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The Right is toxic: what next for conservatives?

The international right is cynical and dangerous. It is crucial we look beyond the surface rhetoric to understand what it represents because Australia is not immune.

The global right is pervaded with “expert and prodigious liars”: truth is irrelevant to their pursuit of power. The American experience is key to Australia: from the Civil Rights era, conservatives understood the future to be demographically grim for them. Instead of finding an electable path, they have increasingly developed deceptive strategies and gambits to con enough voters to enact their oligarchic agenda. The most dangerous lies have been delivered in the service of commercial interests such as fossil fuels. Now our very future stands in doubt.

Equally frightening is the degree to which the right is becoming honest: bigotries which were unmentionable in public or dog-whistled, these politicians now speak openly. The conspiracies that wind through the internet’s social spaces are spread by politicians and their media allies. Religion is used to dignify the ugly prejudices and fantasies.

One would be naïve not to expect lies and deceptions in the games of politics, but when one side destroys the bases of trust, the contest can no longer function. Constant lies gushed from President Donald Trump. The question of Scott Morrison’s honesty was deemed worthy of an entire book by Bernard Keane.

The Albanese government has granted Australians a pause in which to take stock. Around the world old divisions and alliances are unstable and shifting. The trajectory is towards profiteering amongst the richest in the face of mounting crises, and the subjection of the masses. The climate emergency’s catastrophes pile on the pressure. We need to stop assuming that our old truths remain true, our old alliances remain worthy, and that our moral bearings are intact.

It has become clear that formerly conservative parties are willing to work with anyone in the pursuit of power. It is also clear that they can be willing, in emulation of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, to use election victory to dismantle the structures that allow others to remove them.

In his essay on the results of the latest Israeli election, “The Israel we knew is gone,” David Friedman observed that “Israeli political trends are often a harbinger of wider trends in Western democracies.” The fact that Bibi Netanyahu has made a pact with the devil to regain power should stand as a stern warning to us all.

Netanyahu has formed government with figures that belong to the most extreme positions in Israel, who believe that shooting Palestinians should not be criminal; they won their election largely on mistrust of Israeli Arabs, threatening greater persecution of non-Jewish parts of the nation, including startling projects like separate beaches for Jews and Arabs.

A number of “conservative” parties in the West are beginning to work more overtly with the far right. The Neo Nazi-born parties are donning suits and detoxifying the worst of their rhetoric; in return, they are being accepted as partners in the political process. In Sweden, for example, three conservative parties have formed government by agreeing to work with the party of Neo Nazis to guarantee supply. The quid pro quo entails an array of harsh policies on immigration.

In France the far right has shown itself content to work with the left, to challenge Macron, but also to build a misleading façade of normalcy. These decisions to hide their ugliest faces in pursuit of power is one of the more chilling aspects of the movement.

In other countries, including Australia, the UK and US, our “conservative” parties are not so much cooperating with far-right parties as devouring them. John Howard’s lurch rightward from the 1990s to capture Pauline Hanson’s radicalised supporters was only the beginning of Australia’s “conservative” party’s moral destruction. Australia has, in turn, helped radicalise our anglosphere allies: our brutal policies against asylum seekers have infected our AUKUS partners, helping make their copycat actions shocking to rule of law representatives in those nations.

Victoria’s Liberal Party has presented itself as moderate to suit the electorate but is crippled by the branches gradually being overwhelmed by religious conservatives. Thus its policy platform includes support for conversion therapy, and its leader refuses to condemn candidates with a deeply reactionary mission. It has even preferenced known antisemite far-right candidates in its ethics-free desperation.

This reflects the American radical right development called the Nat Con movement. The billionaire-funded youth of the Republican Party now parades itself as fighting “the perfidy of the ruling class.” There it parades its bigotries as the defence of the little people.

The right has shown itself adept at co-opting left ideas and banners. The academics’ defining of relativism, which granted that there is no single truth for colonisers that is also the truth for the colonised, has been taken by the right to say that there is no truth.

The far right and the left share discontent with neoliberal orthodoxies. There are uncomfortable sympathies between the “poles” that have emerged over the pandemic. Resentment at government public health policies that they saw as precursors to totalitarianism melded with rampant (and often justified) mistrust of Big Pharma on the left to allow them to see the far right as fellow travellers. In a similar way, some feminists, particularly in the UK, have been co-opted by the far right into the anti-LGBTQI movement. Even Queer women join these attacks on trans existence – depicted as an affront to women – failing to realise that they too will become targets down the road. Thus, the far-right misogynist movement adopts a “feminist” face.

Antisemitic thought is as central to the radicalised right as anti-Muslim thought. Strange alliances are born. Orban’s Hungary has made George Soros a boogieman. This expat Jewish figure’s demonisation illustrates the hollow nature of Orban’s claim not to lead an antisemitic regime. Despite this antisemitism, his shared hatred of Muslims has made him a strong ally for Israel’s Netanyahu.

The Liberal Party, in federal and Victorian elections, chose to play duplicitous games, pitching themselves to the centrist voter as rational. They chose, however, to play also to the conspiracy and religious fringes. This American strand of right-wing politics has been rejected by Australians.

Those of us who hope for a future for our children cannot vote for the current right, infected by international strains of bigotry and deceptive authoritarianism as it stands. The centre right must evaluate what it has to offer, rather than cowering under the threatening might of its extreme partners.

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  1. John O'Leary

    Much as it was a relief to have the LNP kicked out, I think it would be a grave mistake to think of Albanese as even remotely trustworthy either. The big bosses in the media and fossil fuel industries have his scrotum firmly in their grip. Such is the dilemma we face.

  2. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks, John. I’m not saying Albo and his government are the answer to our problems. I’m asserting that they are a pause on the path towards illiberalism. They play politics as we’re use to it, for worse as well as for better. I would argue that this would be a better starting point for reform than the radicalising Right which no longer thinks their opposition has the right to govern.

  3. Terence Mills

    I’ve been watching (intermittently) the reaction to the weekend Victorian election on SKY – well somebody has to do it !

    Seeing Peta Credlin fuming about the stupidity of the Victorian electorate and alternately the stupidity of the Liberal party I feel like asking the old horse joke – why the long face Peta ?

    Paul Murray, Rita Panahi, Rowan Dean (who actually has his own show now following the sacking of former Sky News presenter and Courier-Mail columnist Peter Gleeson after multiple instances of plagiarism were uncovered.) Andrew Bolt and others are all raging about the stupidity of the Australian public in throwing out Morrison and now against the good folk of Victoria in retaining Chairman Dan as they love to refer to him.

    These people and others at SKY are rusted on to Murdoch, the American coffin-dodger who still seems to dictate absolutely the political direction of his media outlets despite evidence clearly showing that we the people have moved on from his right-wing malevolence.

    A perceptive contribution, Lucy.

  4. Steve Davis

    I think we’re lucky here in Oz that moderate libs have seen the US trend and know that they have a fight on their hands from the christian Right. And that internal battle is already under way.

  5. Clakka

    Indeed Lucy. And imo, the msm is an absolute disgrace. It appears its utter failure to strongly repudiate in the strongest of terms every step of erosion of the independence of the public service (eg: political loading of the AAT), the innumerable lies, misdirections and outright frauds committed almost daily by politicians, is brought about by cowardice, complicity and creation of alternate sensation by any other means – eg: payment to at least sit on the fence.

    We have seen this week, the duplicity, deception and craven behaviour of the desperados constituting the LNP in both the pathetic trojan horse of the Nat’s opposition to the ‘Voice’ distraction / cum wedge of Dutton, and the LNP’s failure to join the censure of Morrison. ‘Kindergarten’ – more like playground gangsterism, whilst the clerics hide in the shadows.

    And to where do these gormless political desperados reach to obtain their shamelessness, their m.o. of dragooning the fearful, the guilty, the ignorant and the hateful? Straight to religion and its self-aggrandising mastery of entrapment into wars of righteousness via mythologies.

    And to what end such commingling? Today’s Iran provides a salutary example. From the Shah’s visions, and the meddling of greedy foreign corsairs, to the implanting of institutionalised oppression and absurdity of rule by the clerics. We now see the inevitable people’s uprising despite the ongoing cost of the government incarcerating thousands and murdering hundreds. Yet the uprising continues, ‘amameh parani’ – more thoughtful than the guillotine.

    It was pleasing to hear the straightforward Bridget Archer speak of the secular imperative, the Westminster system, the separation of powers, and the truth – obviously not a desperado. As for the others in that mob, they obviously don’t think, and at any cost, don’t care.

    The recent elections have been encouraging, an implosion of the MudRocks would be sublime, and with some luck, much of the rest can be dealt with at the NACCery.

  6. Pete Petrass

    It is the religious side of things that concerns me the most. We already knew the Federal LNP was infested with pentacostals, as is the NSW LNP, but now also the Victorian LNP. Pentecostal arseholes are wanting to completely take over ALL of the State and Federal LNP. After 9 long years of them destroying our democracy something needs to be done soon the exorcise the lot of them.

  7. leefe

    The Sky After Dark commentariat have the self-awareness – and, one suspects, the neural acuity – of a lump of concrete.
    “Oh, no, it’s not us who are wrong; it’s the majority of Australians.”

    The degree of cognitive dissonance it takes to call Andrews “Dictator Dan”, when they are the ones who want to dictate to the country what they should think, how they should live their lives, who they are allowed to love, and how they should vote …

  8. Terence Mills

    Incidentally, ANTI-SEMITISM is defined as hostility to or prejudice against Semites: members of any of the peoples who speak or spoke a Semitic language, including in particular the Jews and Arabs.

  9. New England Cocky

    Another perceptive article Lucy, thank you.
    However, the real plot hiding in plain sight has been the Morrison & Hurley attempt to form the regally endorsed, democratically elected Hell$inger$ theocratic dictatorship overlorded by Scummo Chosen by the Eagle.
    So far, Hurley has avoided political criticism for unknown reasons. One would have thought that the Australian Republican Movement would have grasped the significance of these ”secret ministries” and been shouting from the roof-tops for immediately forming the Australian Republic with an Australian Borne Head of State now that Betty Windsor’s agent has betrayed the Australian people.
    I can understand the ”coffin dodger’s” scribblers avoiding the topic, but surely there is sufficient Constitutional and historic knowledge in the LABOR Party to recognise the similarities to the Trumpery Jan 6th uprising and the German Reichstag fire in 1933.

  10. Andrew Smith

    Interesting line ‘ John Howard’s lurch rightward from the 1990s to capture Pauline Hanson’s radicalised supporters’, chicken or the egg?

    Sky News is sounding like McCain’s description of the (Koch) flat earth ‘Freedom Caucus’ in the GOP (like Wolverines locally & ERG in the Tories): ‘lemmings in suicide vests’.

    Leading onto from the Atlantic article of Brooks, disturbing description of how detached from reality then paranoia the conservatives have become regarding the Democrats and target groups, with a wild mostly Evangelical religious fervour.

    Issue for the Libs or LNP is that Australia like the UK does not really do religion, but the agitprop, strategy and tactics imported from the US round think tanks, nativism & eugenics, Christianity, etc. require religious type belief, credulity, following orders etc. which are more uniquely American; while the GOP is described as ‘owned’ by Koch and endeavouring to create permanence….

    The latter is also related to the article of Brooks is the question ‘how can the GOP gain and maintain power if they are fast becoming an electoral minority?’, ditto the Liberal Party.

    The Liberal Party is not only toxic and lacking judgement through shared Anglosphere agitprop, but in general lacks leadership, while many of its former MPs, Ministers and PMs prefer to be offshore grifting in or around Koch linked think tanks, Tory Party or GOP, Murdoch, (K)GB News etc. media, CPAC and related events in UK, US and Hungary.

  11. Mark Shields

    Back in 1989 the Czech’s tried to defeat Government autocracy. But we western world economies were never there when those poor students were fighting for the revived Velvet Revolution. LET’S NOT FORGET HOW LITTLE WE WESTERNERS DID FOR THE victims of COMMUNIST SUPREMACY!

  12. Mark Shields

    Communism, Religion, Cultism; None of these beliefs are as bad as the Corporate Capitalist System: HOWEVER: We must never forget that any Group Belief Systems are always open to becoming Cults!!! Let’s not forget that Religion and Political bias will always be a Cult!!!! We must never forget that these Political/Religious Cults will always be occupied by Corporate Entities, who have no interest in our society; their only interest is in their Shareholders!

  13. wam

    Our rupert’s rag had an article praising Guy for showing the way for liberals to lose.
    The conclusion was to forget the hard right, trump believers, is to lose.
    I did write, ‘I wonder who they voted for???’

  14. Phil Lohrey

    This momentum of far-right movements and parties has been fed by the media giant that we all know throughout the English-speaking world. It’s a play on base human instincts like misogyny, sexism and racism. The barbeque bigot can feel re-validated in the 21st century – and find kinship online through friendly algorhythms. Thank goodness Australian voters have twice this year bypassed the strident messages of hate for progress.

  15. Andy56

    The right exists because us humans are conservative in nature. Conservative because we are stuborn in the face of facts. We had a long period where the established orthodoxies delivered substantial economic benefits. In this case, people were reluctant to rock the boat so to speak. The last 20 yrs has been a watershed period where the neo cons imposed their ideology, that we had it good, lets go further to get more. Unfortunately for most of us, its turned to shit. The realities of life, ie limitations of ideology over facts have set the dogs loose. Lots of people are scared and so grab whatever they think will bring back the good old days. This is where the right fits in. Power at any cost, in this case preying on the gullible of which they have a ready base. They live in the world of alternative facts and have no moral restraints.

    You have to ask the question then, whats the alternative? Progressives have a hard time convincing people that there is a better way. At every turn, the conservatives will push the doubts buttons. NBN in australia comes to mind. As us techies have always said, turnbull was a fool. The NBN report out today shows what a nasty individual he is. Money in finance allowed him to win at any cost. He screwed the NBN from its infancy to curry favour with Abbott. Is there any contrition from him?
    No, he is just another arsehole who enabled shit to happen for his own gain at our expense.
    The halls of power are littered with such examples of power abuse. There is your Right wing , fair and square.

  16. totaram

    Andy56: As you stated, Turnbull was not a fool but a nasty piece (of something). For us “techies” he will be known forever as “Mr. Fraudband”, no matter how much he bags the rest of the Coalition gang after they shafted him.

    Such is the story of any populace that gets taken in by the spin of the right-wing “conservative-neoliberal” cabal. Fortunately, the MSM support for these crooks is becoming less and less effective. The proof is the win by Dictator Dan in spite of their concerted campaign against him. He actually won his own election on first preferences alone. I am heartened. But vigilance is required, as always.

  17. Andy56

    Further more, the neo cons and their small government rhetoric have been shown up as a scam for most people. So in general economic terms, they have failed to deliver. With nothing else to show they have become cultural warriors. Their only play is to bring everyone else down. Flatten everything down with a hammer, ” see i told you it was flat”. The nationals response to the voice is a classic case in point, as was the NBN.

  18. Phil Pryor

    Apparently ( I know not) over on STY news, that stable of stunted stinkers and sterchorating stydwellers, some nematode called a Credlin has been insisting that everyone else in the world is wrong, if they fail to heed her femmipontifical blasts of utter rubbish. What should one do, if one can perceive her total aridity, leached and porous cranial sludge, romanist ratbag raving rubbish?

  19. Liam

    Sadly, I watch the Victorian Liberals latest bid to appeal to aspiration, as the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison campaigns did in turn. This Aspirational value represents the benefit of self at the expense of everyone else, which the last Federal government clearly lived by.

    Such selfishness, is represented by the traffic jam of single occupant vehicles. Governments who build more lanes and create hostile infrastructure in the name of letting drivers “get ahead” end up forcing people into cars, ensuring that “ahead” only lies even more traffic.

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