the lunch plate.

The liberal sheep were too frightened of Malcolm, their big, grumpy ram leader, to follow him into battle and too scared of Tony and Nick, the nasty sheep dogs, to organise resistance.

Who would have thought that when Andrew Peacock succumbed to Howard, the leader of the conservative pack, he was sowing the seed for the destruction of Menzies’ dream? Howard, dressed up in Menzies garb, set about destroying that dream and now, 12 years later, has got his way.

It doesn’t help when the king sheep, who could have stopped all this, baulked at challenging Big John. Peter Costello took his bat and ball home, dragging his little tail behind him – yet he now throws knives from the sidelines at Turnbull, who did have the courage to step up.

So thanks a bunch, you little sheep. You may survive to be frightened another day, but where does that leave the liberals in the Liberal Party who were relying on you to lead this country to greater tolerance and creativity?

If any of you can count and suddenly realise there are more of you than the sheep dogs, and that an angry sheep can put a bite on a sheep dog’s tendon that will leave it whimpering and scurrying back to its kennel, could you please take back the Liberal Party on behalf of those Menzies designed it to serve?

Until then, we will just stand on the footpath unable to cross the road to the dark side, partyless; wondering how so many could be so gutless in the face of so few.

Here bloody here. I grew up in a labor family. My readings have led me to support a liberal ideology. But until this blight is removed from the party it will never gain my vote. Menzies never called himself a ‘conservative’, yet that is how his party inheritors defend themselves. What an contemptible end to such a fine tradition. Labor under Rudd has scorned liberal views (preferring to lump us in with fundamentalist market economics). Under Abbott we are likewise purveyors of smut and porn. Responsible for their economic success but never credited. Our bywords of individualism and freedom parroted but never enacted.