The general theory about, well, everything that’s happening on the right these days is this: the great coalition of “social conservatism” that lasted from Reagan-Thatcher to the end of Howard (with a last farcical recap under Abbott) has fallen apart.
The movement combined free-market economics and globalisation with traditional morality (enforced by the state). It served to build majorities for nearly 40 years. The destructive effects of capital have killed it: the communities that were held to be yearning for this traditional morality have been scattered and trashed by the economics it was being used to shield. The New Right is — in rhetoric at least — communalist, nativist, anti-globalist. The appeal of Trump, Brexit, Hanson and the European New Right is all built on their explicit twinning of nativism and parochialism with a rejection of free-market globalism. Seems obvious.
Not so to the denizens of The Australian‘s Surry Hills bunker, who have not been having a good time of it. Tony Abbott was supposed to be the key figure renewing the social conservative movement — instead, he appeared to trash it beyond redemption. Not much was expected of Malcolm Turnbull, but he has proved to be not much good, even at being Malcolm Turnbull. Now with Pauline Hanson forming a crucial Senate bloc, the bunker has to deal with several parties’ rejection of the borderless free market, which they do so with grace and clarity I’M KIDDING they are as batshit delusional as ever.
Typical of this is Nick Cater’s typically addled account. On the one hand, she represents a democratic act by those who voted for her and who are dismissed as “dangerous” by “sophisticates” (Cater’s vocab, here as always, reads like dialogue from Mad Men). On the other hand, she is part of a wave of “populism” sweeping the nation — a term implying that those who vote for it are fools who do not understand how the world really works. No matter. Hanson’s task is not to represent them at all, but to help the Turnbull government cut the budget:
“The real test for Hanson, then, is not whether she offends the cultural sensitivities of the sophisticates. She only has to take her seat in the Senate to do that. The test is whether she is prepared to take on the populist forces of economic irrationalism and contribute to the urgent task of lowering the debt, reducing the deficit, fighting the dependency culture and promoting economic growth. “
In other words, her task is to cut the services and benefits of the people who voted for her. Because her actual politics can’t be taken seriously; they can only be a populist cover for the politics of the elite that Cater represents.
This delusion — that there is a “real” politics, deep down, that coincides with, well, Thatcherism — is present also, inevitably, in Planet Janet’s latest screed, in which she praises Cory Bernardi for setting up a hahaha right-wing GetUp, which will speak for the “silent majority”, whose values are real. How does GetUp recruit? It offers “buzzwords” — “fair speech” rather than “free speech”, which stimulate dopamine in the brain, as does chocolate or sex. Conservatives are considered individuals, GetUp are political sugar rush zombies.
Having strained to actually try and understand the GetUp phenomenon, Planet just can’t do it. She needs her little dopamine shot as much as anyone, by deriding its members. In doing so, she misses how it works. GetUp is simply the popular political militia of the rising progressive class, knowledge and culture workers, most of whom vote Green.
These people are young, professional digital natives with busy lives. They’re not political junkies — the world is too interesting for that — but there are things they want to get done. To do so, they’re willing to lend their weight, most simply by signing an online petition. A small number of the 1.1 million people signed up will get involved on the ground. Their strength comes from their positivity, their clarity about what they’re doing, and the limited role that politics plays in life.
The conservatives Bernardi and others are trying to rally aren’t like that. They’re from social classes losing out in the great globalisation process, who are imbued with the spirit of paranoid politics. Silent majority? Bloody Marcel Marceau, more like. They’re a set of groups with overlapping obsessions, and a lot of their economic politics are recognisably left wing — to the left of Labor, indeed. They like outsiders like Hanson and Lambie. Finely turned-out professional politicians like Bernardi, who attempt to put themselves at the head of this parade, are going to get trampled by it. These people don’t share the Elite Right’s fantasy that they have much in common with the Elite Right.
One has no doubt that some sort of reactionary insurgent force can be got going. Whether it can be sustained is the question. There is no substantial social base for it, as there is for progressives — the cultural right is now a scattered and minority tradition. By now, most people watch Netflix and have no great problem with same-sex marriage. The GetUp movement is digital in a digital world, run by digital natives.
By nature many of the conservatives Bernardi will try to draw on are older, digitally excluded (which is part of their sense of powerlessness) and to be blunt, more interested in watching Sky News and grousing about things than phone banking or the like. This “enthusiasm” gap is what has given the Democrats two decisive victories in 2008 and 2012, even when the polls made the race look tighter. Can the quant tables be turned here? I doubt it. And even if they could, one doubts Planet and Bernardi are the ones to do it.
But the Stupid Prize in all of this goes, as almost always, to Gary Johns. The Senate has just become a states’ house for the first time in its history: NXT is largely South Australia First, Lambie is Tasmania First, and One Nation is Qld/WA v the non-mining states. Johns’ advice to Turnbull for getting stuff through this Senate:
“Turnbull must move away from the concerns of the city elites on culture wars. Turnbull should get stuck into anyone who rabbits on about weaker borders, treaties with Aborigines, Islamophobia, gender identity or withdrawing a gay marriage plebiscite.”
Concerns of the city elites? Has he listened to Pauline Hanson? No one raised any of this stuff until the right did. Takes two to have a culture war. How do you get so confused about a new political force? Because deep down, Johns can’t believe they’re real — still less that they are big-spending economic nationalists, whose vote depends on hospitals, roads and protected industries for their state. Johns can’t accept that the real New Right are different to the fantasy public the Elite Right constituted to cover their politics.
They’re a classical liberal’s nightmare. Farcical recap is it. The Elite Right are going to be more disappointed by the next three years than I already am.