I play both good and evil parts… Beware the rise of Young Liberals

While most conservatives have one eye firmly focused on the past, a better conservative will also have an eye looking into the mid- to long-term future.

A good conservative

I endeavour to be a good conservative, but it’s particularly difficult when my side of the political fence has more than its fair share of undesirables.  The Right now seems quite at home with xenophobes, homophobes, and libertarians.  The less said about the ‘Christian Right’, the better.  It wasn’t always the case — many of the great politicians of the past have been conservatives.  There have been things that conservatives got wrong (both factually and morally), but that’s been true of all sides of political debate.

But there is a patina building up on the old conservative pillars.  There’s been such little movement from the sort of conservatives with whom I politically identify that even our dust is collecting dust.  In less than twenty years, we went from being the principled, noble, and — alas — elitist side, to the populist muckrakers of today.

It would be wrong to say that this came out of nowhere.  Even as far back as Menzies, we had unfortunate spates of populism, exemplified in the Communist Party Case.  It’s so out of character that Malcolm Fraser states in his memoir (co-written with Margaret Simons) that Menzies wasn’t really a fan of the dissolution act but had his hand forced by factions in his party.

As bleak as the present situation is, the future looks worse.  In his Quarterly Essay ‘Trivial Pursuit’, George Megalogenis  notes that the current ‘generation of politicians was drawn from a narrower gene pool just as the nation was becoming more diverse’.  He cites John Button’s critique of the ALP ranks, which noted the transition from Hawkes’ socially mixed ministry to Beazley’s mostly homogeneous opposition party of ‘political operators’.  The complex system of factions in the ALP all but necessitates that the future ALP will be an amalgamation coughed up from the stomach lining of the current machine.

The ALP gets a disproportionate amount of criticism about its factions.  The media seems almost obsessed by factional differences between the ALP left, the ALP right, and the various unions, but ignores (often) more significant rifts in the Coalition.  While some might try to suggest that factional splits are historically more problematic for the ALP (the biggest split caused anti-Communists to create their own party), those people would be forgetting that the Liberal Party was created when Menzies burnt the cosmic ratnest, the United Australia Party, to the ground.

Despite attacks on the ALP for being a party of ‘career politicians’, similar accusations could be levelled at the shadow cabinet:

Abbot (Press Secretary for Hewson), Abetz (Australian Liberal Students’ Federation), Brandis (Young Liberals), Hockey (University and State politics), Pyne (Worked for Vanstone, Young Liberals), Robb (Party director, Chief of Staff to Peacock), Turnbull (Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party), Hunt (Adviser to Downer), Morrison (State Party director), Mirabella (Australian Liberal Students’ Federation),  Bilson (Adviser to Kemp).

I couldn’t find any evidence of significant, pre-parliamentary party activity from Bishop, Truss, Scullion, Joyce, Macfarlane,  Johnson, Dutton, Andrews, or Cobb (but it is interesting that National Party politicians are more likely to be in this latter group than the former).

AnonymousLefty makes a good point about why ‘career politicians’ are becoming more prevalent:

It wouldn’t matter how much my views had changed, any youthful indiscretion or internet quote that could be taken out of context and misrepresented, would be, and it wouldn’t matter how transparent the motives and how ultimately irrelevant the attack – it’s the personal smears that get remembered, that stick. I get enough of that abuse as a minor blogger – you can imagine how much would come back to bite me if I ran in an election. [Source: AnonymousLefty]

Which is a shame.  Even though I disagree with him about pretty much everything (including his ability to count and breathe through his nose), he’d stick to his principles (even in the face of all reason and maths).

So it looks like the best place to look for the future of the Liberal Party is with the Young Liberals.

Le sigh.

Out of eleven ‘executive’ Young Liberals, there’s only one female.  If the Liberal Party were serious about improving female representation in the party, this would not be the case.  You can’t tell me that only one female out of eleven is meritorious.  But, no.  It’s important that women don’t feel tokenistic in the Young Liberal sausage-fest.

Speaking of festy, I when I tried to find information about these Young Liberals, it was easier to find comments about Whittney Jago’s appearance than it was to find comments about her ideas (Crikey didn’t do much better: a young woman drinks?!  Quelle horreur!).  That seems to be par for course: one blogger tried to be funny by showing how ‘hot’ the female Young Liberals were (NSFSanity: Contains a picture of a girl reading Ayn Rand).  When Andrew Bolt calls you out for being offensive, you know you’ve crossed a line.

Despite being founded by Robert Menzies — cough, ‘ [W]e are [not] to return to the old and selfish notions of laissez-faire. The functions of the State will be much more than merely keeping the ring within which the competitors will fight. Our social and industrial laws will be increased. There will be more law, not less; more control, not less‘, cough — the Young Liberals seem overwhelmingly libertarian (with more than a slight Randian flavour).

Vice-President Roderick Schneider, for example, appeared on Thursday night’s Hack on Triple J, only to act like a complete buffoon.  You know you’re doing it wrong when even I think Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is the sane party in the debate.  She also won that position by default: Schneider did whatever he could to talk over everybody.

‘Strategic Engagement Chair’, James Patterson advocates privatising the ABC and sings the praises of the Tea Party.

Long story short, the Young Liberals is basically an echo chamber for those with an extraordinary sense of entitlement.  A number of them are older than me, and yet write as if Fightback! had been their wet-nurse.  If these are the sorts of people floating to the top of Young Liberals (and cream isn’t the only thing that floats), old school conservatives are going to be a rare breed.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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