The pandemic is challenging the underpinnings of modern conservatism and if right-wing parties can’t adapt, they’ll be doomed.
COVID-19 is destroying the foundational ethos of individual liberty and small government, to the point where conservatives have been at sea, unable to respond effectively to the health crisis.
It comes down to serving the public interest versus the self interest of elites and vested interests, which is not a conflict confined to conservatives: centre-left parties are fully capable of ignoring the public interest and looking after their mates.
But in a pandemic, it seems, left-wing governments are more inclined to impose the restrictions necessary to control the virus.
Two current illustrations of that are the mess in New South Wales and the crowds at Lord’s this week watching England v India, mask free.
The NSW Liberal government was reluctant to lock down hard enough and deprive its citizens of liberty, with the result that the Delta version of COVID-19 is now out of control.
The federal Coalition supported that, and criticised the Victorian Labor government’s hard lockdown, but is now forced into embracing total lockdown, along with Gladys Berejiklian.
The Boris track
The Conservative Johnson government in the UK is experimenting with no restrictions before full vaccination, with a “ping system” where your phone pings and tells you to go into isolation if you go near an infected person.
About 60 per cent of the British population is fully vaccinated, but a lot of the unvaccinated have been infected so they’re immune as well.
For that reason, Boris Johnson might pull it off and gradually improve health outcomes without further lockdowns, but the price is high in the meantime: Almost 100 people are dying per day and two million have “long covid”, or debilitating long-term complications from the disease.
The Australian strategy, imposed by the hegemony of chief medical officers, remains zero covid until herd immunity is reached.
The medical advice is that 80 per cent of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to end lockdowns, and even then, experts are saying, masks will still be needed, along with distancing and improved ventilation and CO2 monitoring in public indoor spaces.
The Morrison government cajoled, or bullied, the Doherty Institute into concluding that opening up could start at 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated, or just 54 per cent of the total, which is plainly wrong.
Inevitable lockdowns ahead
But it allowed the government to present an optimistic scenario of opening up before Christmas, without vaccinating children, or imposing a mandatory vaccination regime.
The reality is that unless zero covid is abandoned, as it has been in England (but not in Scotland), then there will be lockdowns until 80 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
That requires either most children under 12 to be vaccinated or more than 90 per cent of the adult population, which in turn would require mandatory vaccination.
In any case, it won’t happen this year, and it will probably take until March 2022 at the earliest.
The problem with the Liberal Party’s over-optimistic exit predictions is that no one – especially them – is prepared for the worst.
The conservative mindset would normally be to hope for the best while preparing for the worst, but not if you’re focused on today’s news cycle with a libertarian ideology.
Alan Kohler writes twice a week for The New Daily. He is also editor in chief of Eureka Report and finance presenter on ABC news.
He is now on leave until September.