Assorted links

1. This week is the 100th anniversary of the ‘fusion’ of the Protectionists and Free Traders, establishing a forerunner of the Liberal Party and the party system we still have today. It was effectively the end of economic liberalism for 60 years. Charles Richardson has a very good account of what happened in the current issue of Policy.

2. A SMH opinion piece by former WA Premier Geoff Gallop on the merits of federalism. Against the centralisers, he says

Political philosophy and a serious discussion of checks and balances, creativity and innovation and accountability and control are sacrificed on the altar of “efficiency” and “uniformity”.

In well-timed evidence of the merits of federalism, Tasmania’s parliament is going to debate euthanasia legalisation.

3. For Sydney readers not already bored of my views on higher education, I will be giving a seminar on the Gillard reforms at the CIS on 4 June.

12 thoughts on “Assorted links

  1. That’s a very interesting piece by Richardson, particularly the idea that conservatism was very much a sidelined ideology at the turn of the 20th century, rising to the fore (at the expense of liberalism) as a kind of lowest-common-denominator among the anti-socialists.

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  2. The idea of social class being crucial to the parties is interesting. I would have thought the working class would out number everyone else 100 years ago and so would win be default. Unless there were a lot of people who were border line working class who wanted to think they were middle class and therefore aligned with the Free Trade or Protectionist rather than Labor.

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  3. M – Class self-perceptions don’t always match neatly with how sociologists would ascribe class. I wrote about this here.

    Add to this that some working class people have always voted for conservative parties, and that before the 1920s voting was voluntary.

    Charles’ emphasis was on the class background of politicians, who are of course not always typical of the people they represent.

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  4. Andrew, it seems to me that there is room for a Senate based ‘liberal’ party. But as for the lower house, the purity of liberalism might be sacraficed for the need for victory.

    The main problem for ‘liberals’ in my view has always been that they are closer in many ways to urban Labor politics of Keating than to the politics of Menzies or even Howard. The article makes the case well that it is the illiberal caucus pledge and factional ‘dalek’ system that repels the liberals from making Keating Labor the no 1 hero. I really think the CIS could do more to promote Keating as no 1 ‘liberal’ hero don’t you??

    Having said that – I would say on balance ‘liberals’ would get more out of say a Costello Government than the Rudd Government.

    The reason I think liberals have been sidelined is that Australian debates have been dominated by rural interests, regional centres and outer suburbs (often combined into ‘mortgage belt’ or ‘battler’ or working ‘family’ monikers) – so perhaps you are not the only liberal in Carlton but you may be in Tamworth, Penrith or Geelong.

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  5. Hi Andrew – thanks for the plug, & thanks to your commenters. M’s point is interesting, not just for Australia but for other industrialised democracies. In the early 20th century the working class did indeed outnumber everyone else. That’s a major reason why social democratic parties gave up on the idea of revolution; they assumed that once all adult males could vote, they would take power peacefully. And it did seem for a while as if Labor was riding an unstoppable wave – by 1915 they were in power federally & in every state bar Victoria. But the conscription split put paid to that. It & subsequent splits peeled off a conservative, nationalistic layer of the working class, keeping the system competitive. Maybe democracies just have an inbuilt tendency to party equilibrium.

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  6. Maybe democracies just have an inbuilt tendency to party equilibrium.

    Singapore, Japan (to some extent) and post-Aparteid South Africa argue against this – or at least, the show that the time to reach equilibrium may be long!

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  7. Singapore isn’t a democracy. Sth Africa isn’t a developed country. Japan is a good counter-example, though I would argue that their opposition has been a serious threat (and even in power once) so that might just be a quirk of the system soon to be fixed.

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  8. I think there is an in-built tendency towards balance/competition. If a party is too successful it has no enemy to maintain discipline against. Then the internal squabbles, power-plays, personalities cause a fracture.

    Also since you only need 51% of the vote the party purists will push their ideologies up to the point that they start alienating voters. Then they go too far and lose power.

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