In a nutshell, it’s dogmatism, religionism, stupidity. And a bit of Lord of the Flies savagery.
But first, why is the recent political turmoil so apparently inexplicable to voters, and so hard for journalists to explain as a coherent narrative?
Because the terminology used to discuss politics in Australia is littered with words that have lost any real meaning. People who call themselves conservative are nothing of the kind. People labelled as left-wingers are nowhere close to that.
What does conservatism really mean? In the Burkean tradition, named after 18th century English politician Edmund Burke, conservatism was concerned to preserve customs, practices, and institutions that arose over time and showed no sign of needing to be overturned by the revolutionary, absolutist movements of Burke’s era. Burkean conservatism does not argue against change and reform. Just at a moderate pace, and with careful reflection to prevent removing good policy for bad.
People who want the radical or violent overthrow of an existing order are better called radicals. And that includes many Coalition MPs who would like nothing better than to overturn almost 70 years of what most people regard as political and social ‘progress’. Coalition radicals come in several flavours, the most prominent of which are: Randian libertarians; Christofascists; and reactionaries.
- Randian libertarians, after Ayn Rand’s political prescriptions, want to disestablish the state altogether and replace it with a might-is-right culture in which money and power replace law and order. It is a plutocratic vision favoured by people like Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart, principally because they have the money to be kings and queens under such anarchic arrangements.
- Christofascists are people who conflate Christian ideology with totalitarian practices. It is a term coined by German theologian Dorothee Sölle in the late 1960s or early 1970s and is reflected today in Australian politics by people like Eric Abetz, Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, and Scott Morrison, who argue private conduct must be regulated on moral grounds to criminalize, among other things, homosexuality and same sex marriage, to censor certain types of political and recreational ideas, and to punish poverty as a sin. Another hallmark is enmity to opposition and democratic practice, reflected, for example, in attempts by the Coalition to prevent GetUp from pursuing grassroots advocacy, and to defund the ABC to prevent news coverage while promoting the propaganda aspirations of Coalition sponsor Rupert Murdoch. A final signal trait is ever more intrusive surveillance and ever increasing secret police powers, exemplified in the portfolio of Home Affairs, until recently presided over by Peter Dutton.
- Reactionaries tend to want to return to an idealized past that never really was, by erasing years or decades of reforms. John Howard was probably the most prominent Coalition reactionary, lionizing a 1950s Australia of racist, sexist, chauvinist policies he couldn’t recognize as contemptible and of benefit solely to entitled middle aged white men.
Conservatives, if there any left in the Coalition, are routinely labelled as wets or leftists. The only conservative party worth the description is the Labor Party, which has, since the Hawke era, pursued a path of moderate reforms while maintaining what some would regard as a right-wing economic agenda, often described as neo-liberal.
Left wing politics, in the traditional sense of socialism or communism is almost non-existent in the Australian political landscape, but can be found in parts of the Greens party, and unelected minority fringe groups.
The Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter groupings straddle Christofascism, libertarianism and reactionary politics, not as a matter of belief or commitment, but as appears to them convenient to maintain public profile, and without necessarily understanding the ideas they put forward as their own.
If Australian politics is seen in terms of this more realistic, objective terminology, based on what people do and stand for, rather than what they say they do and stand for, it becomes easier to understand the tensions within the Coalition, and the reasons why Australia’s 30th Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, cannot succeed as PM or in winning the next election.
The first reason is that the ideological civil war in the Liberal Party is not over. The Christofascist extremists in the party, comprised of Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Peter Dutton, and a handful of others, continue to have the powerful support of hate-and-spite-mongers like Alan Jones, Ray Hadlee, Andrew Bolt, Sky News, Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda press, and über-wealthy individuals like Gina Rinehart.
Unelected people, but ego-driven enough, and with the resources to suppose they have the right to meddle in electoral politics all the same. These people overestimate the popularity and rightness of their ideological quest to manipulate naïve and malleable politicians like Abbott, et al. The goal is to turn Australia into a plutocracy, and the Christofascists seem too deluded to recognize that they are merely puppets in that quest. or perhaps they believe they will be handsomely reqraded for betraying the nation.
Yet the plutocrats and Christofascists both overestimate the popularity of the propaganda they try to sell. The upshot is self-destructive, incendiary within the Liberal party, and damaging to the national polity. Why is it so damaging? Because it is driven by a dogmatic, ideological zeal so akin to religious feuding that it ought to remind everyone why Western democracies chose secularism: to exclude the spite, hatred, and destructiveness inevitable in dogmatic, religious rivalry. There will never be compromise or resolution. Hatreds are never buried or forgotten. The war continues forever.
Morrison frustrated the plans of the Christofascist clique to install their proxy, Peter Dutton, and despite Morrison’s outstanding Christofascist credentials, he is not seen by them as ‘one of us’. In fact, instead he is seen as the man who derailed the coup against Turnbull, making Morrison the new enemy in a civil war in the Liberal Party that has moved on from the Abbott-Turnbull generation to the Turnbull protégé vs Abbott protégé generation–a dynastic war, like the murderous, savage, religious 30 Years War in Europe that halved its population, and that led to the recognition that religious or dogmatic zeal must be removed from public affairs to avoid self-destruction.
It is difficult to see how Morrison could defuse this conflict, even with the kind of abject surrender to absolutist demands that made of Turnbull a man with no visible principles, and yet still despised by the extremists in the party.
The second reason Morrison cannot succeed is somewhat related, but in a category all of its own. Morrison has demonstrated a temperament and predilection for clinging doggedly to irrational, unpopular, ideological policy positions that have divided Australian voters rather than found a compromising middle ground. He has always chosen to favour wealth and power over the middle Australia Menzies appealed to, and that John Howard tried to cultivate.
It is easy to discover the cause for such uncompromising dogmatism: in Morrison’s commitment to one of the more extreme, imported Christian cults–the Pentecostals. A principally American sect, the Pentecostals respect ‘speaking in tongues’ as god’s work rather than as attention-seeking narcissism or hysteria, and favour an Old Testament conception of a capricious, cruel, vengeful deity bent on malice, destruction, and punishment.
That focus appears to be reflected in Morrison’s lack of any kind of charity or mercy towards asylum seekers, Australia’s poorest and most powerless citizens, and his preference for punitive approaches to regulating those who cannot fight back.
It is a religionist conception of virtue bestowed solely by money and influence, and of sin as inevitably linked to poverty and lack of influence. This is an absurdly irrational conception that is not widely supported among a majority of Australia’s faithful, and certainly not by the very substantial minority with no religious beliefs.
Both the moderate believers and those without religious beliefs are likely to be put off by Morrison’s statement that Australia is not, and should not be, a secular state, and that religious freedom needs to be defended against the law of the land. Right-thinking Australians might counter that it is precisely the savagery visible in the Liberal Party’s civil war that is a hallmark of exempting religious zeal from standards of human decency and civilized laws. Right-thinking Australians might also counter Morrison to argue that rather than protecting religious freedoms, Australians need protection of their freedoms from religion.
The third and final reason Morrison cannot succeed as Prime Minister, or in the coming election, is that he’s not very bright. In the sense that he’s smug about being ignorant, and apparently comfortable saying and doing really stupid things. Remember that lump of coal he wielded in Parliament? Remember the really obvious lies he told about crimes committed against asylum seekers?
Ideological or religious zeal, ignorance, and stupidity are not qualities Australian voters look for in their leaders. Particularly not if they come wrapped in the guarantee of further internecine infighting within the Liberal Party.
Add that to the fact Morrison was always less popular in the opinion polls than an already unpopular Malcolm Turnbull, and it begins to look like Morrison was a better choice than Dutton solely because the Liberal Party is so unhealthily extremist that even a Christofascist like Morrison is now described by some in his own party as a left-winger!
It is irresistible to conclude that the say-and-do-nothing ALP of Bill Shorten is the only real conservative party in Australia, for seeking to preserve rather than destroy, while the Liberal National Coalition is a Lord of the Flies collective of destructive savages seeking to dismantle democracy, destroy the culture of progress, and roll back all evidence of civilizing, civilized customs and practices.