POLITICS: by Damian WyldNews Weekly
Whither the Liberal Party?
, November 28, 2009
The National Civic Council (NCC)'s founder, the late B.A. "Bob" Santamaria (1915-1998), has been both praised as a prophet and condemned as a doomsayer. In light of Australia's current economic and political problems, however, his ideas more than ever deserve revisiting.
This is particularly so in regards to the Liberal Party, of whose woes Mr Santamaria wrote in great detail in the 1980s. One wonders whether he somehow foresaw the Liberal Party's predicament in 2009.
His 1987 book, Australia at the Crossroads
, contained two essays which remain quite insightful in terms of political understanding: "Labor and Liberals: reflections on Australia's political future" (1985) and "The Movement - after forty years" (1984).
In all fairness, he criticised both sides of the political divide without fear or favour. He quoted Kim Beazley Sr's dictum: "When I first went as a young man to the ALP forums, those present were the cream of the working class, while now those there in many cases represented the dregs of the middle class."
But it is Santamaria's consideration of the Liberal Party, its problems and how to address them, that is discussed here, because, as Santamaria himself suggested, "the question which faces those who are sickened by Labor's new model party of schoolteachers, social workers and left-wing lawyers, is whether anything can be done with the Liberal Party".
The Liberal Party - the party of Menzies, of the "forgotten people" and of aspirations like home ownership - had, according to Santamaria "lost both its ideological content and, other than the mere achievement of government, its clarity of purpose. … Nobody can any longer define what the Liberal Party stands for, or even if its stands for anything".
Of the Liberals, said Santamaria, "its own children have abandoned the principles of their fathers".
"As he came to the end of his life, Menzies was prepared more than once to state that the Liberal Party had probably run its course, and that its end was merely delayed rather than ultimately averted, by the election … of Malcolm Fraser", recalled Santamaria, noting that leadership can make or break a party. No doubt this begs for a comparison with John Howard's electoral victory in 1996.
Aside from the perennial lack of leadership or understanding of "the big picture", which followed both Menzies' and Fraser's departures, there had been a singular lack of a vision, according to Santamaria. There was no great ideological difference to distinguish Liberal from Labor.Electoral decimation
Aping the trendy Left, warned Santamaria, was a sure-fire plan for electoral decimation, as "Labor will always be able to outbid those whose Liberalism is utterly different from the Menzies vision, and who affect to believe that the political future lies in smaller doses of feminism, environmentalism and multiculturalism".
Consider that this was written more than 20 years before some Liberals supported registration of same-sex relationships or contemplated "smaller doses" of a carbon emissions trading scheme (a trendy tax on everything for no tangible outcome).
Santamaria also covered the war between Liberal economic "wets" and "dries". While he agreed that, in their stand for smaller government, the "dries" were essentially correct, he pointed out that "[it] is, however, a debate on a purely economic agenda. It does not arouse the passion, excite the heart or move the spirit"; neither is their broader programme realistic.
The "wet" and "dry" tags were also utterly unrepresentative of social beliefs within the Liberal Party, where "wet" and "dry" are often a mere statement of factional or tribal loyalty, rather than of any principles.
The solution for the Liberals was relatively simple, suggested Santamaria, when he noted that "many traditionally Labor voters no longer feel themselves represented by an ALP dominated by teachers, social workers, planners, etc., whose incomes so greatly outstrip their own, and whose promiscuous lifestyles are generally abhorrent to the family-oriented working class".
As they have done on previous occasions (such as the 2001 election), the Liberals can appeal to these naturally conservative, family-based, working-class constituents. Santamaria compared how Britain's Margaret Thatcher and America's Ronald Reagan achieved similar outcomes, stating that a "decisive commitment to the social values of the family [and] the courage and the calculation to risk the ire of the militant feminists and their careerist associates [could] make substantial gains in the working-class electorate which Reagan and Thatcher have made in their respective countries".
In order to achieve this, however, the Liberals, said Santamaria, needed two key elements: "appeal from a credible leader, who is both indispensable and admittedly, at present, invisible" and a comprehensive platform which honoured Menzies' own values, rather than paying lip service to them.
Here he spoke of the need for proper national defence, a realistic foreign policy, a readiness to fight all forms of ideological Leftism in the institutions, support for the traditional family unit, upholding the small unit in agriculture, industry, commerce and administration (while resisting kowtowing to big business and other powerful vested interests), support for religious-based values, and maintaining rigorous educational standards.
These values continue to be upheld today by the National Civic Council, so it is perhaps most telling of all that Santamaria said: "It is interesting to note that the Movement [the NCC] pre-dates the Liberal Party, and it is not impossible that it will out-live it".Damian Wyld is South Australian state president of the National Civic Council.
B.A. Santamaria, Australia at the Crossroads: Reflections of an Outsider
(Melbourne University Press, 1987).