One of the great illusions of political analysis in Australia is that the Coalition has a “cunning plan”, a unified and coherent agenda for governing the nation. This is manifested in both left and right variants. On the left, we tend to think that there’s a neo-liberal toolkit just waiting for activation. That was the basis for a lot of Labor’s negative campaigning in the last election.
To be fair, Campbell Newman’s audit/sack double step might have given some weight to this apprehension. But on the other hand, some of the loopy stuff the Newman government has done (and some of its extremism in environmental and ecological vandalism) falls outside the story book. Similarly, the Queensland Premier has restrained some of the impulses in his own party for mass privatisations, an early election and various species of fundamentalist madness. Any LNP or Coalition government has to straddle competing, often irreconcilable impulses in its own base, let alone tack to the centre enough to sustain itself in government.
On the right, there are various modalities of “magical thinking”. Positives about the Coalition are just inverted negatives about Labor, or attempts to shut eyes and ears to whatever phenomenon of reality is distasteful to #boltcommenters and the like.
The Abbott government, it’s fair to say, has got off to a confused and shaky start. That’s not just because it’s a new administration, etc, etc, and it’s certainly not because of the Labor leadership contest, or whatever tired Inside The Beltway nostrum gives the media cover for not actually reporting and analysing stuff.
There are reasons for this.
As Piping Shrike writes in an astute post:
It’s probably overdue to turn attention away from Labor’s convulsions and focus more on the Coalition now that it is in government. But it’s not easy.
The convulsions in Labor over the last three years have left a legacy not only with Labor, but with the Coalition as well. Behind the Rudd-Gillard feud was an institutional one between the reformers and the power brokers, but behind that was a more profound problem that affects both sides of politics: namely how parties, formed in the last century to represent particular groups in society, now adapt to having lost their social bases.
With Labor the problem is more an institutional one as it grapples with the decline of the unions as a social force. It is demonstrated by the eroding influence of the AWU within the party, with its leader flapping around like a fish in front of the cameras telling an uninterested nation why he won’t be contesting a vacancy that doesn’t exist (a wonderfully self-indulgent performance showing once again that Howes has still not kicked the habit of conducting internal Labor affairs in front of the TV cameras).
But this problem affects the Liberals as well. With unions no longer a thing, the point of the non-Labor parties primarily set up to oppose them is lost. While Labor’s is more an institutional problem, for the Liberals it tends to be felt as an ideological one.
The Liberals epitomise the paradox of modern conservatism. While feigning loyalty to traditional institutions, its purpose in opposing organised labour and the role of the state leaves it relying heavily on what it is against – even to the point of undermining the institutions it seeks to protect. This need to oppose is especially the case in Australia where the traditional institutions are weak and generally borrowed in a half-arsed manner from abroad.
We need much more of this sort of analysis. In part we need it because we need to remind ourselves that we – civil society – have power, and that finding the contradictions and fractures in the Coalition “agenda” redresses the power balance against the LNP.
Go read the whole thing.