Title: Comment: Pop!(ulism) and the Conservatives Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 10th April 2014 - 12:11pm1397088660 Article: 14907 Rights
Like New Zealand's Conservative Party and previous fundamentalist microparties, other overseas populist parties have branded themselves as "anti-establishment." Can the centre-right work with such parties? It's not good news for LGBT New Zealanders either. I'm bracketing Italy in this context, as it is a special case. Its lack of minimum party representation thresholds enables microparties to appear in its national parliament with the barest fraction of the vote and there's also the matter of prior systemic corruption, which led to the downfall of prior established parties on the left and right and forced the appearance of new ones, exploited disastrously by facile and corrupt populists such as Silvio Berlusconi. In other national proportional representation electoral systems, one usually finds a dominant centre-right classical liberal or "Christian Democratic" party and its allies and coalition partners, pitted against centre-left social democratic and environmentalist green parties. In an opportunist corner all their own are self-styled "peoples parties" which are populist, anti-multiculturalist, anti-immigrant and liable to pander to religious social conservatives. The last category of parties are noted for their instability and political opportunism, based on personality cults. In European Union nations, they are also often opposed to the EU and its transnational institutions. In Australia and New Zealand, they also usually oppose intensive foreign investment and ownership of New Zealand resources, privatisation and free trade, as does New Zealand First and the Conservatives in our context and as did the vanquished Pauline Hanson "One Nation" Party in Australia. Indeed, European populist parties usually label themselves as explicit "people's parties", apart from the UK Independence Party, whose chief raison d'etre is Euroscepticism and nostalgia for the hardline social conservatism of the Thatcher era, opposed to modernisers within the British Conservative Party such as current Prime Minister David Cameron. The French National Front is also a special case, given that there has always been a poisonous undercurrent of neofascism, anti-Semitism, Catholic religious extremism and monarchism (!) against the liberal French secular republican consensus common to the fragmented French centre-right, and centre-left Socialist Party and its allies alike. Whatever their economic philosophy, such organisations are leader-driven and appeal to a narrow set of demographic constituencies- small business, rural or provincial dwellers, elderly or religious social conservative voters. As one can note from my description of the United Kingdom Independence Party and French National Front above, there are potential fishhooks for centre-right political parties in proportional representation systems such as New Zealand's MMP that might be unwary about the risks of such parties as potential coalition partners. Both UKIP and the Front National want to supplant their respective centre-right political rivals, the British Conservative Party and France's neo-Gaullist UMP (Union of Popular Movements) and both are Eurosceptic. New Zealand First has been characterised by anti-market economic policies, anti-immigration populist racism, social conservatism and similar repudiation of the National Party- as does Colin Craig and his Conservative Party. The centre-right underestimates this at its own peril. One such problem is the extent of the populist party leader and her or his authority over the caucus or party organisation, and the coherence of its political philosophy. If the leader should die (such as Dutch gay anti-immigrant racist and populist Pim Fortuyn), then the aforesaid party may collapse without their stabilising influence. In other instances, political circumstances overtake such parties. The Law and Justice Party was led by the populist, anti-market and religious social conservative Polish Jarowselski twins, but faced with a belligerent and newly ascendant Putin era Russia, Eastern European populist parties have foundered if they appeal to Euroscepticism. Eastern Europe still has painful memories of Soviet domination during the Cold War. That was one reason for the downfall of the Law and Justice Party in its national context. In others, the leader himself or herself proves to be such an ingénue and so devoid of practical political experience that their fragile "authority" proves to be too incapable of keeping its disparate elements together, particularly if it is being subjected to entryist pressures from extremist political groups to the far right, as happened with Pauline Hanson and One Nation across the Tasman. It also happened to New Zealand First (1998), but Peters narrowly survived that debacle, henceforth surrounding himself with a sycophantic caucus. In the case of the British Conservative and New Zealand National caucuses, the problem originated with past populist party leaders and Prime Ministers themselves, such as Margaret Thatcher and Rob Muldoon. Thatcher and Muldoon embraced populism and authoritarianism themselves, but its tactical expediency wore out over time as its electoral constituency succumbed to mortality, migration and illness. Consequently, the Lange, Blair and Clark Labour administrations took advantage of such disorganisation. To overcome the exhaustion of Thatcher and Muldoon era populism, Key and Cameron have branded themselves as centrists, liberals and modernisers- but their centrism and modernisation alienates those who do not share their classical liberal philosophy, hence the resultant emergence of the United Kingdom Independence Party, earlier ascendancy of the neofascist British National Party, French National Front, New Zealand First...and Colin Craig's Conservatives? Granted, as I've argued beforehand, the Conservative Party is also descended from a stream of religious social conservative parties- the Christian Heritage Party (1990-2005), Christian Democrats/Future New Zealand/the Kiwi Party (1995-2011), the fundamentalist contingent of United Future (2000-2007), Destiny Party and Family Party (2003-2005). To be sure, similar sectarian, separatist and primarily religious social conservative fundamentalist Protestant political microparties also exist in Australia (Fred Nile and his NSW Christian Democratic Party and the Family First Party), South Africa (the African Christian Democratic Party), Canada (the Christian Heritage Party of Canada), Britain (Christian Peoples Alliance) and various other fundamentalist Protestant, conservative Catholic or ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious microparties in Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France and Latin America. None are electorally significant, given that most are so separatist, sectarian and narrowly focused on minority interest religious concerns. However, the Conservatives should also be seen in the context of their populism. They are absurdly leader centred, as indeed is New Zealand First and as was the vanished Christian Heritage Party, which was so centred on the personage of Graham Capill that his exposure, trial and imprisonment as a serial pedophile destroyed the party that he had led for fourteen years. It is no accident that Colin Craig is trying to attract New Zealand First's constituency- but is he doing this through adopting overlapping policies? And should National also keep ignoring Colin Craig's emulation of the UK Independence Party and Tea Party Republican factional animosity toward David Cameron and fellow Tory modernisers, moderate Republicans...and John Key himself? Recommended: Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan MacDonnell: Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western Democracy: London: Palgrave Macmillan: 2008.Catherine Fieschi: Fascism, Populism and the French Fifth Republic: In the Shadow of Democracy: Manchester: Manchester University Press: 2004. Yves Meny and Yves Surel: Democracies and the Populist Challenge: London: Palgrave Macmillan: 2002. Michael Leach, Geoffrey Stokes and Ian Ward (ed) The Rise and Fall of One Nation: St Lucia: University of Queensland: 2000. Martin Myant and Terry Cox (eds) Reinventing Poland: Economic and Political Transformation and Evolving National Identity: London: Routledge: 2008. Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart (ed) Opposing Europe? Oxford: Oxford University: 2008. Peter Davies: The National Front in France: Ideology, Discourse and Power: London: Routledge: 1999. Amir Abedi and Thomas Harwood: "Doomed to Failure? UKIP and the Organisational Challenges Facing Right-Wing Populist Anti-Establishment Parties" Parliamentary Affairs: 2009: 62: 1: 72-87 Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson: The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism: New York: Oxford University Press: 2012 Elizabeth Foley: The Tea Party: Three Principles: New York: Cambridge University Press: 2012 Craig Young - 10th April 2014    
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