The election of Tony Abbott has led to a lot of crowing from my right-wing friends about a ‘tory takeover’. But I think they’re wrong. While, electorally, the right is doing okay, I think there are some serious problems below the surface. I believe the right is also in crisis, and we should stop all our forlorn navel-gazing and talk about it.
I know what you’re thinking- “What? No. The LEFT is in crisis. Death of socialism, no alternative, et cetera”. True, the left may be in a crisis of sorts, but I think it’s a different kind of crisis, a healthier crisis than that of the right. But more on that another day.
The right no longer stands for much (Julia Gillard referred to this in her recent piece in the guardian). Oh sure, it claims to stand for something, but these claims are weak. Much of this weakness stems from the events of the first decade of the 21st century, namely the (failure of the) war on terror, the global financial crisis, and the relative decline of social conservatism. Now, I’m not saying that the right is powerless; clearly it’s not. But public perception on some of the right’s core ideas is shifting, and the right itself doesn’t seem to have much to say about it.
But firstly- ‘The Right’ never existed.
Like ‘the Left’, ‘The Right’ doesn’t really exist. It’s a combination of diverse groups with diverse interests. These groups differ on all the main issues; intervening in markets, the place of morality, the relevance of religion, the necessity of war, and the importance of the nation. But since these concerns often overlap, people call this group ‘The Right’, and assume it’s a whole, even though it contains Christian conservative sexagenarians, coked-up capitalist libertarians, and neo-nazi nationalists. But hey, people believe and perpetuate the myth, and in doing so they make it relevant.
1. Truly free-markets are a terrible, terrible idea.
Let’s start with the most obvious. The legitimacy of free market capitalism is in tatters, and not just with the usual rabble either. Rightly or wrongly, many people believe the global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers, and that we need government regulation to control them. This deals a serious blow to the right’s supposed superior knowledge of the economy.
2. The ideal of the small state is dead.
This was once a pillar of the right- that governments only cause problems economically, and that they inevitably overreach and intrude on freedom. Well, PRISM, NSA and the GCSB have dealt serious damage to that. Big government is back with a vengeance and a high speed internet connection.
3. “Austerity- a popular and effective policy” (Tui Billboard, 2013).
The old ‘government budget is like a family budget’ line has turned out truer than the right would like. Because when your family is running up debt, you DON’T starve the children to balance your budget. You keep borrowing, keep buying the essentials, and try to figure out a way to get more income. Experiments with austerity have not been famously effective in southern Europe, to put it mildly. Also, it turns out democracy gives the people a say on government (somewhat), and austerity isn’t super popular.
4. Who is socially conservative these days?
Remember the outrage at the smacking ban? You’re one of a few that do. Remember the outrage at marriage equality? What outrage? And what about the perennial claim that the media is corrupting the minds of our children? It’s just as likely to come from liberals or feminists these days. Nobody laments the rise of divorce rates, or the decline of the nuclear family. Social conservatism just doesn’t hold the sway it used to over the political centre.
5. When was the last time you went to church?
Need I say more? Chances are that if you’re reading this and you went to church recently, you probably went to a youth church with a cool non-denominational name like Arise or Huge or Radness. The Western right used to be all about good Christian morality. Try getting elected on THAT platform nowadays (I’m looking at you, Colin Craig). A lot of people just don’t trust religion, or super religious people.
6. Tradition isn’t cool.
Well, western tradition anyway. When was the last time anyone ran a political campaign promoting tradition? Seriously, let me know, because I can’t remember. Tradition is not something we celebrate that much anymore, partly because the idea of tradition is tied up with all sorts of uncool things, like women in the kitchen, non-straight folk in the closet, and brown people absent entirely.
7. ‘The West is white’ idea is on the way out.
Immigration and multiculturalism- curse of the conservative, enemy of the amateur blogger, anathema of the (insert anything alliterative). Bloggers call them both failures, but as far as failures go, they’re spectacularly resilient. The idea that ‘the West is white’ is on the way out. That’s not to say that white culture isn’t the dominant culture in the West; it is. But the idea that it should be the only culture in the West (and that immigrants should assimilate) doesn’t fly. Immigration is now considered legitimate, even beneficial, policy.
8. Militarism- an epic and costly fail.
You can blame Bush for this one. The Iraq war was/is an enormous clusterfuck built on lies, and has made things worse in pretty much every way. As a result, a lot of people have lost the ’this will not stand!’ attitude. Nowadays, things stand. A strong defence and ‘not taking any guff’ used to be a pillar of the right, but not anymore. Now it’s more a case of ‘leave the brown people to their problems, we’re not getting involved’.
9. Nationalism is cringe-worthy.
Winston still gets a lot of votes from this, and lately the Greens and Labour have started playing it up a bit, but at least they make the effort to call it ‘giving kiwis a fair go’. And it still comes across terribly. It sounds awful to tell your taxi driver that he can’t live amongst us, as we do.
10. There are no more reds underneath our beds (or terrorists on our trains).
Let’s be honest- nobody is scared of communism anymore. This has undercut the right’s claim to protect us from the red bogeymen, bogeywomen and non-cis-gendered bogeypeople. Terrorists briefly filled that gap but, thank god, the rhetoric from the media and governments has been dialed down since about Obama took office. When was the last time we heard the phrase ‘War on Terror’?
There you have it. The right is in crisis.