New book shows that Robert Menzies was no Liberal Party “moderate”
In this week’s The Spectator Australia, Peter Costello reviews Letters to My Daughter by Sir Robert Menzies, edited by Heather Henderson.
Mr Costello writes:
With an introduction written by the daughter — Heather Henderson — the volume gives us an insight into the private world of Sir Robert Menzies at key times between 1955 and 1975.
… Menzies’ observations on the direction of the Liberal party once it lost office and went into Opposition in 1972 will generate the most interest for political scholars. After a long period in government, the Liberal party had the chance — and indeed the duty — to examine its core beliefs and political direction. At this time a school of thought took hold that the party should become more progressive in response to the spirit of the times. … [This strand] has at times been described as ‘liberal’, sometimes ‘moderate’, and sometimes more dismissively as ‘wet’. Often those of this opinion would adopt the mantle of Menzies, in particular citing his statement in the 1967 book Afternoon Light that in forming the new non-Labor party, ‘We took the name “Liberal” because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights, and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.’
In private, Menzies was scathing of this progressive movement inside the party. In a letter to Heather Henderson in July 1974 he writes: ‘Why should I, at my age, have to be worrying myself about what is happening to the party which I created, a party which had principles to which I most firmly adhere, principles which have now been completely abandoned by what they call ‘little l’ Liberals.’
On Menzies and the media, Peter Costello comments:
The Sydney Morning Herald was a vigorous opponent of Menzies in that election and more generally. But interestingly he does not complain about the Age in Melbourne. The Age was yet to make its fateful lurch to Labor which began in 1972 and became its regular position in the 1980s and 1990s, right up until more recent years when it has been excited by the Greens.
Of course, nothing has changed at the ABC. In exasperation about his treatment in one interview, Menzies records: ‘One lives and learns. I shall now return to my old decision never to do a TV appearance for the ABC.’ It is interesting how impenetrable the left-leaning culture of that institution has remained through the years of change and differing governments. The one thing that has been conclusively shown is that the ABC board has no influence and that the staff are completely in control.
Read the whole review in The Spectator Australia, in newsagents on Friday.