Reinventing the Liberals

Issue 

Reinventing the Liberals

The ousting of John Hewson from the Liberal leadership represents more than a shuffling of the pack. Installing the media's "youth ticket" of Alexander Downer and Peter Costello marks a sharp turn to the right of the Liberal Party.

For a decade the Liberal Party has lived in the political shadows cast by Labor, especially in federal politics. Labor's right-wing political trajectory has appropriated many Liberal policies, to the extent that it is now clich‚ to observe that there is little or no difference between the two major parliamentary parties.

Hewson's attempt to paint his party in socially softer colours, in particular his embrace of the gay/lesbian Mardi Gras and his snuggling up to the ethnic community, would serve only to further blur any distinction between Labor and Liberal, both of which see their prime duty as serving the needs of business.

The Liberal Party, unlike Labour, has failed to reinvent itself politically following the end of the post-1945 economic boom. This is reflected in the complexion of the parliamentary party, which is decidedly "moderate", or wet. This may have been of little consequence in the boom years, when the party built by Robert Menzies was viewed by business and others as the "natural" party of government — but not today.

More recently, big business spokespeople have spelled out clearly and directly that Labor is performing well and that the Liberals can no longer assume their automatic political and financial support.

The conservative business association, the Melbourne Club, was more blunt: Hewson had to go.

The election of the Downer/Costello team should be understood as the business dog wagging the Liberal Party tail. To keep the anti-social "reform" process moving, business needs the Liberals to keep pressure on the Labor Party — and through it the labour movement — and to be prepared to replace Labor in government should that be desirable.

Hewson's user-friendly direction ran counter to this and reflected the parliamentarians' desire to warm the seats of the government benches purely by dint of Labor's unpopularity.

But big business doesn't care about the colour scheme worn by any particular party, just as long as it does its bidding.

Despite Downer's protestations to the contrary, the Liberal Party will become more "ideological". Business wants an end to petty parochial politicking — it wants the option of a "Thatcherite" alternative. Dumping Hewson was the first step along that road.

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