As a member of the Labor Party I feel that to at least some small extent, I can empathise with the frustrations that supporters of the Coalition must be feeling at the moment. After the federal election defeats that hung like rancid albatrosses around Labor’s neck over the course of the last decade, just about everybody had an opinion about what was wrong with the party, and how it needed to be fixed. The majority of the criticisms of the party aired during this time were pretty well on the money, but perhaps only a small proportion of these would have served the purpose of making the federal party actually more likely to win elections. The somewhat antiquated party infrastructure that all the major parties in Australia continue to operate with can indeed be effectively criticised from top to bottom, but the average punter assumes as a given that a political party should have its house in order (roughly) by default. For the most part, they are not interested in the internal workings of the parties they vote for. They are more interested in what a vote for each of these parties respectively means for them, their friends and families, and their local communities.
Now the Coalition has only had one federal election loss in recent history of course, but they certainly have done a good job so far of making sure it proves to be a real doozy for them. The latest largely irrelevant tangent that the media have collapsed on in a frenzy is the prospect of a merger between the Liberal and National Parties. The cause? Another spectacularly ugly public backflip from Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, who only yesterday voiced his support for a potential merger. But within twenty-four hours, he was declaring the idea “nonsense”. With stalwarts like Michelle Grattan now calling for Nelson to stand aside, surely the Opposition Leader needs to give some thoughtful consideration towards doing the right thing by his party and leaping on the nearest available upturned sword.
What has most amused me about this latest talk of mergers has been the attempts by members of Nelson’s front bench to explain what the Coalition stands for. Joe Hockey suggests that Australians want a “clearer, more identifiable” party to represent “liberal conservative” interests. The Chaser could not have expressed it better. I am not sure this somewhat circular argument against the merger from Christopher Pyne has really helped to clarify either:
“The National Party is a conservative party,” said the justice spokesman, Christopher Pyne. “The Liberal Party has always said that we are both liberals and conservatives. We hold both the strains of non-Labor thinking within our party, and merging the Nationals and the Liberals would not be merging two like parties.”
Well, at least Pyne’s first sentence makes sense.