Lots of pundits have been getting plenty of mileage out of the Australian election, saying the Tories can learn from the unexpected victory of the conservative Liberal party there. Typical of these is Matthew Lynn in the Telegraph:
A centre-right party riddled with factional infighting. A populist opposition leader veering rapidly leftward. A hopeless political mess in which the government seems doomed to defeat. Sound familiar?
It might sound a lot like the UK, but actually that was a description of Australia just before it went to the polls last week in an election that it looked certain the Labor party would win.
And yet, as it happened the Liberal-National coalition – the main centre-right grouping in Australia – pulled off a surprise victory
Lynn’s message is this:
It would be easy to think the far-Left is about to take power, and large parts of the City have surrendered to that view. And yet with a mix of tax cuts, simplification and a commitment to stability, the British centre-right can (if it can get over Brexit) still defeat its Labour opponents – and the Australians have just shown them how.
It’s not so much that I disagree with Lynn’s prescription. It’s rather that (a) the Tories have no hope of delivering it, and (b) I think you can guess what (b) is.
Right-wing commentators (including me) have been telling the Tories to do all this stuff for years, to no avail. Half of their MPs are terrified of even mentioning the idea of cutting taxes because they fear the BBC’s reaction, and the other half of them don’t even want to cut taxes, because they’re CINOs (Conservatives in Name Only). In fact, it’s not even 50-50, it’s more like 20-80, and it’s the 80% who control the party, not the 20%. The idea that the Tories will now suddenly embrace what they’ve fought decades to avoid doing is rather fanciful, to say the least. This applies not just to tax-cutting, but to anything conservative.
Bear in mind that the Australian Liberal party actually has some conservatives in it who have some influence (even if not as much as I’d prefer), whereas the British Conservative Party has very, very few real conservatives in it, and those who are are kept well away from power. As a disguised New Labour party, tax cuts and other conservative measures are just not going to happen, regardless of whatever lessons the Australian Liberals might seem to provide. Occasionally a more right-wing Tory MP will mention the idea of maybe some small tax cuts, and then after a prolonged hissing campaign against it the idea will be quietly shelved.
The other difference between the situations is, of course, Brexit. Nothing like the Brexit betrayal has happened in Australia. Although Malcom Turnbull did sink pretty low at times, nothing remotely comparable to the Tories overturning democracy happened. Nor did the the Liberal-National Coalition ever drop to below 20% in the polls. And no juggernaut party has risen up dramatically in Australia as an alternative party to the Liberals. So you might as well be comparing the situation in two different galaxies.
The Liberals were down, but they were not out. The Tories, however, have been widely seen to be conspiring against the people, and as a result they have been supplanted by a replacement party. The idea that they’ll be fine as long as we can just ‘get over Brexit’ is deluded, and is exactly the sort of thinking that has seen the Tories lose half their vote share in a matter of weeks. That would be like Nixon thinking he’ll be fine as long as he can get over this Watergate hoo-ha.*
So I am not remotely convinced by all these Australian analogies. They might have applied five years ago, but now? Everything’s changed, but the professional commentariat (with the except of a few, like Andrew Lilico) have failed to notice.
*I would have liked to have used Hilary Clinton or some other leftist as an example instead of Nixon, but of course they always do get over their little ‘hiccups’.
Update: So Dominic Raab has now proposed some tax cuts as part of his pointless leadership campaign, but only 1% a year for five years on the basic rate, and he’s ruled out any tax cuts for the higher earners, because the Tories can’t handle being labelled the party for the rich (even though it’s obvious now that the LibDems and Labour are far more so the parties of the rich). It’s as though he’s read Matthew Lynn’s article, but is still too frightened by what north London might say to propose anything that makes a real difference.