There’s a dire need for conviction politicians

What happened to the world where ideology, values and beliefs actually mattered, where politics was a genuine contest of principles and ideas?

Is it R.I.P the conviction politician? 

While accepting that "politics is the art of the possible", it was surely never to be the case that performance standards could be so easily lowered, in what in many cases has become a populist race to the bottom.

Populist victories can be, indeed usually are, ephemeral and pyrrhic.

Turnbull's ascension to the Prime Ministership was accompanied by high expectations – expectations that he would govern on principle and belief, on such matters as climate change, same-sex marriage, tax reform, and so on. However, these "principled" positions were so easily traded to gain the job. This begs the question whether indeed they were ever positions taken out of "principle"? Did Malcolm ever truly believe in these positions, or did he simply adopt them originally for personal gain, to differentiate himself from others, to establish his leadership credentials?  

Unfortunately, now even with his own electoral mandate, it is clear that he is more concerned to just be the PM, not to use the position to pursue a reform agenda.

Globally, the mounting populist, nationalistic sentiment, that is anti-establishment, anti-globalisation, anti-freer trade, and anti-immigration – evident in the Brexit vote, the current US presidential race, and in support for Hanson – runs counter to all evidence based growth and development that has characterised the global economy over the last 4-5 decades.

Reagan and Thatcher are generally remembered as (mostly) "conviction politicians". I vividly recall my meetings with both, and their accounting of what they tried and achieved. Thatcher actually declared, "I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician" in 1979, a few months before her election as prime minister.

Reagan told me that he operated with a very simplistic set of principles – big government was as much the source of the problem as the solution; government spending was too high; taxes were too high; budget surpluses were wrong – this was the people's money, it should be returned to them. When he achieved the presidency it was his "mission" to "fix it"- and he tried, and is defined by it.

Rudd came in with a flourish with strong policy commitments, including promising a substantive response to climate change, against a clearly defined timetable – to ratify Kyoto, then a Green Paper, a White paper, the legislation and, failing parliamentary support, to take it to a double dissolution.

He baulked at the last stage, in early 2010. That was the beginning of the end of his first term as prime minister. I believe that if he had gone to the double dissolution he would have won well, and may have (heaven forbid) still been PM.  His second coming was not based on any "principle", but merely an attempt to save the furniture.

The clear message of the last federal election, that saw an historically high level of support for minor parties and independents, is that the three major parties are on the nose, with genuine concern about what they stand for.

I suggest that the electorate would applaud some principled leadership on key issues, and would undoubtedly cut a committed government considerable slack if they were prepared to so lead.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

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