Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

How #libspill provided a glimpse into Australia’s right wing echo chamber

English: Tony Abbott in 2010.
English: Tony Abbott in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luke Simpkins — the Liberal Party MP who brought on the spill motion to topple the Prime Minister — is from the kookier end of the conservative spectrum where positions are more easily expressed in terms of opposition: he opposes Islam, marriage equality, pricing carbon, &c., &c., &c.

Don Randall — the Liberal Party MP who seconded the motion to topple the Prime Minister — is of a similar political stripe.  It’s hard to find two better examples of the Liberal Party being a natural home for racist, small-minded bumpkins.

It is therefore a surprise to see analyses of the spill motion arguing that this was part of an internecine war between the moderates and the conservatives within the Liberal Party.  This was the conservative end of the party toppling the person they had helped to establish.

Something much more sinister is going on, and it should give us pause to think about what sort of future the Liberal Party might have.

Forget the garbage about ‘Knightmare’: Tony Abbott unilaterally deciding to award a knighthood to Prince Philip.  The vast majority of voters simply didn’t care.  We, by and large, are used to awards going to people who don’t deserve them.  The average Australian is hard pressed to remember who the Australian of the Year is (‘Was it Warney?’), and was too preoccupied with enjoying a public holiday to care much about token gongs.

Two groups of people cared about Knightmare a lot. First, the brokens on Twitter who care about literally everything Abbott does, real or imagined.  These are the people who think Abbott is ‘Prime Minister for Women’ (he’s not), and who create hashtags like ‘#knightmare’.  They obsess over politics like it was a soap opera or football match, basking in the smug glow of cynical savviness.

The second group of people was a surprise and is the group which explains the Spill: the right wing blowhards from News Corp and the think tanks.

Politicians are — it will surprise the reptilian overlord conspiracy theorists to learn — only human.  They filter information like the rest of us: good, sensible people agree with us but the deluded, angry rabble disagree with us.  The people they meet aren’t a real sample from the electorate.  If they were, they would find less than half of the people they meet approve of them.  Luke Simpkins, for example, was returned to Parliament with 49.59% of the first preference vote.  That means one in two people that he meets on the street should be less than thrilled that he’s their representative.  And yet politicians continue to report that they’ve consulted with the electorate and find that — much to their surprise, no doubt — the people they meet approve of their policies wholeheartedly.

So when Simpkins says that he wants to bring the question of leadership to a head in the Party, he’s not saying it because he has any particular insight into the minds and views of his electorate.

He’s saying it because he’s reading News Corp papers and listening to the right wing goon squad, who all cared a lot about the knighthood for Prince Philip.

The giveaway is that the issue is so utterly trivial.  Abbott has been unpopular for months.  Proposed changes to Medicare didn’t bring him down.  Proposed changes to social security — which condemn the under-30s unemployed to six months without any kind of support — didn’t bring him down.  Even asylum seeker policy which has literally resulted in deaths did not bring him down.  What brought him down was backbencher anxiety about the Liberal Party’s usual defenders turning on them.

The Liberal Party isn’t listening to the electorate any more.  It’s a closed bubble through which outside light is refracted and distorted.  You can have all the Marches in Months that you like; the people who actually had the ability to influence Abbott’s policy decisions were people who want to see you all ground under boot.


Why are news proprietors happy to make such enormous losses on newspapers?  Because they can see that it buys them influence.

It’s this perspective that makes sense of the the proposal: why would supporters of the Spill turn to Turnbull — a man the lunar right of the Party hates — to lead?  Because the newspapers think that he would win elections.  Indeed, the idea that the Spill was a result of faction against faction makes utterly no sense if Abbott’s faction is bringing him down to install a member of a rival faction.

Do we want the Liberal Party to stand for nothing but reelection?  Should conservatives be comfortable with the Liberal Party taking a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude towards blocking the Labor Party?  The right wing echo chamber approach — where the blowhards are used as a proxy for an imagined silent majority — is not a sustainable way to maintain power.

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