Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

A Rising Tide for Jean-Marie, Jorg, and Pauline? Xenophobic Populism in Comparative Perspective (1)

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

A Rising Tide for Jean-Marie, Jorg, and Pauline? Xenophobic Populism in Comparative Perspective (1)

Article excerpt

Xenophobic, Exclusionary and New Right Populism

A few years can be a long time in the politics of xenophobic, exclusionary populism. As recently as 1998, new right-wing populist parties were spreading from country to country, growing stronger within different liberal democracies. (2) Not all prospered. Some have since waned, even disappeared. (3) In Australia in the late 1990s, Pauline Hanson's One Nation (ONP) streaked like a meteor across the sky of Australian politics, (4) mesmerising party elites. For a time Hanson made unprecedented and astonishing progress. (5) Yet today ONP is deeply divided, fragmented, and bedraggled. Hanson no longer sits in parliament and has resigned from the leadership of her own party to fight lawsuits arising from fraud charges.

Despite some success at the state level in Western Australia, winning several upper house seats in 2001, ONP and Hanson are reduced to crisis management, trying to reorganise and stave-off possible bankruptcy. Wounded by defections, ONP's rump parliamentary kingdom awkwardly straddles outposts in Western Australia and Queensland. Her organisational castle is in disarray. Hanson's still loyal and active barons are few: federal Queensland Senator, Len Harris, and several Western Australian state MPs. Former key organiser and New South Wales Legislative Councillor, David Oldfield, has been expelled. (6) The remaining original troika member, David Ettridge, has drifted away. Despite the persistence of some devoted foot soldiers, a residual popular sympathy linked to anti-elite alienation, one might well ask if this is not the end for Pauline Hanson's particular brand of populism?

Comparable experiences elsewhere, especially in France and Austria, suggest that it may be too early to predict the final disappearance of a party rooted in xenophobic populism and which has tasted electoral success. In the parliamentary elections of 1998, ONP concentrated nearly a million voters behind its leader, platform and symbols, and about half a million again in November, 2001 in a campaign in which the incumbent Howard government had stolen many of ONP's hard-line anti-immigrant and security themes. Only if and until ONP commits official political suicide, is properly buried, and no rival takes its place, can we confidently say the adventure is over.

Elsewhere other xenophobic populist parties have experienced similar ups and downs, and degrees of success. For some, like ONP, life has also become increasingly difficult. A healthier world economy and political environment allowed more effective reformist governments, often on the centre-left, such as those of Tony Blair in the United Kingdom or Gerhard Schroeder in Germany, to combat some of the likely causes of populism such as slow growth and mass unemployment. Perhaps the wave of new-right populism has peaked, at least in some countries? In New Zealand, Canada, and the United States of America, as well as in Britain and perhaps even Belgium, stand-alone, xenophobic populist parties have fewer opportunities than in the recent past (7). Several western European new-right parties have seen their growth taper and their party system significance reduced (e.g. Belgian/Flemish VB). Others had a short-lived, limited impact (e.g. most Dutch and the hard-to-categorise Scandinavian parties). This is not to deny the persistence of worrying violence by some skinhead sects, nor the intriguing recent emergence in Holland, Norway and Denmark of unique forms of xenophobia combining populism with characteristics usually associated with the New Left, a phenomenon associated with the openly gay and dandyish (assassinated) Pym Fortuyn or Pia Kjaersgaard's Danish People's Party.

Elsewhere, however, xenophobic populists have prospered. Gianfranco Fini's Alleanza Nazionale and Umberto Bossi's Northern League, after one brief and tumultuous previous period of national office power-sharing, have solidified their standing as part of Italy's "legitimate" centre-right. …

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