In the lead-up to the July 2 election there has been some focus on a group termed “Delcons”. Translated, the label stands for “delusional conservatives”. It was invented by The Daily Telegraph columnist and Sky News contributor Miranda Devine to describe the likes of Brisbane academic James Allan and Sydney-based one-time Treasury secretary and Nationals senator John Stone.
Both men have indicated their intention to vote against the Coalition, led by Malcolm Turnbull, in the election. That is, they not only intend to give their primary vote to some party other than the Liberal Party but will preference Labor ahead of the Coalition.
Allan and Stone object to the partyroom coup led by Turnbull against Tony Abbott last September. More seriously, they reject what they believe the Prime Minister really stands for, even though he will be contesting the election essentially on the policies of the Abbott government in which he was a senior cabinet minister.
The likes of Allan and Stone have gained some attention. However, they are unlikely to influence many political conservatives to follow their lead. Especially since Abbott has urged his supporters not to facilitate Labor’s return to office and reminded them of the policy failures during the prime ministerships of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
It’s possible that some traditional Liberal Party voters who dislike the way Turnbull obtained the prime ministership or who disagree with his small-l liberal stance on some social issues, may give their primary vote to a micro-party or right-of-centreIndependent. But most of the so-called Delcons are likely to put the Coalition ahead of Labor when distributing preferences.
There is, after all, a tradition to follow here. As I document in my book Santamaria: A Most Unusual Man (MUP, 2015), in the early 1970s Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies grew disillusioned with his successors William McMahon and Bill Snedden.
Menzies told the Catholic anti-communist operative BA Santamaria that he was going to vote for the anti-communist Democratic Labor Party.
But there is little doubt that Menzies preferenced the Liberal Party ahead of Labor. Menzies did not believe Labor, then led by Gough Whitlam, would do a better job in government than the Coalition.
If the Turnbull government loses support in July, it is most unlikely to have anything to do with “delusional conservatives” but, rather, disillusioned voters.
The likes of Devine and Niki Savva who rail against the Delcons would go right over the top if they were opining in the US or Britain right now. There are far more disillusioned conservatives in both nations than can be found in Australia.
In the US, the Republican Party is deeply divided following the emergence of populist and nationalist Donald Trump as the candidate presumptive to be the GOP presidential nominee in July. Trump is opposed by many right-of-centre think tanks and columnists along with prominent Republicans such as George HW Bush, George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz and, so far, House Speaker Paul Ryan. But Trump is not without his supporters. They include former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. It’s quite a political shootout on the right-of-centre of US politics. Compared with which, the tension between the Liberal Party of Australia’s Turnbull and Abbott camps is of little moment. And then there is Britain. Last week’s local government elections saw the Labour Party do well in London (with Sadiq Khan being elected Mayor of London), the Conservatives obtain their best vote in Scotland in decades and the UK Independence Party do well in Wales.
Overall, the David Cameron Tories did best of all — considering they are the incumbent government and local elections can offer the opportunity of a protest vote about the powers-that-be at Westminster.
The conclusion of the local government elections has seen an increase in campaigning in the lead-up to the in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, which will be held on June 23. The leadership of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats support the EU. Consequently, the focus of the political campaign centres on the Conservatives.
Cameron, having recently obtained concessions concerning Britain’s EU membership, is leading the “remain” campaign.
The British Prime Minister has the support of senior ministers such as Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Business Secretary Sajid Javid, along with former leader William Hague.
Appearing against Cameron in leading the “leave” cause — or Brexit — are Justice Minister Michael Gove, Employment Secretary Priti Patel, former mayor of London and current Tory MP Boris Johnson and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. As he demonstrated on Andrew Marr’s interview program on BBC TV on Sunday, Gove is a very able advocate of the “leave” campaign.
It is most unusual in Westminster political systems to see such political disagreement between players in an otherwise functional government.
Even so, few commentators or even Labour Party operatives believe the Conservatives can be defeated while Jeremy Corbyn remains leader of Her Majesty’s opposition. Which suggests that a bit of internal disagreement within the incumbent administration does not necessarily have deleterious effects.
In other words, contrary to the cliche, disunity does not always lead to (political) death.
The advocates of Brexit are of moderate disposition, unlike Trump in the US. Even so, they are appealing to voters — some Conservative, some Labour — who believe they have been excluded from the benefits of globalisation of which the EU has been just one manifestation.
Many Brits resent the fact some decisions on matters such as immigration, criminal law and economic regulation are taken by unelected officials at the EU headquarters in Brussels.
Whatever the outcome of June 23, Britain will change after the referendum. This is not necessarily the case with Australia’s July 2 election. Prime Minister Turnbull says that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. Maybe. But politics in the US and Britain is more exciting right now.