Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, recently wrote a special report, Finally, a Conservative Leader over at The American Spectator. Last year, a reporter asked Gregg who the current “outstanding center-right head of government” is. He responded that Margaret Thatcher was his first thought, though Australian Prime Minister “Tony Abbott is the real thing like no one since Margaret Thatcher.” He goes on, “thus far Abbott has matched his open adherence to distinctly conservative convictions by implementing policies that reflect those principles.”
Gregg discusses Abbott further:
Elected prime minister in September last year, Abbott is in many respects the left’s nightmare come true. For one thing, he’s a practicing Catholic, who, though he doesn’t draw attention to his faith, is generally associated in people’s minds with the Church’s conservative wing. Among other brickbats, that’s earned him (rather sectarian) epithets such as the “mad monk.”
… Even more worryingly for the left, however, Abbott has been willing to buck the “popular” (i.e., lefty) wisdom on many occasions because of his beliefs. In 2009, he became leader of the then-opposition Liberal Party after resigning from the shadow cabinet and leading a parliamentary revolt against a Cameron-like leader who had signed up holus-bolus to the climate change agenda. “Unelectable” was most Australian commentators’ verdict on Abbott. How wrong they were.
Abbott’s willingness to match his ideas with corresponding actions has been very evident of late. On economic policy, his government has moved in the opposite direction of those who favor Dodd-Frank-like behemoth approaches to the financial industry. Instead it’s opted to simplify regulation. As the minister responsible for the reform bluntly pointed out, “no amount of legislation will ever be a guarantee against another Storm Financial.” Indeed it’s often excessive regulation that creates opportunities for financial shenanigans by industry insiders.
He goes on to list some of Abbott’s accomplishments in office so far and concludes with this thought:
Of course no conservative government can do everything. Even Margaret Thatcher couldn’t shrink the state’s share of GDP during her time in office. Australia’s three-year parliamentary terms additionally limit any government’s room for maneuver. Abbott also surely knows that not all his MPs embrace all his views. The Liberal Party has always been an amalgam of Whigs, Tories, classical liberals, social conservatives, free marketers, protectionists, quiet religious believers, equally quiet skeptics, assorted careerists, and unabashed pragmatists.
Yet, like John Howard, Abbott has thus far proved adept at managing those differences. He also appears to grasp that what the conservative historian Maurice Cowling once said of the Tory party applies equally to its Australian equivalent: its business is to win elections. This is important, not just because ideological puritanism sometimes make the perfect the enemy of the good. It also matters because if Abbott’s government can maintain its current course and win elections, Abbott has an outside chance of doing, albeit in a more modest way, for his generation of conservatives across the world what Reagan and Thatcher did for theirs.
For a “mad monk,” that would be no small achievement.
Read Gregg’s full article here.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.