The lessons of the Australian election

Conservatives should not conclude that a lurch to the right will deliver victory in 2015

David Cameron’s Australian election strategist, Lynton Crosby, must be studying the right’s election victory back home with special satisfaction. As the man responsible for adding a more combative edge to Mr Cameron’s politics, he will be assuring his boss that Tony Abbot’s victory in Australia holds an important message for Conservatives, which is that voters prefer right-wing clarity to centrist fudge.

Mr Abbott’s triumph has undoubtedly comes as a shock to all those who thought that, in a country as culturally and ethnically diverse as modern Australia, Labour ought to have morphed into the natural party of government – not least because Mr Abbott campaigned as a strident right-winger. He scorns metropolitan bien pensant thinking, the centre ground generally, and believes in putting an ocean of blue water between him and Labour – on immigration and global warming especially. Now he has a majority of which Mr Cameron can only dream.

Nevertheless, Conservatives would be wrong to imagine that if they lurch to the right that they can achieve the same result here in 2015. Conservatism in this country is heavily influenced by the Republican agenda in America, which means that tilting to the right here tends to mean pampering the rich, cutting welfare and standing devotedly by America’s side in all its foreign entanglements.

What Mr Abbott is proposing is different. He is studiedly cool towards US-led strikes on Syria, for example, a standpoint that would horrify many Tories if it was replicated here. So would his plans for generous maternity-leave system. Most Tories are in politics to roll back the welfare state, not extend it. There are indeed lessons for the Tories in Mr Abbott’s win – but not always the ones they think.

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