The Corner

A Conservative New Conservative in Oz

Conservatives stateside have paid surprisingly little attention to the Australian federal election that takes place tomorrow. In addition to being parochial, that’s short-sighted and politically obtuse. For it looks like — and I wince as I tempt fate in this way — but it looks like being a substantial win for the conservative Liberal-County coalition led by Tony Abbott over a Labour Party led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. How substantial? And does it matter provided the Coalition wins at all? Paul Kelly, editor-at-large of the Australian, argues that it does and sketches how the different political futures flow from different majorities here. Whatever these niceties, however, the lessons that a Coalition victory would hold for American conservatives — especially social conservatives — are important ones, and mainly encouraging.

My take on Abbott is in the Australian edition of the Spectator here. Short version: He’s a good guy. He’s a new conservative (see below) but a conservative new conservative, not an Australian version of a RINO. He had a successful record in several ministerial posts under John Howard, now widely seen as Australia’s greatest prime minister and a strong Abbott backer. He took over a dispirited party facing a confident government three years ago; held the government to an effective draw in the 2010 election; and campaigned very effectively since then against a Labour and media campaign of unrelenting hostility to bring his party to the brink of power. And he did so by adopting policies that were clearly, if moderately, conservative. Tim Montgomerie of the London Times has given a larger list of the ten reasons you should want Abbott to win in his Conservative Home web column here. It’s a MUST READ.

Social conservatives should be especially interested in Abbott. He’s a free-market supporter but he’s far from being a libertarian purist. He’s a pragmatic conservative who believes he can win over traditional Labour constituencies — tradition-minded Asian immigrants, workers in industries that Labour and the Greens disdain, blue-collar workers in general — to support and join the Coalition. He pitches his appeal to them in both cultural terms (patriotism, defense of religious values) and economic ones as well. Thus, in his personal manifesto, published four years ago, Battlelines, he argues (on both moral and demographic grounds) for wage, salary, and welfare arrangements that recognize the social contribution that parents make by having and raising children, that reduce the poverty traps of conventional welfare, and that don’t penalize savers in old age.

In the campaign he promised generous maternity-leave arrangements — the potential costs of which opened up the only real vulnerability in Abbott’s campaign which, fortunately for him, Kevin Rudd and Labour bungled their efforts to exploit. But Abbott knows that he will have to finance these without imposing heavy costs on small businesses and start-ups, without reneging on his promises to cut certain taxes, notably the carbon tax, and without being able to rely, as Labour was, on the fiscal surpluses of Australia’s boom times that now seem to be ending. Those circles are difficult to square,.That’s why Paul Kelly argues that Abbott will need a really substantial majority to carry through his program.

But the prize is a glittering one: a realignment of politics for this generation. Kevin Rudd, a political cross-dresser, has alienated much of his own political base in the last few months by having more changes of ideological color than a chameleon on a tartan kilt. He has probably given Abbott a larger majority than the one he would have won in any event. Whichever it is, an Abbott victory will be good for Australia, good for the U.S., good for the Anglosphere, good for all conservatives, but especially good for social conservatives since it suggests that there are more of them than of libertarians in the broad conservative coalition. We shall see. 


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