I love the nuance of the English language, the only language I really feel comfortable writing in. I can speak Italian well enough, and I can struggle along to mostly comprehend (and occasionally actually enjoy) some limited Latin (written of course), but English is the only language in which I feel confident to fully express myself in the written word.
Take the wondrously ambivalent word ‘wither’, as in the heading to this blog. Do I mean it as an adverb to an implied verb, as in ‘Wither goes the Liberal Party?’ (and there I was, taught in grade 4 that adverbs almost always end with ‘ly’), or do I mean it as the verb in the sentence ‘Wither the Liberal Party?’ as some sort of quaint Elizabethan era way of saying ‘Will the Liberal Party wither?’. Wither, in the latter case, would be a rather malevolent question to ask today, after yesterday’s Federal Election defeat.
To be honest, I did not come up with this train of linguistic thought this morning, nor indeed recently. I borrowed the blog heading from the title of an article (which I did not bother reading) written over 30 years ago by some pretentious and self-important git whom I rather disliked. I read the heading then and wondered to myself back then as to which of the two meanings he intended, and then archived my thoughts until this morning.
English language lesson aside, let us turn to sober reflection (I did only have one bottle of red whilst streaming the election coverage on my iMac) on what some aspects of the election results mean for our democracy. The health of our democracy is something that I care deeply about, and I do not really give two hoots about the health of the Liberal Party, except in that it is one of the two main parties whose ongoing competition keeps our democracy healthy.
I do not really know what Sydney is like, as I rarely visit it and do not enjoy such trips. The claustrophobic nature of the city unsettles me. But I do know Melbourne extremely well, and I will focus my observations here.
The Liberals lost many seats last night, including many supposedly rusted on safe seats to what are commonly known as ‘Teal’ independents (ie rich privileged Anglo women with powerful connections). Let’s face it, the Coalition deserved to lose this election for many reasons, and I predicted their defeat at the start of the campaign:
However, the implications for the Liberals in Victoria out of the loss of three key seats has serious implications for the viability of the Liberal Party in Victoria. Those three seats are Kooyong, Higgins, and Goldstein. These seats are usually held by senior or potentially senior Liberals, and rarely by mediocrities.
There is a lot of talk about the loss of those seats meaning a generation of senior Liberals have been wiped out. Personally, I do not think Tim Wilson is any great loss:
However, the loss of those premium blue ribbon seats does have serious implications, as Julie Bishop alluded to during Channel 9’s coverage of the election last night. She said that many of the volunteers and much of the fund raising is done in those seats.
I am an enthusiastic outsider rather than an insider, but what little inside information I have tells me that the situation is far more serious than that. The lion’s share of actual grassroots Liberal Party members who make up the rank and file membership of the party in Victoria live in Kooyong, Higgins and Goldstein.
Sure, there are other seats held by the Liberals, and they do have members in those. But in Kooyong etc, the membership lists number in the thousands, not in the hundreds or (much more likely) dozens in those other outer Eastern and North Eastern suburban seats.
The members in Kooyong etc are of a higher socio-economic status than members elsewhere – they are both posh in background and rich. This means that they can write large cheques as their contributions towards maintaining their half of a health democracy.
It is very early to tell what the implications are, long term. However, without the anchor of a local Federal MP to rally around, morale amongst party members in those electorates is going to deteriorate and many may abandon their commitment to their party. The loss in both people-power and donations will have lasting implications, as it is now accepted wisdom that dislodging a Teal MP will be a difficult process.
The viability of the Coalition as a credible opposition is significantly diminished as a result, and not only because of the decapitation of Josh Freydenburg as a potential leader. The potential loss of thousands of engaged members is far more serious.
And that is a serious problem for the health of our democracy. There needs to be an ability for a strong opposition to hold the government of the day to account. Right now, the opposition looks like needing at least two terms before it can rebuild into a credible alternative government.
The incompetence shown by the Liberal Party, both at an administrative level locally, and at the political level (both in the pathetic nature of the state opposition and in the conduct towards Victoria of the former federal government) in its showing in the federal election in Victoria is something which all responsible citizens are going to have to worry about.
Without a decent opposition, there is a high risk that the new Albanese led government could quickly deteriorate into the unaccountability and arrogance which both the former Rudd-Gilliard-Rudd and Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments did within their first terms, a degree of deterioration only shown in the two previous governments within their third or fourth term.
And that is what is not going to be good for our democracy.