Something very strange is happening to the right across the world. It’s not that they can’t win a trick – though they can’t. But that happens to everyone from time to time.
What is new at the moment is the unprecedented internal collapse of the right across the English-speaking world. They can’t begin to find a centre from which they could fight back against the tide of what is admittedly a fairly centrist progressive wave.
In Australia, the naked desperation of the Howard government in plunging around for anything that would open up a front of conflict – state vs federal, security vs human rights, values etc etc seems to have not only failed but backfired, raising the assessment of the government to a more abstract level whereby any initiative, no matter what its individual merits, is pretty clearly seen as cynical and empty politics.
That could partly be explained by simple fatigue – if the same thing weren’t going on in the UK too. There David Cameron, having gained initial traction from a striking repositioning of the Tories as a post-Thatcherite social market party, has found himself as unpopular as the three doomed leaders who went before him – and like Howard, he’s got the wobbles, plunging around from contrary thinking to old laura norder stuff in an attempt to get something, anything, going. Last year it was ‘hug a hoodie’ (ie hug a hoon), an attempt to suck up to the social liberals who might want some tax cuts.
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Now it’s a whole series of specific hardline measures – extending sentences, banning young offenders from driving – that in their specificity sound more crankish than crackdown.
And of course in the US the Bush agenda is…well according to Charles Krauthammer “there is no Bush agenda. It’s over.”
How did they all get to this point? Simply because, deep down, there was nothing they really wanted to do with the power. These governments filled the vacuum where a program should be with easy populism and when genuine challenges on a world scale came along – above all climate change – the vapid emptiness of their non-vision was laid bare.
You could hardly say that Rudd, Brown or Obama/Clinton have much of a vision either, but people recognise that at least these people are responding to real problems, not creating non-ones to ‘solve’.
Even Cameron’s blue-green wave has come to nothing against a growing and fairly comprehensive mood that the challenges we face will only be properly addressed by people who believe that there are things that need to be done, well out of our comfort(able and relaxed) zone.