The Last Liberal

For once, my electoral predictions haven’t turned out too badly, so I’ll offer one more before we get back to policy: The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election.

This isn’t a prediction of unending Labor rule, rather an observation that the Liberal and National parties are in such dire straits that they can’t continue as they are. They haven’t got enough support, parliamentary representation or ideas for one party, let alone two.

The obvious option is a merger, but there may be other, more radical realignments in the wings. With no incumbent governments, there’s no real obstacle to a merger, except for entrenched interests in the party machines. But, in many ways, it would be better for the conservatives to start a completely new party, leaving their toxic existing structures to collapse.

I’d welcome this. Governments need to be kept in check. That requires an effective opposition, and a serious prospect of losing office. We’re already feeling the lack of this at the state level.

Update Apparently, Peter Costello agrees.

Further update Some commenters have objected that this is too strong a call to make on the basis of one 53-47 election. But of course that’s only part of it. The picture at the State level is far worse. The conservatives haven’t won a state or territory election this century, and have suffered landslide defeats at the hands of Labor governments, some of which have been mediocre at best. Of course, things could go badly wrong for Rudd or for one of the state governments. But if they don’t, it’s hard to see the Libs getting back in anywhere before the next NSW election due in 2011, and that depends on the most dysfunctional party organisation in the country getting its act together.

85 thoughts on “The Last Liberal

  1. …while there is always the need for elections, just to keep the bastard’s honest so to speak, there is no chance of real debate and therefore no need of a parliament until we get real representation.

    Now the ALP has thrown in it’s lot with the forgetable people, there is no longer any party to represent workers.

    Since the LNP decided to chase everyone with an attenion span of less than 20 seconds there no one left to represent small business, or big business for that matter, ..well no one to admit to it.

    With the demise of the DLP; fundamentalist catholics are all but forgotten, and the more embarrased religions have no voice at all, …except the extreme ones.

    Only the Greens come close to having a constituency;

    One of the dinosaur parties is dead, the other is having it’s last hurrah – or at least I hope so.

    On the day we have 15 parties in Parliament, really debating, really representing someone, then and only then will we be close to a democracy.

  2. I don’t think its a foregone conclusion yet, but I think jq’s suggestion isn’t too unlikely. If the social conservative wing continues to maintain solid control over the federal party, the economically focussed less conservative wing may well rebel at being rendered unelectable for causes they don’t believe in.

    And in most states and now Federally, its hard to see much chance of the Liberals gaining power within one term, or even two, continuing as they are.

  3. “On the day we have 15 parties in Parliament, really debating, really representing someone, then and only then will we be close to a democracy.”

    I wondered at this on election day whilst handing out how-to-votes. Aside from the Liberals, there were several well represented groups advocating progressive change (7 or 8 Your Rights @ Work with their two sided Green or Labor pamphlet, 4 GetUps with an all parties but vote-for-change summary, 2 Greens, 3 or 4 Labor, and 2 BigSwitch on climate change)(and of course a lonely Democrat). We were all using the same lines as we handed out things, and it seemed we were all advocating much the same things. There were the Liberals, and there was everyone else. But I wondered if one day there would be a new political base for the Unions, a unified environmental party, the conservative party for the aging Liberals, a centre right ALP, a frustrated ALP left(out) party, and so on, and that we would all be handing out leaflets for different parties with similar issues, but different degrees of intensity.

    As to the debate about the Liberals making a comeback, it’s hard to see where they will muster the resource base when they are out of power in all states and donations dry up. If they can maintain the illusion that they are the Opposition they will get some airtime. If the real opposition is Greens and progressive groups pushing for stronger action on their issues, then the Libs haven’t a prayer.

  4. Anyone who thinks proportonate representation is a political panacea needs to look at Israel or Switzerland.

    Israel alternated between periods of corruption and stagnation when smaller parties such as Shas used their leverage to get special deals and periods of “Grand coalition” when the two largest parties got together and agreed on common platform of staggering banality.

    Eventually the electorate, in sheer disgust, handed Kadima a political majority which the proceeded to squander on the Lebanon war.

    In Switzerland, the five major parties form a coalition in which all are presented in government, the result is glacial change. Rather than an election meaning one party emerges with a majority, it means one part emerges with 25% of the vote and gets an extra ministry.

  5. Pr Q says:

    Some commenters have objected that this is too strong a call to make on the basis of one 53-47 election. But of course that’s only part of it. The picture at the State level is far worse. The conservatives haven’t won a state or territory election this century, and have suffered landslide defeats at the hands of Labor governments, some of which have been mediocre at best.

    Of course, things could go badly wrong for Rudd or for one of the state governments. But if they don’t, it’s hard to see the Libs getting back in anywhere before the next NSW election due in 2011, and that depends on the most dysfunctional party organisation in the country getting its act together.

    THe 2007 fed election was 52.5-47.5. I called it to within 0.5% so I should know.

    I am amazed at the nonsense talk about this being a “landslide victory” (Tim Lambert). It was a middling victory by post-war standards. Rudd called it a “small” margin.

    I was even more amaxed at the “End of the Liberal Party” meme silliness that was circulating after the last federal election. Does anyone remember the electoral pendulum? It always swings back and forth, especially when the phase of its cycle was all one-sided, as it was in 2007.

    Pr Q left his thesis some wiggle room with the subjunctive “things could go badly wrong for Rudd or for one of the state governments.” On my reckoning the LP have done nothing but come back strongly in all elections both state and federal since Ruddo-mania peaked in early 2008.

    They have won big swings in NT, federal by-elections and now WA. They have also put the knife into the ALP in NSW by opposing electricity privatisation.

    The LP is always going going to be the Natural Party of Opposition in state government due to secular changes in the economy. Community services such as health and education are superior goods. They are also best delivered by political authorities. It is natural to have the ALP – a statist party – administer the expanding state apparatus.

    So there will be a natural pro-ALP electoral bias in state elections. Particularly as the electorate’s geographical density and ethnological diversity increases.

    But the inexorable statist tendency sets up the danger of ALP cronyism and corruption, most evident in NSW but also in WA (Brian Burke). So the LP can always make a decent living off public dissastisfaction with ALP political dis-eases and mis-management.

    The L/NP will continue to survive in more or less its present form at the federal level. This is because its conservative “corporalist” position on cultural identity is tending to become more, not less, popular with the mainstream electorate.

    It may well be that the NP will merge with the LP. But this will be a sign of the relative weakness of the NP due to urbanization (eg QLD). It does not really prove that the LP is getting weaker. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    There are four more state elections to be held before the next NSW election in 2011. THese will be in QLD, SA, TAS and VIC. The ALP is currently dominant in all four jurisdictions.

    Nevertheless I am willing to put $100 down that the L/NP in some shape or form will win one of these electaral contests before the decade is out. A neat merger b/w the partie counts as the Coalition by pretty much the same name. A UAP style implosion counts as a win to the Quiggin thesis.

  6. Certainly, the results since this post favor some combination of pendulum and the deliberate state balance of power thesis. (Another point is that calling snap elections to take advantage of apparently favorable political circumstances is a silly idea).

    Still, I’d point out that, since this post the predicted merger has in fact occurred in Qld, and seems much more likely nationally.

  7. 82. jquiggin Says: September 7th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Still, I’d point out that, since this post the predicted merger has in fact occurred in Qld, and seems much more likely nationally.

    I will certainly pay the merger prediction. But there is less to this psephological reshuffle than meets the eye. There is no way that AUS’s right-wing major party is heading for another UAP meltdown. Not in PrQ’s wildest dreams.

    The AUS political economy, like its general economy, is and remains a locked-down two-horse race. Think Coles-Safeways, Telstra-Optus, the Big Four Banks etc.

    I doubt very much that the ALP would want a complete meltdown of the L/NP. The two parties have a nice cosy duopoly as it is. Why rock the boat?

    A LP-NP merger does not imply a weakened “LP brand” or “the Last Liberal”. Quite the opposite.

    It is more of an aquisition by the LP of the NP. The NP is in secular decline in rural and regional electorates owing to urbanization and uneconomic farming practices. As I read it the NP is losing seats to the LP or INDs.

    Also, the LP’s post-Howard cultural conservatism is much more like the NP’s and in tune with the right-wing social outlook of most regional and rural voters. Not to mention outer-surburbanites who are uninterested or unimpressed by fashionable inner-suburban cultural experiments.

    So a merger, if it happens more generally, will simply be a sympathetic takeover of the NP by the LP.

  8. “The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election”. What a load of rubbish.

    One of the biggest swings against Labour in history, If I was Rudd and I saw a 1/3 of the Australian population gunning for Labour I’d be scared.

    This post should be called can only “Last one term Labour”.

  9. Maybe you should re-read the post, and the recent comments, Tony. The merger between Liberals and Nationals it predicts has already taken place in Queensland, and will almost certainly happen nationally.

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