In the wake of the federal election, we asked Steve McAlpine and Tim Patrick to offers some complementary reflections from different sides of the political fence.
Sometime soon The Handmaid’s Tale will switch from being a piece of fiction to a documentary.
At least that’s what we are led to believe after the surprise re-election of the Coalition. Progressives await a conservative zombie apocalypse in which religion is enforced and abortion banned. Which is ironic, because until Saturday many conservatives were stocking up on beans and spam waiting for the progressive undead to stagger into a street—and a Christian school—near you.
Until Saturday many conservatives were stocking up on beans and spam waiting for the progressive undead to stagger into a street—and a Christian school—near you.
But now? Progressive hand-wringing, and a lament about “greed and bigotry winning.” Many a drunken Saturday night tweet suffered the Sunday morning walk of shame. True believers lick wounds, shake fists, and dream of escaping to New Zealand.
Meanwhile the frantic sandbagging by Christian organisations to stem the cultural tide has let-up—for the time being at least. As a board member of a faith-based school, my year suddenly looks quieter.
But I am less interested in short term political peaks and troughs as in long term cultural trends. This election was more economic speed hump than philosophical U-turn. All the indicators say the cultural future is left-leaning. This came home to me when I was in Sydney leading up to the election. In the inner city seat of Wentworth, the face of Liberal candidate, David Sharma was everywhere. And beneath his face these words: “A modern Liberal.” Just as “Make America Great” is a slogan, while “Make America Great Again” is a story, “A modern Liberal” is a story in a way that “A Liberal” is not. A “modern” Liberal is at ease with progressive social change, insofar as it can bring an increasingly well-heeled electorate along with it.
A “modern” Liberal is not fazed by sexual diversity or calls for greater—and more radical—action on the climate. A “modern” Liberal knows that by the time the Boomers are no longer on the scene the average city voter will be embarrassed by so-called “non-modern “values. A modern Liberal is the future, in the way that a Tony Abbot Liberal is already the past. Which simply means that at some stage the Liberals will be able to quietly drop the word “modern” and go back to plain old garden variety “Liberal”, as progressive social ideas trickle further into mainstream culture.
This will be disputed by many who believe the ALP overplayed its progressive hand. When Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said he would make it “a priority” to remove religious exemptions for faith-based organisations, it caused major concern. But exemptions will be removed eventually, and maybe not by the party you think. For this is not so much a contest between religion and secularism, but between old religion and new religion. Progressive language is religiously charged, with a white-hot evangelistic zeal. The progressive battle is not against conservatism, but against evil. This meant two things in regard to last week’s poll:
First progressives are truly mystified that “silent Australia” voted for economic self-interest rather than for moral altruism. After all, the same Queensland which voted “Yes” to same-sex marriage voted “No” to the ALP’s climate change policy. How can this be?
And second, it means progressives will now double down. The loss on Saturday confirms progressive thinking by its very fact. It’s part of the wider narrative that losses will be incurred, but that “we will overcome.” Compromise on such matters is apostasy.
Yet for many traditional Labor voters living under financial pressure, sometimes it’s better the devil you know. Many a rusted-on ALP supporter went with the Coalition because progressivism was a luxury item they could ill afford. Conservative policies were bread and butter. Progressive politics were chocolate and cheese. No one wants to reach the checkout with a trolley full of groceries and a maxed out credit card.
Conservative policies were bread and butter. Progressive politics were chocolate and cheese. No one wants to reach the checkout with a trolley full of groceries and a maxed out credit card.
We’ve lived in hard-scrabble suburbs. No mum at the school gate ever angsted over the paltry five percent of company CEOs who are women. Dressed in their Coles, Woolies or Target uniforms, they were supremely confident they received the same lousy hourly rate as their male counterparts. Yet the union movement, though it promised penalty rate increases, was hamstrung with the progressive ALP platform that threatened the jobs themselves. Something had to give.
Editor of First Things, R.R Reno observes that “the poor” are no longer part of the diversity agenda of the Left. They used to be. Now well-educated progressives scorn the barely-educated poor and their gauche taste in clothes, music and holiday destinations. Sam Harris, a considered atheist tweeted something similar this week:
A paradox for our time: the far Left is disproportionately white, wealthy and well-educated. So extreme “wokeness” is now one of the most glaring symptoms of “white privilege”.
Of course, conservatives can be all those things and more, but I believe that in the wash-up of this election, progressive politics will not—due to the moral universe it inhabits—soften its social policies for the sake of its traditional economically-stretched voter base. Somewhere in the future the economy will improve to the point that voters will once again feel confident to grab a loaf of bread, a tub of Meadow Lea, and then wander down the chocolate aisle to see what’s on special.
More and more I find myself uncomfortable with both the concept and the reality of a growing left-right political division. I don’t like the conflation of issues nor the polarisation that this way of thinking creates. Both major parties have polices that I like and policies that I could never condone.
In fact, it is because of that that I currently find myself unable to vote for either Labor or the Coalition, nor for any party further to the left or right of them. Consequently, I sometimes find myself wishing that our options for government were not just blue or red, but that the palette had a bit more variety. In last Saturday’s election, it seems that the wider electorate, and even some of the parties, agree.
Take, for example, the Sydney seat of Warringah. Historically, this has been a very secure blue seat, but in this election it got tinted with green and ended up becoming turquoise. Zali Steggall campaigned on a largely conservative platform, but went hard to the left on environmental issues—and the voters loved it. To be sure, there were other things going on here too, not least of which was the symbolic unseating of a now-unpopular former prime minister.
But nonetheless, the electorate showed that many well-heeled conservatives now want the environment at the top of the agenda. Interestingly, there might be a parallel here with Kevin Rudd’s victory in 2007. As has been noted by the commentators over the past few days, his pitch to the nation then was that he was basically a younger John Howard, but one who would ratify the Kyoto protocol. That is, he banked on Australians—even Labor voters—being quite open to conservatism leavened with a commitment to the environment.
Moving to Queensland and the story was quite different. There we saw a spectacular failure of Labor’s positioning itself much further to the left than its traditional base. The mixture of red and green made brown, and this was not attractive for many voters. Instead, the purple seats skewed blue.
The primary explanation for this seems to have been jobs and financial security. While white-collared Sydney siders might feel great about their conservatives championing the environment, blue-collar labourers up north are not as excited about the possibility of losing big mining projects nor of having their retirement funds damaged. (Ironically, as someone tweeted out earlier in the week, this means that Labor lost the working class by catering to the concerns of inner-city dwellers, while the Liberals focussed on regional employment.)
I am a believer in the state redistributing wealth, and have very deep environmental concerns, but I simply cannot endorse some of the more extreme views on issues like gender or so-called ‘hate speech’ that could penalise Christians for expressing their disagreement with mainstream thinking.
I wonder, however, if there was something else going on in both Warringah and Queensland, and perhaps even in other places too. I wonder if one reason that people did not want to vote Labor was because of Bill Shorten’s overly large step to the left on social policy.
Personally, even though some of my friends think I’m a little more left than some other Christians, this is what ruled Labor out for me. I am a believer in the state redistributing wealth (under certain circumstances and up to a point), and I have very deep environmental concerns, but I simply cannot endorse some of the more extreme views on issues like gender or so-called ‘hate speech’ that could penalise Christians for expressing their disagreement with mainstream thinking.
And could it be similar concerns that saw some non-Liberal voting Queenslanders turn to One Nation or United Australia rather than to Labor? If that is right, it might mean that this election has shown that our country has not moved quite as far to the left as its pop culture would suggest. There may be far more shy Tories among us than we thought.
Or at least, is might be that many of us have not swallowed the entire package-deal of the left without discernment. Maybe as a nation we have a growing taste for the environment—so long as pursuing green policies will not damage our financial position—but we have not yet chewed enough on some of the more radically progressive social ideas to prevent those from getting stuck in our throats.
A subsequent reflection I have had about this election concerns our Christian witness. There are two parts to it. First is that we should not underestimate the significance of Scott Morrison almost single-handedly delivering such a strong result for his party. Scomo is, after all, a card-carrying Pentecostal Christian and yet many believers have been buying the notion that our culture is turning ever more anti-Christian.
Although I do not think we could say that his faith was a decisively positive factor for most who voted Liberal, we must note that neither was it a complete turn-off. It seems that many unbelieving Australians are still very comfortable having confessing Christians active among them.
Now, some will say that Scomo has only been accepted because he does not foreground his faith enough, and that only Christians who put their lamp under a bushel basket can get by in today’s West, but I think this is a bit too harsh. At the very least, he has not been electorally crucified for publicly bearing the name of Christ, and I think this should give us great confidence to be open and straightforward about our faith without exaggerating the likelihood of backlash.
Have any of us effectively cut ourselves off from the ever-more-left younger mainstream population? Do we speak about them—even analyse them—but not talk to them?
The second, and connected, thought came after hearing how staggered some younger unbelievers on the left were at last weekend’s result. They are dumbfounded as to how the unlosable election could have been lost. An obvious comment for them is that they need to get out of their echo-chambers and listen to people who think differently.
If they had done that, they might not be so surprised that so many people cast their ballots the way they did. But rather than just point out their failure to listen, it might also be that Christians need to ask if we have failed to speak in ways that people can hear.
Have we been too shy? Have any of us effectively cut ourselves off from the ever-more-left younger mainstream population? Do we speak about them—even analyse them—but not talk to them? Have we met them and sympathised with their concerns where we can—perhaps on the environment, which is a burning issue for many?
Have we said that God has not created them for the unemployment line, but to work in his earth and to reap fair rewards for doing so? Have we talked to them about God’s love for the green earth he made and about his promised future garden-city that is far greater than anything the best environmental policies and visions could create? Have we shared with them about Jesus who loves the weak, struggling and marginalised as much as the top end of town?
Have we shown them that salvationists are neither left-wing ideologues nor right-wing fundamentalists? For me, these are the sorts of questions that the election has brought to the fore again. They are not blue, red, green, yellow or turquoise questions. They are Christian questions that should engage across all polarisations and even rise our sights above the temporal domains into eternity. Hopefully, we can be asking them more and more over the next three years.