LLast week, former British Prime Minister David Cameron traveled to Sydney to headline a climate conference for Liberals and Nationals organized by the Coalition for Conservation, an organization dedicated to creating a national platform for the environment in the centre-right. He came to bring important lessons to the Liberals if we are to avoid the fate of the Conservatives, who lost three elections before giving Cameron the power to modernize his own party.
I have personally heard the speeches of three former or future Conservative British Prime Ministers in my lifetime: Margaret Thatcher in 1993 in the House of Lords, Boris Johnson then Foreign Secretary, at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, and last week David Cameron .
These three Prime Ministers represent a common thread in the Conservative Party’s leadership on climate change and the environment. To the mix is also worth noting the contribution of John Gummer (Lord Deben), Environment Secretary under John Major, who is still considered an environmental hero by many in the UK.
Thatcher’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in November 1989 was a clear call for the international community to work together to fight climate change – it’s a speech that could be delivered today with the same validity and relevance. Both Cameron and Johnson have taken national and international action on climate change in a way that reflects the broad bipartisanship on this issue in the UK.
Cameron’s contribution to Sydney last week was particularly poignant for those of us in the Liberal Party seeking to learn from the lessons of the May federal election.
While Australia has charted its own course, distinct from the ties that once bound us more closely to the UK, there is still a certain resonance and commonality between our political systems. This reflects our liberal democratic values, the prevalence of political parties that share a similar ideology, and the common issues we face in the global community.
At a rally of Liberal and National Party members – state and federal – Cameron reminded us of the modernization journey he led the Conservative Party in the run-up to its victory in 2010. At the heart of it was his drive to ensuring that the party was not just a constructive participant, but actually led a debate on climate action. He has also worked to ensure that the Conservative Party fully represents, in his own words, the ‘brilliance of British society’ which has driven his drive to attract more women and ethnically diverse people to the parliamentary ranks of his party.
In his words, he took this approach of “do we learn and change or do we double down and repeat?”. Less eloquently, he gave us the advice that if your customer says he doesn’t want eggs and ham for breakfast, does it make sense to serve him double eggs and ham for gain his favor?
The three electoral defeats that preceded Cameron’s election as party leader enabled him to steer the party in a new direction. There was a willingness, if not a certain desperation, to allow progressive Tories to try something new to win back voters – many of them in traditional Tory constituencies – who had abandoned their party for Labor or the Liberal Democrats. The problem and the challenge he faced are all too familiar.
On issues such as climate and diversity, Cameron said his success was made possible because he personally led the campaign for change rather than identifying a problem and delegating it to others. solve.
He also stressed the importance of political consensus on issues such as climate. While acknowledging that the Conservatives and Britain’s Labor would use different levers and policies, he stressed that as Leader of the Opposition he was not seeking to stall the Labor government on its own climate agenda. Again, in his words, “constantly questioning your opponents’ approach, even when they’re doing the right thing, makes it that much harder to convince people of your own good intentions.”
While there are clearly differences between the circumstances of the UK and Australia and differences between the Conservatives and the Liberal party, there is a striking lesson from Cameron’s approach to what can and should be done to ensure that the Liberal Party regains the confidence of those who have left the party, especially in metropolitan ridings.
There have been wild suggestions that the Liberal Party should politically abandon voters previously considered our hearts after our defeat in many of those seats. A simple look at the electoral calculations means that the path to a return to government is dangerously narrow – I would say impossible – for the Liberal party if it were to take this approach.
Instead, we must respond to what voters have told us at the ballot box and climate change is an important starting point, ranking high on the concerns of so many Australians in electorates like the one I represented . It is for this reason that the opposition should be prepared to build on the bipartisanship that has emerged for the 2050 net zero commitment and reconsider its decision not to support the government’s 2030 target of 43% reduction. emissions, including for the legislation supporting this outcome.
There will be other issues that the party will have to deal with, including the recruitment and screening of talented women. Again, this will require strong leadership, especially to overcome the failures of internal Liberal Party processes to match goals with accomplishments.
Cameron faced issues more than 15 years ago that Australian Liberals still face today. His own path to number 10 could perhaps provide a roadmap that we can learn from. The sooner we start implementing change, the sooner we can regain the support of those we have lost.