Before we speak of the latest surge in Western support for crude and bigoted populism, let’s permit any person feeling fragile or hopeless today to depart. Before you pop off, here are three printed affirmations provided by optimistic centrist publications: 1. The centrists strike back! 2. The centre fights back! 3. Macron’s Victory Is A Triumph Against The Dead-End Populism Of Trump And Brexit!
There. Now the infirm have left us to find their placebo in the hot spectacle of Trudeau or the re-election of Merkel, let’s you and me cop a closer look at a diseased Western political establishment whose most visible symptom, populism, currently afflicts the Australian state of Queensland.
Per Laura Tingle’s analysis in the AFR, the two-party preferred ReachTel poll figure commissioned by Sky News only offers one part of the political story up north. Sure, the LNP looks as though it has a good shot at winning, but, as Tingle writes, “the primary vote for both parties has plunged, with Labor at 32.1 per cent from 37.5 per cent at the 2015 state election, and the LNP going from 41.3 per cent to 30.6.”
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has moved from the 15% Queensland polls coughed up a month ago to a more indigestible hairball of 18.1%. If these figures play out on the election day that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is currently under pressure to declare, PHON could take up to five seats, preventing the LNP from forming majority government.
You can, if you fancy, dismiss this as a barbaric Queensland quirk. But, you’d do well to remember that PHON polls at 8% nationwide. This new party’s numbers now compare to those of the established Greens, currently showing at 9% in Newspoll. PHON does this despite its leader’s recently expressed sympathy for the anti-vax devil, praise for the locally unpopular Putin and wretched failure to develop policies unified by anything more substantial than aversion to things that seem a bit, you know, foreign.
Journalist Margo Kingston can swear all she wants that PHON voters are not always racist. This does not alter the guiding “principle” of party policy, which is bigotry, ergo, necessarily inconsistent. The party is wont to appeal to older voters, reviving their memories of a time of full employment and apprenticeships galore. “In the 1960’s (sic) Australia was a thriving country,” says One Nation. However, the 1960s was a decade not only of intense migration by peoples of non-anglophone nations, but one of Keynesian prescriptions. Still, Hanson is regularly divided when it comes to supporting “the workers out there” in a 1960s supply-side style. At times, she’s been opposed to penalty rates, and at others, in favour of tax cuts for “small” business.
Let’s hope it stays that way, and Hanson continues to concede to market-friendly policies. So long as PHON remains politically naive enough to talk that old-timey full-employment talk while walking with the neoliberals, their political appeal will have its limits. We hope.
As has been discussed by others, the West’s racist populist parties have lately gained significant support through relatively sophisticated critique of regulatory capture, diminished welfare and disdain for financialisation, etc. If you squinted, you could see similarity between the economic policies of Melenchon’s Insoumise and Le Pen’s Front National. Heck. Even Trump spat out the term “working class”.
The difference, of course, between Sanders’ nationalist “Political Revolution” and Trump’s nativist, wall-building fantasy was, as in the French case, race — and, yes, Le Pen didn’t win, but one-third of French voters still thought it was OK to elect an actual fascist. If you remove the bigotry from current populist campaigning, you see comparable partiality to socialised democracy. If you remove the bigot from campaign mode and place them into power, you then see that even the promise to white people of equality was a lie.
News from Germany problematises our hope, though. The centrist, and former occasional racist, Angela Merkel has been returned to power, but will face 88 members of Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) in the Bundestag. AfD has never bothered to conceal its racist agenda, with its co-founder recently urging his countrymen to be “proud” of the achievements of its soldiers in World War II. And it certainly never bothered, as Le Pen and Trump did, to urge for an economic turn. Germany’s third most powerful political party considers Le Pen too “left-wing” in an economic sense, and urges for a sense of individual responsibility — one furthered, presumably, by precisely the kind of national pride on which PHON bases its jumble of policies.
It is simpler in nations like Germany and Australia, shielded for different reasons from the worst of the global financial crisis and its ongoing effects, for voters to indulge a purely cultural politics. That we can be listening now, for example, to John Howard’s rot about the perils of “political correctness” is a sign that hard times have yet to really bite. That Germany can resume its deadly fixation with race is in part made possible by the surplus that nation is delivered by the Eurozone. Pure racism of the current era, we must concede, is a luxury only the well-to-do nation can afford.
But racism mutates and can adapt very well to its political era. If there is no party in this nation ready with both an economic plan for an uncertain future and a true aversion to bigotry, we can expect to see PHON exert its influence.
Oh, jeez. Now I need to go and look at those positive lies about the victory of centrism.