Here come Coryservatives?


Reports this morning all over the news and social media that over the next twenty four hours – before the first Coalition joint party room meeting of the year on Tuesday morning – one of my favourite Senators, South Australian Cory Bernardi, will announce he’s leaving the Liberal Party and will for the rest of his term sit as a representative of Australian Conservatives, the movement he launched after the lacklustre, only-just 2016 election victory, and which he will probably transform into a proper political party.

I still feel this is a bad idea, just as I did immediately after the election. And for pretty much the same reasons:

1)Australian Conservatives will become yet another minor party on the right, a field that is already crowded with a dozen or so competitors chasing after the same conservative/populist vote. AC (you’re stealing my initials, by the way, Cory) might become one of the bigger ones amongst them, next to One Nation, siphoning even more votes away from the Coalition, but this is an exercise in further splintering the non- and anti-left vote.

2)Australian political scene is essentially a political duopoly of the Liberal and Labor Parties, and no new entrant is going to change that. There will not be an Australian Trump (for better or worse, depending on where you stand politically).

3)If conservatives leave the Liberal Party, they will give the complete control over one of the two major parties to people they see as their enemies and faux-right wingers, i.e. the moderates. I’ve always been a believer that it’s better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside the tend pissing in; you can rarely fix things you want to fix from the outside.

Cory’s move only makes sense if he and his supporters see Australian Conservatives as the Greens of the right – a major political force that might on occasions force the Coalition government to the right by applying pressure and using numbers in the Senate, the same way that the Greens do when Labor is in power. Despite my point number 3, Cory might think that he is more likely to affect the Australian politics in the way he desires from the Senate cross-bench rather than from inside the Liberal party room.

I’m not so sure. This strategy rests on the assumption that AC will enjoy a significant degree of voter support, which will translate into a number of Senators elected at the next election in 2019. In the meantime there will be only Cory, failing (unlikely) other defections from amongst the Coalition Senators or (slightly more likely) from the current Senate cross-bench. So for the next two years Cory will have an insignificant influence on the government legislation (though of course significantly greater than as a government backbencher); and after that, who knows – two years is an eternity in politics. I’m doubtful whether AC can elect enough Senators in 2019 to hold the balance of power in the Senate by themselves or in cooperation with any friendly crossbenchers. As I mentioned before, Cory’s party will be competing against a number of other right-wing parties and is as likely (if at all) to win Senate seats off the Coalition as off the current right-wing backbench. It will be an exercise in slicing, not growing, the pie. In any case, and with the previously repeated proviso about long time in politics, the Coalition might not even be in the government after the 2019 election. It has certainly performed dismally through the beginning of their term.

While I love Cory as a bloke, and understand his frustrations with Turnbull-led Liberal Party, many of which I share, I don’t believe going it alone is a good long-term answer to fixing the mess on the right of Australian politics. This AC at least will not be splitting or merging.