Friday, February 20, 2009

Chris Pyne is a Liberal, after all.

Whenever an MP of the Liberal Party of Australia refers to the party as a "broad church", you know there's disunity in the parliamentary ranks.

Although it is one of the few right-wing Liberal parties in the world, its founding basis (in the 1940s) means it sometimes attracts what is known in Australia as "small-L liberals", ie those that are not really right wing.

Former Prime Minister John Howard recently referred to the party as "centre right" - which is ironic, given he led it on a lurch to the right over his 11-year tenure.

As it happens, Malcolm Turnbull, who is currently warming the leadership seat, is a small-l liberal. In a few bouts of turmoil over the past week, he elevated a couple of colleagues who were of the same ilk, Joe Hockey - now shadow Treasurer - and Chris Pyne. The latter in particular rankled the hard right and conservatives, including Pyne's fellow South Australian and factional opponent Cory Bernardi. Bernardi published a newsletter in which he mentioned that an unnamed Liberal MP once mentioned to him that he could easily have joined the Labor Party instead, but he joined the Liberals because he lived within a Liberal seat.

The nameless one was quickly identified as Pyne, and Bernardi was seen (by Turnbull at least) as fanning the flames of disunity, and was asked to apologise. Of course, what he said was true, and he hadn't named the MP, so Bernardi stood his ground, and for his sins was forced to resign from the front bench.

The point of it all is that, yes the Liberal Party is a broad church. And Labor, too, has left and right - it's easy to call it more right than left. However, in the dichotomous spectrum of Australian politics, Liberal is clearly the party of the conservative/right, and Labor is clearly more the party of the left. If you join the Liberals, you should expect to be working with, and to, a right-wing agenda.

My political sympathies see a stark delineation between left and right. And from that perspective, someone who is out of step with that is simply a quisling. Having said that, it's easy to see that in the wake of the Liberals' electoral defeat, there would inevitably be forces trying to bring the party back from the hard right, and I can't complain about that.

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