Cory Bernardi and the rules of conviction

Caught Cory Bernardi on Q&A this week. The youthful South Australian Senator, who hit the headlines briefly earlier this year, is on the Right of the Liberal partyroom. From his website he is evidently a devotee of the John Howard myth: ‘conviction’ this and ‘conviction’ that.  Asserted several times on Q&A that ‘I know this isn’t a popular position to take, but … ‘ [usually actually followed by a quite popular position].

Cory’s unashamed rightwingedness must fill Nick Minchin’s heart with fatherly pride, and for some he would be marked for great things. But Cory’s got some political maturing to do.

Conviction politics

Margaret Thatcher described herself as a ‘conviction politician’ and Ronald Reagan also attracted the label. In the Aussie context, Liberal Director Lynton Crosby introduced the concept when exercising the winner’s storytelling rights after the 2001 election. Crosby explained to journos that his research showed there were two conviction politicians in Australia, John Howard and Bob Brown, and this was the secret to their success.

The scribblers dutifully digested the story, and the rest is history. None adopted it with greater gusto than Paul Kelly, who at the height of his Mark Latham infatuation solemnly bestowed the label on the Lad as well. This indicated that we were in for a momentous contest between two colossi. (Then Boofhead clocked in the worst opposition result since 1977 – whoops.)

(In his latest book, Paul apparently retrospectively applies it to Paul Keating.)

For all this you can thank Lynton Crosby.

Mumble rules about conviction politics

1. “Conviction!” in opposition = failure. Think of John Hewson and Mark Latham.

2. “Conviction” in government = a tautology. (Usually, and after an election win or several. Granted, it’s hard to envisage with the current PM and this will be interesting to watch in coming terms.)

Cory is possibly too young to remember Howard the 1995-6 opposition leader, the guy who repudiated nearly everything he had stood for in the 1980s. Like Rudd in 2007, the opposite of conviction.

That’s how oppositions win elections.

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