English lessons

The federal Liberal-National Coalition government and the QLD LNP could do with some English lessons. No I don’t mean they can’t “speak proper”. But rather, while many conservative parties around the world are trying to learn lessons from Donald Trump’s “upset” election victory, I think it’s time ours learned a few things from a man and a people who share the name English.


Bill English became the 39th Prime Minister of New Zealand today. With the transition from the now former NZPM John Key to the new PM, New Zealand goes from having an incredibly popular and politically savvy leader of a conservative government, to a less glamorous but far more genuinely conservative Prime Minister leading the National Party and the country.

While Key had electoral appeal with a significant segment of the population and led National out of the political wilderness it had languished in for years courtesy of the seemingly indomitable Helen Clark, he was significantly lacking in commitment to conservative stances on key (n pun intended) social issues. Key backed same-sex marriage when it came before the Parliament as a result of a private member’s bill; supported the status quo on abortion (saying he believed in women’s “right to choose”); was open to the possibility of supporting euthanasia and listed his main regret from his time in office as failing to change the nation’s flag.

Bill English is a solid conservative when it comes to issues of life and sexuality and has the strong economic management credentials that are necessary to persuade voters to let his party keep control of the Treasury benches for another term. English also has the reputation amongst some as being a “compassionate conservative” – a welcome change from the often harsh economic rationalism Australia and Queensland have seen from recent Liberal treasurers including Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison and Tim Nicholls.

Former President of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd made this kind endorsement of English in The Australian today:

He is down to earth, humble, intelligent and with an underlying toughness. He is immensely practical and has no airs and graces. English believes there is no such thing as a fair society without a strong economy. [2]

Simply put, if you’re a social conservative that values responsible but fair economic management (that doesn’t indiscriminately wound the poor in a zealous dedication to the budget bottom line), Bill English is a stellar political leader and would be a pleasure to find yourself able to back. I’d gladly trade Malcolm Turnbull or Tim Nicholls for a carbon copy of Bill English in a moment.

The other English

The other English our Australian conservatives could learn some lessons from is the English people. The discontent of the British public over the UK’s place in Europe and the world, expressed in the seismic shock of the Brexit referendum has led to the rise of another “compassionate conservative.”


While Theresa May is not as socially conservative as Bill English (for instance, she very openly supported changes to the definition of Marriage in the UK, which ultimately led to the law being changed), she too would seem to be an improvement on her predecessor when it comes to a range of issues.

A couple of things of particular note. 1) There have been hopeful signals that May’s well known religious background (her father is an Anglican vicar) and open identification with Christianity will provide some respite in the face of concerning trends in religious liberty in the UK in recent years. In commending a recent report by the Evangelical Alliance and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, Ms May said:

“…we have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of.” [4]

2) May’s identification with “One Nation Conservatism” [NOT to be confused with the Pauline Hanson approach to politics in Australia!!!] is a welcome shift in the direction of the British Conservative Party. It signals that May will not settle for a nation divided into the rich and the poor, but will consciously work to make the country she governs a better place for all its citizens. This style of conservatism has potential to better reflect certain Christian social values and takes seriously the old concept of noblisse oblige – the idea that the rich, privileged and educated members of society have a duty to use their position and resources to advance the less fortunate. This is potentially a happy medium between forcing the rich and powerful to part with their resources to be distributed amongst the less wealthy (as in communism and hard socialism) and pursuing policies that benefit those who already have massive resource advantage at the expense of those who fall behind (as is the case with much neo-liberal capitalism, shamelessly peddled by professing conservatives).

This is reflected in May’s commitment to the British public upon taking the office of Prime Minister:

“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. … When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we’ll prioritise not the wealthy but you.” [5]

An English-style improvement

What Australia and Queensland need then is an “English-style improvement.”
Leaders like Malcolm Turnbull and Tim Nicholls who are economic liberals with weak conservative credentials may have just enough political ability to  scrape into office, but the parties they lead must realise that they are not leaders that conservative voters can wholeheartedly support.

It remains to be seen who could take up the mantle of a better conservative leader in the Federal political arena. Tony Abbott obviously has superior conservative credentials compared to Turnbull and there remains a distinct possibility that conservatives will return to supporting him. But Abbott will not likely be successful electorally and his 2014 budget showed he is by no means a “compassionate conservative.”

Scott Morrison would be a kind of reverse of Theresa May. He is a fairly solid social conservative, but shares Abbott’s capacity for ruthlessness in economic policy. While Julie Bishop could emerge as a compromise candidate between Coalition conservatives, moderates and progressives she offers no significant improvement to Turnbull from a conservative policy perspective. The most senior cabinet minister – after Morrison – who has a reasonably solid conservative approach to politics is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. He would probably make a great Liberal Prime Minister, but as a foreign-born, Schwarzenegger-sound-alike, Senator (PMs always sit in the Lower House) he has some political hurdles to clear if he plans on becoming party leader (on the downside, I fear he is probably also an economic rationalist, rather than a compassionate conservative).

Tragically, there is very little, if any fresh blood in the Liberal ranks that could be a Bill English and little sign of even getting a Theresa May. When Turnbull is turfed, it will likely be Abbott, Morrison or Bishop replacing him: the future looks bleak.

In Queensland there is fortunately more choice. Tim Nicholls will probably be the next Premier of Queensland (perhaps with the parliamentary support of One Nation MPs **shudder**), but conservatives would be better served by his unsuccessful rival to replace Lawrence Springborg – Tim Mander.
While the LNP will be hoping the public can’t smell the stench coming from Nicholls’ role as the Newman government’s razor-blade Treasurer, Mander is a clean-skin that would bring fresh blood to the leadership. His background as a top NRL referee could endear him to the public, while his previous role as the head of Scripture Union QLD gives me confidence that he could be the kind of compassionate conservative with solid social values we’re looking for. Queenslanders are fortunate enough that he likely has a long enough political career ahead of him to have another shot at the job…

[1] New Zealand Tertiary Education Union “Bill English” CC BY-SA 2.0
[2] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/bill-english-helped-achieve-an-unlikely-quadrella-for-new-zealand/news-story/0976278655959e39b04ab2a0fe267140
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_May#/media/File:Theresa_May_UK_Home_Office_(cropped).jpg CC BY 2.0
[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/30/christians-should-not-fear-speaking-faith-work-public-places/
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_May#Political_positions


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