2007-11-30

The Liberal Party is not history

From the department of even-I-know-that-making -wild-predictions-can-be-silly:
So what will be the new polarity in future elections? It's the ecology, stupid. The Greens will emerge as the new opposition, though this will take probably two election cycles. By the 2010 election, 20 per cent will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children's tomorrow. The Liberal Party will be lucky to attract 30 per cent, which is the habitual, rusted-on portion of the community that thinks greed is good.

By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right - Labor and Green - and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.

Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.

The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade - superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won't be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die.
This article was written by Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph. Having a psychologist wax lyrical about politics may sound a bit silly, but then, if you're reading my blog you can accept that ordinary people can have opinions on things (even if they're crazy).

Biddulph's article has been dissected slightly by both Byron and Dave who make note of Biddulph's mention of Peak Oil and Global Warming. Of course I agree with all three (Byron, Dave and Steve) yet I can't help but feel a little concerned about Biddulph's very specific prophecies. He states, for example, that 20% of voters in 2010 will vote Green, that the Liberal Party will struggle to get 30% of the vote and that a new political order will eventually exist between a left-of-centre Labor party and the leftist Greens.

Biddulph is correct in that there will be a movement towards the left - but this is not so much due to economics or the environment but simply socio-historical factors. All nations around the world have swung towards the left and to the right since the industrial revolution and the birth of modern democracy. Australia has gone through a conservative phase and is now due to go through a progressive one. Eventually we will move back towards conservatism. Other nations, like the US, Britain and Europe, go through the same process, although there will often be a disconnect between when nations do this. The US, for example, is becoming progressive while France, for example, is becoming more conservative.

The problem with Australia's experience with conservatism is that, economically, it has been quite successful. Take out the problems with Workchoices and housing market overheating caused by Negative Gearing & the First Homebuyers grant, and you will find that the handling of the economy by the Coalition government was probably the best in the entire world. At no point during the Coalition's reign did a recession hit (even though the world went through two major economic crises in 1997 and 2001), government spending was reduced (but not enough to hurt badly) and average income rose (without sacrificing median income - until workchoices hit that is). Moreover - and I will say this until I am blue in the face - Australia's public debt is now effectively zero, a unique accomplishment in the industrialised world, and not dependent upon government owned oil companies (as is the case with Norway). While Biddulph is correct when he laments over the lost years of not investing in things like education, health care and public transport, the fact is that any move towards these sorts of things under the new ALP government is more likely to be economically sustainable.

(I need to point out that although the Coalition managed to pay off public debt, the debt which had accrued under the Hawke and Keating government was much less than what people realise. At its peak, public debt in Australia reached the equivalent of 20% of GDP, which is quite mild compared to places like America, currently at 40% of GDP, and Italy, currently at 100% of GDP. It's facts like this that make me trust the ALP fiscally since they didn't mess up as badly as the Liberal party would like us to believe. A friend of mine, a former young Liberal, told me in all earnestness that Australia in 1996 was on the verge of begging help from the IMF, such was the problem with public debt. In hindsight, that sort of belief was very much incorrect.)

So while the Howard government and the Liberal party have been thrown out of office for everything but economics - and deservedly so I might add - the underlying belief will be that, if Australia faces an economic crisis, the Liberal party will be popularly seen as being good stewards of the economy. That will be enough to keep the Liberal party in people's minds for some time to come.

Of course, much depends upon what happens over the next few years as to whether the Liberal Party's public perception is altered, and whether or not the ALP and the Greens will become more popular. So far, global warming has not made any massive changes yet. While we hear of Greenland melting, we have yet to actually see any form of sea level rise. That may come suddenly or it may come in many years. There's no doubt that if Australia suffers economically and socially as a result of global warming then the Liberal Party will lose out terribly, since it was they who refused to do anything solid about it in their eleven years in government. If things keep going the way they are over the next three years, with greater public acceptance of global warming influencing government policy, then we can expect quite a few more votes going towards the Greens, but nothing like the 20% that Biddulph predicts. As I pointed out the other day, the Greens would be lucky to get beyond 9% of the vote in 2010, all things being equal of course.

But what about Peak Oil? Will the reputation of the Liberal Party suffer because of the effects of reduced oil supplies and higher petrol prices? I doubt it. Despite government inaction, Australia is one of the few nations lucky enough to be well suited for the Peak. With an agricultural surplus and vast coal reserves, Australia stands to gain much economically during the coming crisis. Moreover, the economic conditions that have prospered under the coalition government will respond well to increased overseas exports.

So while Biddulph is correct in his assumption that Peak Oil and Global Warming will affect Australian politics quite strongly for years to come, I don't think we can assume that the Liberal Party will simply disappear of the map, and nor can we assume that the Greens will be able to capture the mainstream vote.

Of course, I could quite easily be wrong and Biddulph could quite easily be right if a sudden global environmental disaster - such as the melting of Greenland's ice sheets - occurs within the next few years. I fully expect some level of crisis occurring within the next 20 years, but there is no way to find out which is more likely.

2 comments:

Dave Lankshear said...

So while the Howard government and the Liberal party have been thrown out of office for everything but economics - and deservedly so I might add - the underlying belief will be that, if Australia faces an economic crisis, the Liberal party will be popularly seen as being good stewards of the economy. That will be enough to keep the Liberal party in people's minds for some time to come.

This really annoys me. Peak oil should really start to hurt soon, and it will be under a Labor government but not because of Labor. Labor will cop all the blame, because that old Liberal government fear campaign cliche will kick in. Warning Will Robinson.... Labor = high interest rates!

I guess I'm not into predicting percentages the way Biddulph is, but I came to a similar conclusion before reading his article. The challenges coming to society are so huge that the old economic labels and paradigms behind them will disappear. It may well be that the party we now call the "Liberal party" will survive, but it's agendas could be so changed that it is the same party in name only, a semantic game.

It's not just an oil crisis, but a lead crisis, a copper crisis, an aluminum crisis... so many things we take for granted will peak and decline. And after peak all the same rules apply... going from the high density good stuff to the low quantity poor quality stuff. The good stuff always gets used first in mining. Of course the difference between metals and oil is that metals can be recycled... but the whole society is geared for growth.

Then there is the ecological crisis with Hormone Disruptor's loose in the environment with a whole host of other nasty chemicals and toxins finding their way up the global food chain. Then there's topsoil loss, freshwater loss, and on it goes. It's not just Global Warming... it's "peak everything" remember?

How economies adjust to the post-growth era when a stable population and consumption paradigm are required is anyone's guess... as are the policies our parties will be running on as this "convergence of crisis*" unfolds. (Term from the 11th hour.)

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