What to do with the Coalition?

Brendan Nelson is proposing a merger:
Federal Liberal leader Brendan Nelson says there is a strong case for the party to merge with the Nationals.

Some National Party members say their support will be dependent on the creation of an entirely new federal party rather than a takeover.

The Nationals are doing their own review of the party's future.

On Sunday Dr Nelson raised the prospect of a merger, and has today told AM the parties have similar aspirations, but he is not rushing into anything.

"I am waiting, as is [Nationals leader] Warren Truss, for John Anderson's review to come forward," he said.

"We also know that there is a push in Queensland and at a state-based level for a merger between the National and the Liberal parties.

"My view is it needs to be federally or nationally led.

"It needs to one that's led by the organisational leadership and executive of our two parties."
One natural result of the 2007 election loss is that the coalition will, hopefully, never be the same again. Both parties suffered not only electoral defeats, but continued an unsustainable decline in support.

Of the two parties, it is the Nationals who are in serious trouble. As I pointed out in April 2007, the National Party is not national, which means that it is only getting votes from 3 of 6 Australian states. Moreover, the National Party managed to procure only 5.5% of the primary vote in the 2007 election, and has been suffering from a declining voter base ever since Pauline Hanson came along and permanently turned 3 out of every 8 National party voters against the party in 1998 (which I examine here).

The Liberals aren't doing well either. The last election saw 36.7% of the primary vote going to the Liberal Party. It's increasingly hard to argue that the Libs are an important political party when voters represent only a little more than one-third of the voting public.

Nelson's solution is to merge the two parties. I don't think that would work.

For starters, the two parties are very different. In essence, the two parties together as a coalition are similar to the US Republican Party, in that there are a mixture of libertarians, free-market lovers, (some) protectionists and (many) social conservatives.

The National Party, though, is the more socially conservative party. Drawing upon its traditional base of rural farmers, there is a natural moral conservatism within them. Moreover, I would also hazard a guess that the Nationals are very firmly planted in the Monarchist camp and wish to keep Queen Liz as our head of state.

The Liberal party is quite different, drawing upon the support of businesses and those from the higher socio-economic end of the spectrum. These supporters are urban and are more likely to support the idea of a Republic (which is obvious considering Malcolm Turnbull's prominence in the party). Moreover, while the party does have a number of social conservatives within it, they are not ascendant... yet.

Having said that, both parties are happy to espouse and practice conservative economic policies, which gives them their link.

I don't think the two parties should merge - the differences will be too great. There needs to be a better way, and that is for a "loosening" of the strings that bind the two together.

The most important step is for the National Party to truly become a national party and place candidates up for election in every seat in Australia. They should do this, even competing with the Liberal Party candidates that are there. Moreover, they can do this by promoting the dual message of economic and social conservatism. The Liberal party, on the other hand, can promoted themselves by being economically conservative and more socially liberal - after all, they are called the "Liberal" party for a reason. Because of their ties, each party would place the other second on the ballot paper, to ensure that one or the other party ends up being supported through the whole preferential process.

Having said all this, I would much rather Australia embrace Demarchy and the benefits that it offers. In the meantime, however, I would suggest that this would be a good way forward for both parties.

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