Spare a thought for Sydney MP Craig Kelly, the real victim of his comments about how we all need to get over the shooting down by Russian-backed forces of MH17, which killed 38 Australians. “It’s very disappointing to see that some people have taken political advantage by taking my comments out of context,” he told the ABC this morning. Yep, real disappointing, Craig. Though it’s unclear what “context” explains saying “nothing is going to bring those three kids back” to the father of some of the victims and that Russia’s crimes “have to be slightly looked over.”
Kelly is normally the cosmic radiation of the Liberal Party. He’s an incessant background hiss, constantly on Sky News to offer commentary about any and all issues, a reliable source of right-wing babble, almost invariably and perfectly reflecting the views of Tony Abbott. None of this has helped him in his seat of Hughes, where many local Liberals are keen to get rid of him, to the fury of Abbott, who is all for greater democracy within the Liberal Party until it threatens one of his mates.
Yesterday, though, Kelly faced a dilemma, because he’s an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, but even Abbott — like many other Trump supporters — was angered by Trump’s grovelling to Vladimir Putin. Kelly went for Trump and Putin. Suddenly he stopped being just a background hiss on the office television, and stood out. Like a sore thumb. Then kept digging this morning.
Let’s not overplay this. Kelly’s a useless appendage to the Liberal Party and of no great moment in the scheme of things. But it’s interesting to wonder why exactly it is that so many on the right are fans of Putin, given his great popularity on the far left, where reflexive anti-Americanism means any thug, kleptocrat or dictator seen as a hurdle to Western interests is embraced, even if they’re guilty of mass murder and war crimes, like the Putin-backed Assad regime. Pauline Hanson, too, is a big fan of Putin. “I wish we had a leader like that here,” Hanson said last year. “I wish someone would stand up and fight for this country… I think he is a strong man and I think what I was reading is about 97 per cent of people in his country respect him.”
Across Europe, far right parties and figures like Nigel Farage can be found praising Putin, or even taking money from him. Marine Le Pen took a nine million euro loan from a Moscow-based bank; Austria’s far right Freedom Party signed a five year “cooperation treaty” with Putin’s party.
This bending of the ideological curve means that the side of politics that once literally defined itself in relation to hostility to the Soviet Union is now a warm supporter of good relations with Russia; the hostility that once demanded nuclear war as the price of destroying godless communism transformed into an irenic “can’t we all just get along” embrace of a leader who murders his critics, seeks to undermine the EU and NATO and encourage the rise to power of anti-democratic populists.
But Pauline Hanson for once succinctly summed up the appeal of Putin when she marvelled at how strong he was and how she wished there was a leader like that here. Putin is the ultimate wish fulfilment of both left and right political extremism, the idea that governing shouldn’t be difficult, that a real leader simply sweeps aside opposition and imposes their will, whether implementing a far-left or far-right agenda, communism or nationalism. He is the fantasy figure of the ultimate reductive view of politics, that the messiness of democracy, the compromises, the deals, the negotiation, the endless argument, isareunnecessary if you just find a real leader who simply brushes all that aside and does what they want, without bothering about what citizens want.
It’s a child-like view of the world. But nothing’s going to bring the kids back, right Craig?