Good government stems from good policies, not clever campaigns.
The difference between the two is crucial to understanding why the fundamental principles upheld by the Liberal Party sit uneasily with the feel-good, hash-tag politics favoured by today’s progressive movement.
It underlines the importance of pursuing the art of policy making in a world increasingly moved by things that feel good, rather than things that actually do good.
The progressive movement needs good causes to sustain its momentum. It claims the right to govern on the grounds of a superior morality rather than superior policies.
It perceives itself as the righter of wrongs, the movement that will sweep away the bad old ways on the path to a more compassionate future. This frames the touchstone issues of our times – like energy policy and same-sex marriage – as policy questions over which fair-minded people may not disagree.
There is no room for nuance; the progressive movement finds it difficult to accommodate moral complexity. Open debate is all but impossible; since these are issues of right and wrong no allowance can be made for doubt.
“the progressive movement finds it difficult to accommodate moral complexity”
The Liberal tradition regards such dogmatism as a mistake. Lasting change, if that is what we seek, cannot be achieved by campaigning on a series of discrete issues, many of them deeply divisive, without a coherent plan for government as a whole.
Change requires policy for which a mandate must be sought, rather than simply assumed. It must fit within a policy framework which embraces the role of government, the relationship between the state and its people, the priorities of public life and the pragmatics of getting things done.
A campaign merely asserts what needs to be done. A policy tells us how to get it done and the real – as opposed to symbolic – outcomes that can be achieved.
Policy must start by outlining the problem to be solved and the imperative to solve it. Its success is measured by outcomes, not inputs or intent. Ideally it should allow the flexibility for settings to be fine-tuned and possess the confidence to learn from failure.