Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Broad Church and the Myth of the Conscience Vote

With Tony Abbott getting his way in the coalition party room, there remains little chance of the cross-party same sex marriage bill seeing the light of day this parliament.

This outcome is, of course, a blow to the immediate campaign for marriage equality, but does little to stop its inevitability. In reality, the decision only adds weight to the almost universal perception that the coalition is 'out of touch' with voters, regardless of how much stock they may personally put in same-sex marriage.

And it finally puts paid to the myth that the Liberal Party is the party of individual choice.

Throughout the years, Liberal MPs have been always proud to claim theirs is the party of conscience. Unlike the other mob across the chamber, the high-minded Liberal MP is never bound by pledges of group solidarity or of strict party discipline.

No siree Bob (Menzies), the Liberal MP is allowed to think for himself (sic) in a "broad-church" party where "every vote...is a conscience vote".

Except when it isn't, which is most of the time. Whatever philosophical high-ground the Liberal Party claims in theory has never manifested itself in practice. John Howard rarely promoted the so-called "wets" in his party, preferring reactive social conservatives to individual thinkers.

There were, of course, exceptions, but they only proved the rule. Just look at Petro Georgiou's parliamentary career post-1996.

This is the situation the Liberal Party finds itself in now. It is a party that has been damaged by not adhering to popular will, common sense or its own notional philosophical tenets.

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