I heard John Spender QC speak once. It was July 1989 and the topic was the Tiananmen Square Massacre which had happened weeks earlier. I am not sure whether he was shadow foreign affairs minister at the time, but that was a portfolio which he had held recently.
He impressed me as well-informed, intelligent, articulate, and perhaps, most importantly, highly likeable.
Eight months later, his political career hit a brick wall when he lost his safe Liberal seat to Ted Mack, a popular independent.
A generation later, his daughter, the joyfully named Allegra Spender (Allegra is the Italian word for Cheerful), is standing against a federal Liberal MP in a safe Liberal seat as an Independent.
There are several ironies, nuances, and takeaways from this.
The irony is obvious: the daughter of a 1980s Liberal MP and front bencher (and granddaughter of a Menzies era cabinet minister) has decided to stand as an independent against the party which her father and grandfather represented for many years, particularly given that another independent prematurely ended her father’s political career.
But there is a nuance. Grandfather Sir Percy Spender KC did not enter parliament on the endorsement of the Liberal Party’s predecessor, the UAP (no resemblance to Clive’s current vehicle). He defeated a sitting UAP member as an independent and then was accepted into the UAP (and then Liberal) fold, whilst continuing to assert his affinity for independent action.
So Allegra’s current action in standing as an independent does not really go against the grain in terms of the family history, even though father John came off worse for wear against an independent 32 years ago.
And there is also a takeaway. Amongst us, there are those who are more privileged, powerful and propertied, the posh people who usually vote Liberal and who trust their Liberal party representatives to best serve their interests.
The Spenders have, ever since the future Sir Percy obtained his law degree a hundred years ago, been counted amongst the posh people.
What we are now seeing is that many of the posh people of privilege are now turning against the Liberal Party, an organisation which they have long seen as the vehicle protecting their interests. They cannot bring themselves to support the social democratic (and occasionally democratic socialist) machine which is the Labor Party, as to do so would be tantamount to a peacock demanding that Colonel Sanders extends his menu to include game birds rather than mere poultry.
But they are finding the Liberal Party repulsive to their own sensibilities and interests. There is nothing genteel, subtle, or opera going, about the brutally ruthless and blunt steam roller which is the political machine the Liberal Party has now become. Such directness and tactlessness is vulgar to the posh people.
When the posh people turn against their own party, as is happening at the moment, the result is an existentialist crisis (and not of the Nietzschean variety). The Liberal Party needs the votes and the chequebooks, and perhaps even the physical support, of the posh people in their nominally safe upper middle class seats.
Where that is lacking, there is no amount of support from cashed up bogans in marginal seats which will make up for the loss of the lost soul of the Liberal Party in its heartland.
Bring popcorn, my friends, and beer. Especially beer. The next few weeks will be interesting.