Saturday, July 30, 2016

Karl du Fresne: When supposed liberals turn out to be anything but

It’s been an extraordinarily turbulent few weeks in international politics.

Two patterns have emerged. The first, which has been much commented on, is that alienated voters are rebelling against the political elites which, for the past couple of decades, have been calling the shots.

People are looking for something new from politicians. For want of a better word, they seem to be looking for some type of authenticity – a sense that politicians actually stand for something, even if it’s not very well articulated.
In the US, this is obvious from the extraordinary groundswell of support for Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign has been based on simplistic slogans rather than clearly defined policies, but they strike a chord with American voters who feel they have been neglected for too long.

Over on the left we saw a similar phenomenon in the unexpected surge of support for the Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders.

In ordinary circumstances the tag “socialist” is the kiss of death to any American politician, but these are not ordinary times. The socialist Sanders was able to mobilise enough of a following to give his rival Hillary Clinton a hell of a fright on her way to the Democratic nomination.

In Britain, the political establishment got a bloodied nose when voters decided, by a margin of 52 to 48, that they wanted out of the European Union. This was another triumph for the “outsiders” in the form of the United Kingdom Independence Party, or Ukip.

Ukip capitalised on a mounting feeling, outside the prosperous bubble that is London, that Britons wanted to regain control of their own country.

Brexiteers were characterised by their opponents as racists who were concerned only about immigration, but there was much more to it than that. The Britons who voted to leave the EU resented being governed from Europe by bureaucrats over whom they had no control.    

The EU originated as an idealistic plan to avoid the risk of another European war, but it has grown to the point where it’s hopelessly out of touch with the people whose interests it supposedly represents. It’s also seen as undermining the autonomy of member countries and restricting their ability to act in their own best interests. 

Speaking of Britain, Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party is further evidence of disenchantment with the political status quo. Corbyn’s a cloth-cap leftie who is not liked by his own MPs, but has the backing of the party grassroots.

He may be unelectable, but people know what he stands for. That counts for something.

Closer to home, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – a bland, middle-of-the-road pragmatist in the same mould as John Key and David Cameron – called an election in the expectation that he would be returned with a thumping majority and be rid of obstructive individuals who had been making life difficult for him in the Senate.

As it turned out, his coalition government barely squeaked back into power after a cliff-hanger election which saw the opposition Labor Party restored as a political force.

What’s more, Turnbull will have even more contrary mavericks to contend with in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Turnbull ousted his predecessor Tony Abbott in an opportunist coup (many called it treacherous) last year, but ran a lacklustre campaign and must now be casting anxious glances over his shoulder.

Many commentators have been saying that for all Abbott’s failings, the former PM would have run a far more stirring campaign – one that would have connected with voters in the conservative heartland.

Abbott, like Sanders, Corbyn and Ukip’s Nigel Farage, is a conviction politician rather than one guided by focus groups and highly paid professional strategists. Trump has convinced Americans he’s a conviction politician too, though it’s hard to say.

Another is Pauline Hanson, one of the mavericks elected to the Australian Senate. Hanson is a conservative Queensland politician whose career has been built on her outsider status.

That brings us to the second pattern to emerge from the recent upheavals. It seems that in the eyes of some people, democracy is fine only as long as it delivers the results they want.

Both the EU referendum result and Hanson’s election in Australia triggered ugly, hysterical backlashes, mostly from people who probably think of themselves as liberal.

In Britain, four million bad losers signed a petition demanding that the referendum be held again. This is like the All Blacks losing a test match 48-52 and demanding a replay.

In New Zealand, a loudmouth radio host wrote a newspaper column arguing that people over 65 shouldn’t be entitled to vote (this, because older Brits voted to leave the EU while younger people, many of whom were too lazy to vote, wanted to stay in).

Similarly, the vicious media attacks on Hanson suggest the liberal elites would prefer it if the people who support politicians like Hanson were disenfranchised, presumably because they’re too thick and too redneck to be allowed anywhere near a polling both.

But Hanson’s supporters are as entitled as anyone to vote for whoever they think will best represent them. It’s called democracy.

Karl du Fresne blogs at The article was first published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail.


Ray S said...

I think I know who you refer to as a "loudmouth host" but please , put a name in there.

paul scott said...

Welcome to reality Karl. Welcome to the new sense of Nationhood which is spreading all over the world. And welcome liberals to the realisation that it is you who are the social justice warriors and enforcers of regression [ I mean progression ] .
Welcome to the reality that we have very little time for established media.

Brian said...

Politicians of yesteryear verses Politicians of today’s a reality?
Interesting comments Karl, this failure by our elite leaders whose policy is primary dominated by their spin doctors on how they are going to retain power at the next election has come somewhat adrift in an unforeseeable change of attitude by Mr & Mrs Joe Citizen.
The first test of this will come about at the US Presidential election in November with Clinton v Trump neck and neck down the last straight.
You are right on Brexit, Turnbull spelt Turndisaster, Corbyn’s last cloth cap stand, are all portends of a change. Here in little God.s Own our main concern is still internally focussed with the largest minefield for National being the Housing crisis. Which to a large extent has been due to the bureaucratic RMA rules/regulations and emotionally charged statements from the Greens. Add this to the policy of the National Party of unrestricted financially led imported immigration to cover the gap in our poor exports returns.
Yes our loud mouth hosts are very vocal, although to give some credit the morning news on T.V. 1 has the quieter aspect of being merely a social chit might expect the ghost of Aunt Daisy to appear tripping along her back passage to help those two presenters out with some common sense. This so-called TV 1 news is really an insult to the intelligence of viewers; and God knows what the cost is hidden away from us somewhat like the actual news!!!!
The recent letter in the Herald from an academic headlined his article “Climate sceptics should be prosecuted by law”. This indicates our democratic right of expression is under a dire threat. I wondered when reading it, whether this academic had seen the success of the book Mein Kampf before penning his statement? But I recalled that Lenin too, was somewhat of the same inclination.
It should not of course, be any surprise to us all seeing the directives from Central Government on the “reform” of Local Government that bypasses the local ratepayers. The word “Reform” should read “Control”. Quite obviously the Key Government considers the imperfections of the Auckland Super Council rank well below a similar reform of Local Authorities in New Zealand.
Add that to the growing demand that Maori have special rights via the appointment system onto local councils; a factor which is gathering strength despite two obvious ratepayers’ votes against such a measure. It is as Karl quotes, in the same vein as the pro European voters wanting a re-vote.
There is more than a hint in the support by National for “appointments”, which if implemented would see the four Maori seats in Parliament grow like topsy. And to think at the last election it was a platform policy of National to remove these seats!
The winds of change alter course very much in politics “So perhaps we can take some comfort in Climate change after all”!!!!

paul scott said...

Karl another thing about this: " What’s more, Turnbull will have even more contrary mavericks to contend with in both the Senate and the House of Representatives."
The Senate may appear to established media as mavericks. They are in fact Social Conservatives, and the established media will eventually hear more about us, on its way to extinction.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

"This is like the All Blacks losing a test match 48-52 and demanding a replay."
The turn-out was 72%. Of those who turned out, 54% voted 'out'. That means 39% of those eligible to vote voted for Brexit.
The trouble here is the traditional English fixation with simple majoritarianism. Momentous changes such as Brexit ought to set a higher bar, such as an absolute majority.

paul scott said...

Barend [ above reply ] seems to say it is not ok to refuse Brexit by a second referendum, but more ok to create an absolute voting majority where Brexit could not be reached.
That is that, that manipulation is bad, while this manipulation is good.
Now wait on. Did the people of Britain have a referendum of say 60% to go into to this unelected monster EU/? . No they did not.
The proposition of requiring a vote of a majority of eligible voters is not even faintly democratic., Non voters in this scenario get to vote for the status quo by default.

Anyway in spite of the heroic genius Farage, Britain’s May is a weasel like her predecessor. She is showing no signs of Brexit.
The reverse. She is waiting till she hears from Scotland. Oh dear. Democracy is dead, so dead in Britain
Let the colonisation by Islam continue..
We don’t do so well here in New Zealand ourselves r with referenda. Smacking referendum, and the State sales referendum
The people are stupid. You would think we would realise that. We are just too stupid.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Paul, Brexit has major constitutional implications. In countries with a 'written Constitution', constitutional amendments invariably require more than a simple majority in parliament. There is plenty of precedence for setting a higher bar for constitutional changes than for non-constitutional ones.

paul scott said...

Barend. Yes.