Friday, March 10, 2017

Today by Elle Hardy

Sinners and ’aints
Tony’s back, baby


While Tony Abbott spent the week leaning on taxpayer dollars in a glory tour of Europe, his supporters were boosting his stocks back home.

An untold disaster of a prime minister, Abbott can best be described as a man of bizarre instincts – knighting Prince Philip, bragging that he is the guy with the hot daughters and eating a raw onion (twice). Politically he is kryptonite, his support for a cause generally setting it up for failure. He was the man who led the original campaign to bring down Pauline Hanson, who attacked a man dying of asbestos poisoning, who vowed to take on Vladimir Putin shortly before he became a global conservative icon, who was a “remainer” until deciding he supported Brexit after the vote.

A Bradburyesque political victor with incredible unpopularity, Abbott only ever really had the support of conservative columnists with an overwhelming loathing of Malcolm Turnbull. Abbott’s week on the road will have them saying that he is looking “prime ministerial” and ready to come back to rule over a shitshow of a parliament. Whatever the result, the WA election this weekend will be seen as a harbinger of the chaos to come for conservative politics.

The fact that Abbott and his supporters dare to show their faces again speaks to the extent of the crisis in the Liberal Party. As Norman Abjorensen recently noted, their raison d’être seems to be keeping Labor out of power. They cannot formulate, let alone agree on, any policy because they’re instinctively conservative but philosophically destitute.

Howard and Costello’s age of cosying up to the middle class is over; the Liberal Party’s free market zeal, once used to undermine Rudd and Gillard, is now under siege from the right amid a global nationalistic economic zeitgeist. The Liberals only live to oppose the inevitable: renewable energy, gay marriage, and any form of fiscal policy outside of spending or tax cuts. And now they’re paying the price for their regressive politics, whether it be over housing prices, climate change, penalty rates, Centrelink and pension payments, or the cascading disasters in the energy market.

To many in the Liberal Party, Abbott is a form of Catholic mystic, a Saint Sebastian wearing the arrows. Forever begging forgiveness before asking permission, he retains his stature in spite of continual failure because he has something that almost everyone in the Liberal Party does not. He has pre-politics: a set of strongly held beliefs that form a coherent world view and that speak to something.

The majority of the party room are middle-aged lawyers drifting in the breeze, wanting to do something but unsure of exactly what. They are unsuccessful Turnbulls. The prime minister’s once stratospheric popularity gave them hope beyond electoral success. He offered them hope that they too could muddle along with tepid statements and policy tweaks, bearing timidity and the narcissism of the small difference. Their political id is Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourg prime minister turned European Commission president, who once noted that “we all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it”.

The Liberal Party will tear like tissue in the lead-up to the next election, and it won’t be over policy. It will cleave between those trying to find hope in the mirror and those looking to the martyr on the cross. 

Today’s links

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at


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