Realpolitik #7 – The Conservative Majority

I recently read George Megalogenis’ brilliant Quarterly Essay, entitled Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era. He argues that Australia is fundamentally a centre-left nation, and the Australian Labour Party is its natural party of the majority. Tom Switzer and others argue that Australia is fundamentally a conservative, centre-right nation. Megalogenis, in his Quarterly Essay also highlights an alarming point: across the world, we have seen a return to conservative parties, in varying degrees.

The U.S. midterm elections saw a massive windfall for the Republican Party. In Britain, the Conservative Party won control of government in May, albeit tempered by their coalition agreement with the centrist Liberal Democrats. In Australia, we saw a massive swing against the centre-left Australian Labor Party; the ALP lost 11 seats in the August 2010 election, resulting in a minority government that took 17 days to negotiate. Granted, the ALP still managed to gain control of government, however tenuous that control may be, but the message from voters was clear: you screwed up. In the context of this apparent swing to the right in world politics, I would like to analyse just how conservative (Western) voters are.

When reading opinion pieces, it is important that one’s brain is consciously aware of the ideological views of the writer. Of the two journalists I’ve mentioned, Megalogenis is centre-left and Switzer is centre-right. It is no great surprise, then, that both consider their respective constituencies to be the party of the majority. As a coda, I fell compelled to add that if I were to place myself on the ideological spectrum, I would probably be characterised as centre-left; I believe in the power of the market, but I also believe that a robust government is key to maintaining a healthy and functioning nation.

The evidence is compelling. In the 66 years since the advent of Australia’s two-party system in 1944, the Liberal Party has been in government for 44 of them; that’s a two-thirds majority, for those of us who aren’t mathematically inclined. In the 156 years of the  American two-party system, 88 have been characterised by Republican presidency, for nearly 60 percent. 51 of the 88 years of British two-party government have been run by the Conservative Party, once again nearing 60 percent.

"We WILL stop the chinks - uh, boats."

Small-l liberals will argue that despite left-wing parties occupying government for less time, it is they who have produced the more charismatic and successful leaders, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to JFK to Obama; but for every one of them there is a Margaret Thatcher and a Ronald Reagan. Indeed, in most cases liberal government is characterised by failure; more often than not they find themselves booted after a single electoral cycle. It is the conservative parties who enjoy longer periods in power, such as their monopoly in Australia from 1949 to 1972, or the Tories’ dominance from 1979 to 1997. But numbers do not lie, and to me it is clear that left-wing thought is forever doomed to minority status.

Conservative parties enjoy remarkable political success because fundamentally, people don’t want things to change. This is why, for example, illegal immigration became such an overblown policy message in the Australian election. Australian Opposition leader Tony Abbott focussed unrelentingly on ‘stopping the boats,’ because it intimates to voters that he is concerned with looking after their well-being. But sometimes, policy is more important than politics; leaders should be willing to take criticism if it means doing the right thing. Obama did it with healthcare and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is trying to do it with climate change. Both politicians find themselves faced with a mostly hostile public, aided and abetted by the Murdoch conservative spin conglomerate, News Limited.

Left-wing politicians are forever fighting an uphill battle; they must convey to the masses that sometimes change is a good thing. It can be called upon to cast in harsh relief the flaws of unyielding conservatism, and provides cogent mechanisms to rectify a number of problems. Take for example, America’s highly liberal immigration policy, which provides it with a constant stream of new labour, and more importantly, new ideas. It was under Lyndon Johnson, a Democratic President widely regarded as a failure by political historians, that immigration liberalisation took place. Today, America finds itself accepting more immigrants than the rest of the world combined.

The world finds itself constantly hindered by the conservative majority. Of course, there are pockets where left-wing thought flourishes; the Scandivanian nations serve as a beacon of social democracy. And yet, we find ourselves inexorably being held back by the drag of conservative thought; new social issues such as climate change and gay rights find themselves constantly dragged back by the yoke of conservative politics. This is not to suggest that conservatism is inherently wrong or immoral, but that it suffers from a dangerous lack of foresight and prescience. It is into this breach that liberalism must step, identifying and combating the issues that will afflict both current and future generations if they are to stamp an indelible mark on the pages of history.


About Rage
Australian student with interests in music, film, literature, politics, pop culture and more.

2 Responses to Realpolitik #7 – The Conservative Majority

  1. You better not have been equating Republican to Conservative and Democrat to Liberal, young man.

  2. Rage says:

    The tag ‘liberal’ is a pretty fucking broad one, so I suppose I should’ve made some distinction for my readership of one.

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