Recently, Turnbull went to visit David Cameron, the very successful UK Tory leader.
Cameron has been extremely successful in transforming the unelectable Tories to a forward looking, “progressive” conservative party. He has turned areas of traditional Tory weakness into strengths.
Two examples showcase this: Cameron’s opposition to the British National Party and his framing of climate change.
The BNP are a hardline, ultra-conservative, racist party (their critics label them fascists). The Tories have run a campaign called “There’s Nothing British About the BNP“. The Tories are thus able to use the extreme BNP to position themselves as centre-right, as well as make it clear that extreme views are not welcome in the Conservative Party.
The second is Cameron’s treatment of climate change. He has positioned the Tories as a party devoted to conserving Britain. He equates Conservative with conservation of the environment. He links climate change with energy security and border protection against climate refugees. He talks about strong action on climate change, and criticises the UK Labour Party for not reaching their emissions reduction goals.
Cameron on climate change:
Where people have voted blue, their councils have gone green. We are already making transport greener. We’re encouraging recycling. We’re lowering carbon emissions. We’re fighting noise pollution. But this is just the start. I am determined that the Conservative Party will take a lead on the environment and I believe that we have the right values to succeed Â and understanding of markets, a belief in conservation, a recognition that we need to aim for green growth and a passion to pass on a better world for future generations.
His landmark Tory conference speech underlines this:
And to be British is to have an instinctive love of the countryside and the natural world. The dangers of climate change are stark and very real. If we donâ€™t act now, and act quickly, we could face disaster.
Malcolm Turnbull is clearly a strong supporter of Cameron’s strategy:
Did you discuss at all with David Cameron the environment? Did you talk to him about your issues with the ETS at the moment?
Yes, yes, we discussed that at great length and one of the great achievements that David has able to do, or effect, is to position the Conservative Party as being environmentally credible. He really has worked very hard and convincingly on the slogan â€“ vote Blue, vote Conservative and go Green. Heâ€™s done that very well and of course I have a common commitment, a similar commitment to the environment.
He supports emissions trading schemes, did you talk about that?
Well we did talk about it. The emission trading scheme of course for the UK is run at the European Union level so itâ€™s not really an issue so much for the national Government here in Britain but we talked about the implications for Copenhagen. We were both very heartened to see the positive comments made by the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, recently in New York. So there is a growing level of optimism for a good outcome at Copenhagen, although thereâ€™s a long way to go yet.
Cameron has created a “modern Conservative Party” – the reaction to New Labour. Turnbull wants to create a “modern Liberal Party”. One that divests itself of the baggage of the Howard era.
His article at The Punch, a restatement of his speech after the leadership tensions this week, clearly shows that he wants to remould the Liberal Party into an antipodean version of the Conservatives:
We can either be seen as a party of tomorrow, a forward-looking party that believes in taking action on climate change, or we can go backwards.
Right across the community there is a massive majority in favour of taking action on climate change.
For our party, turning back the clock is not an option.
We cannot be a party of do-nothings on this issue.
Perpetual delay is not a responsible or credible approach.
The Liberal Party has to be committed to taking responsible action on climate change if we want to stay a relevant political force in Australia.
If Turnbull survives next week, he may have the opportunity to achieve his goal.
However, it will still not put the Liberals in an election winning position. Rudd is simply too popular, and Labor too disciplined. For a “modern Liberal Party” to work, it needs a weak government facing a strong, united opposition. A strong, disciplined government facing a united opposition will still face electoral defeat simply due to the power of incumbancy.