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Reclaim Liberalism: The fight against the CPAC populists must be won

by David Cross (Blueprint Institute CEO)

For people who genuinely believe that classical liberalism should be the foundation for good public policy, last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) provided yet more evidence that the major parties have abandoned them.

A sickening, self-congratulatory echo-chamber of illiberal and contradictory populism—the event, and some of the speakers at it, must have had Menzies rolling in his grave.

Gone are the days when conservative titans such as Howard understood the need for the Liberal party to be a ‘broad church’.

Instead, we now have philosophically bankrupt individuals such as Tina McQueen actively rejoicing in moderate liberals losing their seats—wishing a Stalinist purge upon those within the party that dare to be anything other than wannabe One Nation groupies.

You know you have entered the twilight zone when people on the Liberal Party executive genuinely believe that the future of the party lies in abandoning liberalism—calling for mass government intervention in the energy market to protect coal, trampling the individual rights and freedoms of minority groups by using the fight against cancel culture to justify bigotry, turning on the private sector by labelling any public statement a company makes beyond publishing the annual report as ‘woke rubbish’, and proudly embracing anti-intellectualism by labelling scientists, academics and teachers as ‘out of touch’ and ‘not living in the real world’.

The intellectual gymnastics on display would make Simone Biles blush. The very same people who decry attacks on freedom of speech happen to also be the most censorious when it comes to trying to eliminate diversity of thought within a political party.

Combatting climate change, supporting LGBTQIA school students, and giving a voice to first nations people should not be controversial—nor should it be a matter of ‘left’ or ‘right’. Yet if you are a high-profile Liberal who takes such a position, you will quickly be labelled a heretic by those who frequent Sky After Dark—condemned as a ‘bed wetter’ for simply having some form of ideological coherence.

How disappointed John Stuart Mill and Edmund Burke would be to see conservative thought leadership reduced to incoherent bleating about culture wars by hot-winded populists competing against one another to ever-more viciously attack moderate straw men.

The Teal independents reading about CPAC must think Christmas has come early. Seeing supposed Liberal insiders suggest the party should abandon old inner-city strongholds, which it held with massive margins less than two years ago, in favour of a fringe demographic that makes up less than 10% of the electorate makes one wonder if they even want the Liberal Party to be one of government.

Maybe reactionary populists are the ultimate trojan horses—infiltrating the Liberal Party to reduce it to a shell of its former self so that its parliamentary representatives have all the time in the world to preach to the choir on internet talk shows and late-night TV from the comfort of permanent opposition.

No wonder One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and Mark Latham were given a keynote at CPAC—after all, who better to lecture those bastardising liberalism than individuals from a fringe party that only received five percent of the popular vote at the last federal election.

Those in the Liberal Party consuming One Nation’s climate denialism (and other populist aphrodisiacs) should practice what they preach. Go and join Pauline Hanson’s merry band—and leave those who actually subscribe to classical liberalism to get on with the job of helping the synonymous political party reform itself so it can once again contribute to shaping our public policy landscape in a meaningful way.

David Cross is the CEO of Blueprint Institute—an independent think tank that subscribes to classical liberalism. Contact David at: [email protected]

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