The Liberal Party still doesn’t understand democracy

19 12 2007

Speaking at the National Press Club today, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane offered the following as one of the reasons why the Howard Government lost the recent election:

He says WorkChoices united and activated the labour movement and the campaign against WorkChoices created anxiety in the electorate.

He says unions spent $30 million on their own campaign and this gave the Labor Party flexibility in deploying resources.

He says he feels this third force in the campaign is an unhealthy development and that the ACTU should have to set out how the money was spent.

I mean: heaven forbid organisations other than political parties should actually get involved in the political process. Democracy is supposed to be something we’re all permitted to have once every three or four years. Any manifestation of political engagement outside those terms of reference is an “unhealthy development.”

I’ve been listening to Radio National’s excellent series on the history of the Liberal Party in the twentieth century. After Malcolm Fraser’s defeat in 1983 the party began to lurch further to the right (inspired by the success of so-called “New Right” conservative governments in the US and the UK), especially under the leadership of John Howard, as the moderate/social liberals began to find themselves more and more marginalised. Of course, this shift only intensified once the Libs were returned to government in 1996, and in 2005 the then-president of the Young Liberals Alex Hawke–now the Federal member for Mitchell–suggested that there was no room in the party for moderates and that they should instead join the Greens or the Democrats. Along with this rightward shift the Liberals developed a minimalist interpretation of democracy and an intolerance of dissent, both within the party and elsewhere.

Loughnane’s remarks suggest that the Liberals have learned nothing.

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