June 25, 2016 | Graham

Bremain redux a lesson for our political class

Brittania has voted to divorce Europa, and whatever you think of the result, there are lessons for our political class.

One is the strength of the coalition between the liberal middle class and the conservative working class. If you put the Tory party back together again, yet retain the themes of the Brexit campaign under a leader who can enunciate them – independence, self-reliance, local governance, broad democracy, less regulation and free enterprise – then the Corbyn Labor Party will be obliterated at the next election.

Another is the failure of progressivism against progress. Brussels represents the sort of polite future that our own elites would like to usher us into – lots of regulations; one-size fits all, except for minorities who often earn extra entitlements; an edureaucracy; and lots of political correctness and self-censorship.

Britain, if not the inventor of progress, has been one of the main practitioners. It is impossible to imagine the current world without the Magna Carta or the Industrial and Free Enterprise Revolution; or a reluctant King John signing one, and Adam Smith authoring the other.

While the beneficiary of British and Scottish intellectual entrepreneurialism, the European Union also bears as heavily the ancient weight and ancestral bureaucracy of the Roman Empire and the Roman Church. It can hold an empire together, but can it make it live?

The UK has chosen life, even though that may be less secure than the embrace of the continent.

Suddenly Bill Shorten, and to a lesser extent, Malcolm Turnbull, are on the wrong side of the tide. For how long, no one knows, but it should not only affect the outcome of the next election, but the way the parties conduct it.

Turnbull was elected on the presupposition that you win elections from the middle. While this is standard dogma in the departments of politics and peace and conflict studies, it is wrong. And the UK repeats the lecture, yet again.

You can pick up votes across the spectrum, and right and left are only rough descriptors for what is a much more messy reality.

Shorten is scrambling to protect his progressive left flank against the Greens, forgetting the solid, skeptical, working class voters somewhere on his right.

He could win from the centre, because he has the left flank secured, and a large slab of the comfortable middle class as well.

Turnbull can’t win from the centre because the segment of the middle-class loosely and inaccurately characterised as “doctor’s wives”, has deserted him because he has not changed Liberal Party policy on issues like climate change or refugees.

But he can do what Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, John Howard and Tony Abbott were able to do and pull together a coalition of the liberal and conservative middle class with the conservative working class.

This is exactly the same coalition that the Bexiteers put together in Britain. It is the coalition that sustained Margaret Thatcher (and also Ronald Reagan).

It is a powerful coalition because it tends to value experience over theories, which is really to say reality over fantasy. It has a sense of the nation as a distinct entity, and values the common good in ways that can lead to postponing gratification and putting a high premium on the future, allowing it to put up with a bit of incovenience in the present to advance the prospects for the whole.

It is skeptical of those who presume to know best, and wants to control its own destiny. While it shares some narratives, its alliance is more about attitude than common belief.

So it can be persuaded to back things like budget repair. And whatever individuals may think about particular issues they are happy to see them debated openly, giving offence at times. It likes to punish the politically correct.

The coalition can use this decision as a pivot point for the last week of the campaign, enunciate clearly what the Brexiteers stand for and point out that the majority of Australians stand for that as well.

It would neatly sum up the themes that they have been struggling to articulate about the need for a well-managed economy, where everyone pulls their weight without expecting a handout, and where issues such as gay marriage are settled in the most democratic of ways. Where the nation is maintained as a self-governing entity with secure borders and people are trusted to make decisions for themselves.

The theme of the need for economic certainty in the wake of this decision is not sufficient. Indeed, when the markets go back to work on Monday after having thought about it, there is likely to be a bounce in the pound and the stockmarket, banishing the uncertainty argument to the corner.

The real earthquake in the Brexit result isn’t financial, it is democratic and cultural, as a population has reasserted its right to be heard and to be treated as part of a demos. Long live democracy.

Posted by Graham at 2:09 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Thank you for writing this, and sharing this.

    Comment by Jennifer Marohasy — June 25, 2016 @ 3:39 pm

  2. I believe this was a daft idea to begin with. If Britain had issues with Brussels she should have simply said so and begun a campaign of civil disobedience? Imposed her own border control and what have you, given it was immigration and xenophobia that powered the leave vote?

    And to paraphrase, Prime minister in waiting, Boris Johnson, and although trying to sound perfectly reasonable, encapsulated he was simply saying in clipped Eton tones, we will decide who comes to this country and the manner of their arrival!

    Well, it’s said be careful what you wish for! I don’t think the UK will ever be the same?

    I can see an independant Scotland taking herself and her remaining oil and gas reserves with her and remaining in the EU?

    Similarly Northern Island will want to reunite with the South and for the same reason?

    And arguably because a weak leader wasn’t able to stand up against the ultra conservatives on his side of politics? Who one might suggest, was played like a piano?

    If there is a salutary lesson then it has to be, a house divided against itself cannot stand! A patently power hungry Boris Johnson may win the party leadership and the Prime Minister’s mantle? But preside over A UK that is little more than a wengland!

    There were mistakes made, the first being trying to force an outcome with a, I believe, referendum that was little more than moral blackmail designed to force concessions from a position of strength? That worked out well didn’t it?

    Had I been placed in charge of the remain case, the airwaves would have resonated day and night, to the words and music of that song, united we stand and divided we fall, we’ll stand together our backs against the wall, together forever standing tall etc.

    Sadly, this destructive division is what you can expect when raw naked political ambition trumps the national interest!?

    How different it could have been if the economic consequences and the national interest could have been front and centre!? And best served by bipartisan pragmatism!
    Alan B. Goulding

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — June 25, 2016 @ 10:23 pm

  3. I actually think it is a sign of trouble for Aust in the future.

    I don’t see any Western political parties with answers at moment, it will get worse before it gets better.

    All I see is rhetoric from many players.

    Comment by Chris Lewis — June 26, 2016 @ 7:06 pm

  4. I have read many anecdotes by commentators and participants like Boris J that indicate the EU bureaucrats, while generally well intentioned, are deaf to alternative views. This makes “Remain” and it’s associated “reform from the within” a doubtful alternative. If you find yourself in a culture that is elitist and guided by other people’s high minded but unrealistic ambitions, you either submit, leave, or mount a highly disruptive revolution. The longer you wait, the less feasible “leave” becomes. Revolutions seem to elevate the worst of people to power.

    Like our federation of states in Australia, the EU seems to have cancer at its core because the responsibility for much of the service delivery rests with one level of government, but the power resides in another. It is made much worse for the EU by the diversity of cultures and the lack of a true border around the assembly of nations. We raise our children to make decisions and own the consequences, but when it comes to politics, we seem to be incapable of understanding the need to align authority and responsibility.

    The EU will surely fall apart unless they recognise that the objective is worthy, but it will take many generations to achieve it. Those in power are trying to make the timetable fit into their own lifetimes, to the detriment of all.

    Comment by Rick — June 27, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

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