The ‘shy conservatives’ sang out loud and clear

Scott Morrison’s heroic election victory was a successful rebellion of the people against the approved consensus on everything from climate change to religious freedom.

The Coalition’s victory on Saturday has pleased Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi, despite the Coalition attracting many conservative voters to its common sense agenda.

A definitive interpretation is elusive, but it is part of a big trend in the West.

Consider the election results it most resembles, in particular David Cameron’s unexpected majority win in Britain in 2015, the Brexit referendum the following year and Donald Trump’s victory in the US later that same year.

One common feature of all of these was that the polls under­estim­ated the actual conservative vote by 1 or 2 per cent. This is a striking commonality.

The Coali­tion hadn’t won a poll in Australia in three years. Were the polls alway­s inaccurate or did a couple of per cent of people become conservativ­es at the last minute?

It does suggest that the idea of the “shy conservative” is real.

There are so many scam phone calls these days and so much data mining that it’s surprising that anyone will talk to a pollster on the phone at all.

But apparently 1 or 2 per cent of people talk to the pollsters but won’t risk admitting that they vote centre-right.

All these elections, especially Trump and Brexit, show a significant portion of working-class and lower-middle-class voters moving right while some affluent service industry types in the big cities move left.

And apart from a few affluen­t retirement and holiday spots, the rural voter fundament­ally disagrees with the city voter. Why is this so?

Here are four clear factors: clim­ate change policies, religious freedom, cultural conservatism, patriotic identity. All these put together can produce a syndrome of “forgotten people” given a rare chance to have their say.

Don’t tell us how to live. Don’t tell us our lives are inferior to yours. Don’t take away our livelihoods. Don’t patronise and belittle us, then expect us to vote for you.

Labor made its position even worse by speaking out of both sides of its mouth on Queensland’s Adani coal mine, shouting opposition in Melbourne but pretendi­ng the party was open to it in Queensland.

Many voters don’t pay much attention, but they saw through that.

Religious freedom was also a significant, late-blooming issue, with an important 11th-hour intervention by religious schools.

Labor’s anti-discrimination polic­ies would have made it much easier for a teacher, general staff member or student to sue a school for teaching some version of its regular, traditional doctrine, though Labor claimed this would not be the effect of its changes.

They would also have made it very difficult for Christian and other religious schools to hire staff who espouse their particular religiou­s values.

For the big private schools this was an issue, but maybe they thought it was manageable. For smaller, community-based religious schools, where the school grows organically out of the people, it was life or death.

Modestly observant or even vaguely traditional Hindus, Bud­dhists, Sikhs and Muslims all feel culturally more at home with a relaxed Christian atmosphere than in a militantly atheist zeitgeist.

They often pay a lot of money to send their kids to Christian schools, where they respect the schools’ Christian identity and their own religious identity is respected in turn. And when they do get the resources together to run their own schools, they want to be free to teach their beliefs.

The progressive left in Australia always bangs on about getting closer to Asia, with no idea that almos­t all of Asia is vastly more socially conservative than they are.

The opportunity for the Liberals is that these communities, which also emphasise traditional education, hard work and small business, are there for the taking. But you can’t win them unless you spend time with them.

A lot of Liberals have been a bit slack in cultivating these people. When fighting the culture wars, conservatives should frame their battles in ways that are inclusive of these folks. That does not mean abandoning the defence of Christianity. It does mean recognising that religious believers all have a great deal in common.

Most sensible Australian agnos­tics are also relaxed about people who happen to be religious occasionally behaving religiously. Nothing was sillier in this campaign than the confected nonsense outrage against Scott Morrison for attending his regular Sunday church while the TV ­cameras were there.

Liberals also plainly did well among Chinese-Australians, who have a great tradition of hard work, hard study, thrift and capital accumulation.

Policies to end negative gearing, end franking credits and raise taxes hurt them directly. The only way the average Australian, including migrants, has ever been able to accumulate any capital is through property.

Labor not only threatened their wealth, it offended their values.

Climate change has shown it can destroy parties of the centre-left or centre-right.

Conservatives who look as though they are doing nothing excite furious opposition. Centre-left parties whose policies look too costly, when everyone knows the environmental benefit of the additional cost is zero, will also be punished.

The Liberals should not over­interpret this result. Morrison campaigned brilliantly, with mag­nific­ent energy and discipline, and won a famous victory, but it was still only 51 per cent to 49 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.

If conservatism becomes gestures on fringe issues, it can look like ratbaggery. But if it defend­s the way people actually live, it has a strong chance of winning.