A group of people purporting to be members of our governing parties are acting so as to raise doubts about their sanity or good will – or both. They were consistently, manifestly, and unrepentantly wrong about climate change. Now they seek to perpetuate their error, and the consequent harm to the nation, on the issue of energy. They have formed a group called the Monash Forum. It is, I gather, what used to be called a ‘ginger group’. They want a new coal-fired power station run by the government, and, if necessary, paid for by you and me. It is not surprising that the Monash family are not amused.
The labels ‘conservative’ and ‘populist’ are at best fluid. So is the term ‘socialist.’ You don’t meet too many of them any more. For most people, it is a term of abuse. Most Australians would not regard their federal government as socialist, but most Republicans in America may find it hard to duck applying that label to us. But however watery the term ‘socialist’ is, it is hard to disagree with Paul Kelly in The Australian when he says:
The idea that drives the latest core conservative revolt — a new coal-fired power station run by the government, if needed — is delusional and flawed at every point. It fails on policy, politics and consumer grounds. The conservatives are becoming coal power socialists. They are losing the plot.
You might imagine a conservative Socialist, but not a socialist Conservative. (The choice of case is deliberate.) It is just that contradiction in terms that raises doubts about the sanity or bona fides of these agitators or activists – to invoke other label used to put their objects down. And it is not as if these activists didn’t have form.
But in analysing this irrational behaviour, Mr Kelly says:
Given Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce as spear carriers, this push is guaranteed to ignite populist conservatives and their media champions across the nation. The drums will be beating — but many backbenchers have refused to sign.
‘Populist conservative’ is to my mind another contradiction in terms. People who seek to seduce the gullible are not trying to conserve what is best in our community. Disraeli and Churchill made a fair fist of a kind of populism, but they were freaks in another era and in another hemisphere. The nightmare that is called Donald Trump shows how nauseating the cocktail is when you mix conservative and populist. That is why in my view the media champions that Mr Kelly refers to engage in deception when they call themselves, with unblushing pride, ‘conservatives’. They’re not and their behaviour is not more attractive because they do it for money. (The politicians so engaged do it for another well-known evil – faction.)
There is another protean term that Mr Kelly invokes – ‘progressive’. Well, they must think that all their Christmases have come at once. Seeking public money for a venture in coal that the banks won’t touch would be an unbeatable way to qualify as the antithesis of ‘progressive.’ It’s not surprising, then, that Mr Kelly concludes his piece this way:
The government seems caught in conflicting emotions. Is it trying to destroy Turnbull’s leadership without having any successor in mind? Is it determined to ignite a new internal brawl over energy policy without having a viable alternative option? Has it given up on the election in pursuit of domestic battles it intends to wage in opposition?
For me it recalls the words of Stephen Sondheim in one of the most beautiful songs ever sung:
Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair?
Me here, at last, on the ground
You in mid-air
Send in the clowns
Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around
One who can’t move
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns
Just when I’d stopped opening doors
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours
Making my entrance again with my usual flair
Sure of my lines
No one is there
Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns
Quick, send in the clowns
What a surprise!
Who could foresee?
I’d come to feel about you
What you felt about me
Why only now, when I see
That you’ve drifted away?
What a surprise
What a cliché
Isn’t it rich?
Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career
And where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns
Don’t bother They’re here.