Almost two years to the day after Tony Abbott faced a leadership spill, after granting Prince Philip a knighthood, parliment has started with a flurry, most notably Cory Bernadi resigning from the Liberal Party to start his own Australian Conservative Party. Bernadi says:
- he aims to provide the many disillusioned conservative voters with “a principled, credible and stable alternative in which they can vest their vote”.
Nick Economou has a good take on the affair, Bernardi exits stage right: mayhem now, obscurity later.
Ecocomou points out that there were 33 right-of-centre parties in the 2016 election, gaining 16.9% of the vote. That’s not counting Nick Xenephon. South Australia with the Greens, Xenephon and Family First all well-established outside the two majors, is probably the worst place to start a new party.
In the last election the LNP, Labor and Xenephon collared 10.5 of the 12 quotas on first preference votes. Hanson-Young took one reasonably comfortably. Bob Day got about 0.4% and scraped in on preferences.
It seems unlikely that anyone would be silly enough to follow him.
At Crikey William Bowe (Poll Bludger) takes a look at the electoral reality of Bernardi’s ‘silent majority’
- Cory Bernardi is no Donald Trump, and he is not going to sweep in a conservative revolution.
Bowe sees Bernadi fighting for the religious conservative scraps, good for the very occasional upper house seat, but precious little else.
- A couple of years ago, an unidentified Liberal MP put it to Sally Neighbour in The Monthly that Bernardi was “a person without any intellect, without any base, and he should really never have risen above the position of branch president”.
Today at least, that’s looking pretty hard to argue with.
He was actually second on the Liberal ticket, according to Economou. Many feel they were voting Liberal rather than for a person, and now feel dudded. His former Liberal colleagues think he now occupies his senate seat under false pretenses, with some justification.
Guy Rundle, also at Crikey, feels Bernardi will be successful. Generally right wing parties are shambolic. He says:
- For though, compared to your bog-standard mainstream senator, Bernardi is a towering toga-wrapped-plaster-statue-in-a-Roman-themed-pizza-restaurant of pomposity, false self-estimation and historical delusion, compared to the rest of the right rabble, he is rationality itself. He knows how to get the numbers, build a movement, rope in a fundraising base. He’s a decent enough speaker, competent enough at TV interviews, and I’m guessing, a little more capable of strategic thinking than, say, Angry Anderson. With five years, and an office on the hill, if he can’t organise a multi-state movement and a South Australian base, I will be surprised.
Rundle feels that in Australia there is a class cleavage running between the progressive-knowledge class and everyone else.
- He [Bernadi], and the rest of the right, will find many people who feel that large-scale immigration has gone far enough; that the obsessions of the progressive-knowledge class are being imposed through their outsize power and presence in media and policy organs; and that they are being relentlessly targeted with statist behavioural engineering around smoking, fast food and a range of other causes.
Much will depend on whether he can find someone with the political and organisational skills that Pauline Hanson seems to have found in James Ashby.
So far Bernadi is known for such things as worrying that same sex marriage will lead to polygamy and bestiality, for climate change denialism, for free trade and small government, and a firm commitment to Judeo-Christion values which tips into an anti-Muslim stance.
I’ll be astonished if Bernadi is the man to rally Australian conservatism. Most see him as working in a small zone of about 5% of the population occupied by the religious right, which is not necessarily fluid, some of it being committed to existing minor parties, and indeed to Labor and the LNP. It remains to be seen whether he can break out and create a broader appeal.
Bernard Keane at Crikey says there is some justification in Bernadi’s contention that the Liberal Party’s values had been “set aside for expedient, self-serving, short-term ends”. However, Bernadi seems to be moving further away from traditional Liberal values.
Ben Eltham at New Matilda is intelligent and perceptive, as usual. Basically Bernadi wants to find a space further to the right of a Liberal Party that has already moved in that direction.