The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) came to Australia in August for the first but, they say, not the last time. Part of the American Conservative Union’s operation which had been going since 1964, the CPAC conferences in the United States have been addressed by Republican presidents from their beginning until this year and both leading politicians and party heavyweights have been their speakers and guests for a fully mainstream (and well-known) conservative organisation.
Left attack and the usual memes – racism, Islamophobia – all there
The recently defeated, left wing Australian Labor Party, aided and abetted by the captive left political media, immediately took to smearing the conference and its speakers in what seemed to be a pre-emptive strike. Perhaps they were trying to take advantage of a supposed lack of public awareness of CPAC and its history to brand it to set their hostile narrative.
In their Alinsky-like smearing of CPAC and attempt to set a negative narrative about it, the left went in with both feet, embarrassing themselves in the process but actually having an opposite effect of publicising it and ensuring that it resonated with its intended audience. Attacks were answered by conservative commentators, it was subsequently publicised widely and tentative early ticket sales were followed by a flood, resulting in a sell-out.
The biggest mistake it seemed, was attempting to smear them as being akin to the worst of extreme right neo-Nazis, trying to brand attendees with “racism”, “Islamophobe” and other tags used as convenient smearing tools by even mainstream leftist politicians in the USA and elsewhere.
Leading the charge was American-born Australian Senator Kristina Keneally, a former premier of the state of New South Wales and current Senator for that state. Note that the CPAC speakers list was overwhelmingly rock-solid mainstream conservative. Led by the CPAC Chair Matt Schlapp, speakers included Representative Mark Meadows, leader of the US House Republican Freedom Caucus. US House Representative Matt Gaetz, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Brexit Party, Judge Jeanine Pirro of Fox News and a host of Australian politicians and commentators, serving and retired, including ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The main Keneally target early on was Raheem Kassam, ex publisher of Breitbart London and a well known figure in conservative circles. He had sent some intemperate tweets some years ago but that was enough for Keneally to demand that Australian politicians and others have nothing to do with any organisation that would host him. Some of the material used against him was as silly as this (from a Guardian journalist): ‘Steve Bannon once referred to Kassam as “my head guy in Europe”’. Yes, that’s how ridiculous it was. Keneally remained the front for the Labor Party and she continued it on social media, aided mightily by the Guardian and the taxpayer-funded ABC network.
The conference itself, however, was a resounding success as far as it went, with packed houses and hopes for the future – in the near and medium term. The fact that it was a true “conservative” conference and not a centre-right wing political ‘party’ conference has implications for that part of the ruling Liberal Party/National party coalition which is closer to the left and greens (and which was conspicuous by its absence).
The challenge to the present rigid political system
The Australia political process has some features differing from other western political systems. It has compulsory voting, leading to upwards of 90% actually voting and the other major factor is that it has compulsory preferential voting, meaning that votes for every candidate have to be listed in order of preference and eliminated until a final candidate gets 50% plus 1 of the vote to win. The system has also featured only those two major party blocs to dominate every electoral contest since the 1920s. There have been other minor parties but overall control of parliament (and government) has been in the hands of the two major party blocs
What has been hard if not impossible to move has been the loyalty of the voting populace to go away from these major parties and vote for any other grouping in large numbers. In the Australian experience, there has been only rigid voting along party lines.
Where CPAC identity could make a difference.
Whilst the rigid party boundaries have held, political cracks have appeared. On the left, the Labor party has been harried by the Greens and on the right it seems that these same factors have split the conservative coalitions of the past, necessitating a debate about what a “conservative party” really is, especially in the USA.
In parts of Australia the nominally right wing Liberal party has also seen an increasing fracture of allegiances, especially as it surrounds environmental issues. This is very serious in the largest state of New South Wales, where there has been close to open warfare within the party and the national/state voting bloc is holding together only very shakily. Recent history has shown how serious that has been with some factions openly touting Green issues as against a formal conservative view and even assisting in the sabotage of a former Prime Minister. The election on May 18 this year brought all that out in the open with Prime Minister Morrison being attacked by his predecessor Turnbull, a solid core member of the left-leaning/green faction.
It was that faction and Morrison himself which were notably absent from the Australian CPAC conference and some factional warriors were openly hostile to it – as expected; Craig Kelly, one of their conservative targets for de-selection from the parliament, was listed as a speaker at CPAC.
The importance of the CPAC presence, though, was to give a relatively huge impetus to a new coalescing of open conservatives getting together in a formal way and to lay out a practical intellectually-grounded political program. At the very least, it will provide intellectual mooring to ongoing political work as a group. If a recent attempt to isolate them from the Liberal Party – which had been their centre for generations – was to succeed, it would give them a jumping off point to create a political entity which could realistically challenge for government in the future.Follow