One Queensland, One Nation, or One World?
What if, round the world, at elections at every level of government, voters started electing "One World Party" representatives?
That is, representatives in favour of a global public sphere, in favour of democratically generated regulation at the global level. Such representatives could be harbringers of a new kind of globalisation aimed, among other things, at reining in and regulating the transnationals who have largely escaped national boundaries by going global.
One World Party candidates could perhaps begin to generate a constituency by pointing to the growing list of problems that their home nations have no capacity to solve: the new slavery, the race to the bottom as nations compete to attract and retain corporations, global-scale money laundering, the international arms trade, the spread of Aids and innumerable other intractable global health issues uncontained by borders, the exportation offshore of jobs, the swelling of the numbers of refugees worldwide, the global digital divide, food saftey in the wake of the possible export of Mad Cow disease to Africa and Asia by the UK, environmental degradation, population stress, the global financial "casino", the wreakage of the Soviet Empire and the Pandora's box of unmanageable problems thereby unleashed and more.
Elected One World Party members would naturally swear allegiance to their own elected jurisdictions, be these local governments, states or provinces, or nations. They would so serve their jurisdiction on the basis of a new "global public good", and in so doing, open up a new sphere of debate and democratic political legitimacy, linking up with like representatives from other places in new forums and parliaments...
The notion above came to mind as I pondered the the re-emergence of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party at state elections in Western Australia and Queensland over the past few weeks and listened to Premier Peter Beattie of Queensland declare his landslide re-election victory to be the checkmate of "One Queensland" over the divisive policies of the One Nation Party.
In a nutshell, the Australian party political situation is as follows. Though no-one has as yet put the matter this way, the historic work of Robert Menzies and his political associates over fifty years ago in uniting a plethora of Australian conservative parties in an anti-Labor party Coalition appears to have come unstuck.
The conventional wisdom has quickly come to be that the return of One Nation, which garnered ten percent of the Queensland statewide vote though it ran candidates in less than half the seats, has fractured the conservative vote. The result is that many in the electorate, including previously committed conservatives, have switched to a "safe house" - the Australian Labor Party. In the aftermath of the state elections it currently appears almost inevitable that, with the "support" of One Nation, the ALP will gain national office when a federal election is called sometime in the next nine months.
As is now clear in Australia, the coming unstuck of the Menzian Coalition represents a strategic nightmare for the Liberal and National parties. Show support or sympathy for One Nation and urbane/urban voters will desert. Deny One Nation and its supporters will deny the Coalition critical second preferences in critical marginal seats. Show disunity or try to have it both ways and swinging voters and many others will desert anyway. The beneficiary of this strategic nightmare: in Queensland and Western Australia, the ALP. How then will Prime Minister John Howard get out of straddling this barbwire fence?
An editorial this week in the Brisbane Courier Mail (Wednesday, February 21, 2001) aggressively put forth the view that the recent Queensland election was not about globalisation. The logic offered was as follows. Seventy five percent of the electorate voted for major parties that support an open, competitive economy. Therefore, globalisation was not an issue, despite all the media attention received by Pauline Hanson who talked about almost nothing but globalisation, deregulation, privatisation, national competition policy etc. Rather, the Courier Mail put it, political parties are competing on the basis of policies offered to enable people to "adjust" to the "fact" of globalisation.
This is a highly disingenous statement, and not simply because the Courier Mail is a part of Rupert Murdoch's global empire, and thereby has an obvious interest in promoting globalisation never acknowledged in editorials about the subject. A more accurate account of Australian politics would register that Paul Keating was voted out of office in 1996 in large part because of the way his implementation of the policies of globalisation left behind many traditional supporters of the Labor Party. Howard won in large part by attracting these "battlers" with his claim that he would run the country "for all of us". Now, having had a two term "fair go" from the Australian electorate, Howard is in danger of the boot because his implementation of the policies of globalisation looks like leaving behind not only the battlers he temporarily won from Labor in 1996 but traditional conservative supporters - the rural and owner/operator classes.
Having punished the ALP for its previous sins with two terms out of office, voters look set to give it another fair go. Another way of putting the matter is that voters look set to believe Labor's new political performance to the effect that that it has learnt its lesson. That it has changed from being the hard-edged globaliser of 1983-1996. That it will take a softer, more inclusive approach this time around. Howard got elected in 1996 with just this trick. In other words, a key ingredient in the implementation of the policies of globalisation is an inflated degree of political acting. A lot of well-made promises anchored upon hype and image to the effect that the benefits and good times can be made to come - for everyone.
Several years ago, when Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party first emerged, I sat in my then doctor's office discussing the phenomenon with him. The good doctor set forth his view, with mischevious but earnest audacity, that the people who voted for Hanson were lazy rural block trash who should be shot or otherwise disposed of, in the national interest.
The doctor's rationale for this proposal was a business one, developed through regular telephone conversations with his brother, a "big man" in the London-based global financial markets. The real danger flowing from Hanson's "uneducated, racist, redneck" supporters, the doctor and his brother believed, was that that these people risked stuffing the economy for the rest of us - the decent, world-in-tune Australians. By portraying Australia to the world (and to Asia in particular) as a redneck country, the doctor argued, Hanson and her supporters would very likely make Australia a pariah for international business and investment, thus hitting all of us in the hip pocket.
Hanson voters were not shot, though intolerance in the name of tolerance (aka business) - mixed with much decent outrage at what she stood for - had a good run. Rather, Hanson and her party self-destructed, with much assistance from the Australian political structure and media. Or so it seemed, in the lull between elections. Now though, as discussed above, Hanson and her voters are back to haunt the Australian political process. This time, instead of being treated with contempt, as loonies, demagogues and opportunists, One Nation voters are patronised by the media as "those left behind by globalisation". As those who must be helped to "adjust". As for Hanson, unless the authorities manage to jail her for fraud, she will likely be a Senator after the next election.
"Pauline", as Hanson likes to be called, has clearly had media performance training in her time out of the public spotlight. In the standard manner, she responds to questions by going on the attack and by reframing the question to suit her own agenda. At this game, she is gifted, all the more because her tremulousness and outrage, her quality of untutored "I just say what I think" authenticity remains very much intact. In short, Hanson is a political performer par excellance whose appeal is based on "plain talk", the better to counter the bull of the political class who have "talked populist in the bush and acted like globalisers in Canberrra".
Who are we to gainsay the choice of Hanson as spokeswoman of alienated voters? Nonetheless, she is an actress, a political artist, a creator and performer of political illusions as much as Howard and his ilk are. And political illusion is at the heart of the problem that we all share, politicians and voters alike.
The illusion Hanson has come to embody is that it is possible, if only politicians would do what they are told by "the people", to remake a world wherein Australia is for white Australians and Asians are few and quiet. Wherein Aboriginals have proper respect and keep out of sight except when they are cleaning up or making a good play on the sporting field for the home team. Wherein economics are stable - where workers can earn good money and small businesspeople can earn even better money and the bush sits comfortably at the centre of political and economic power and does not feel itself to be a whingeing supplicant to the public purse. Wherein the primary frame of reference and filter upon reality is the "One Nation", Australia and its customary, slowly changing life, and not global flows of dollars and culture.
Hanson's illusion, her promise of a restoration of this "One Nation", is obviously a lie. The demographics, economics and culture of Australia have changed inextricably from the times her act harks back to, as is illustrated by the fact that she herself, a woman of partly german descent, presently occupies the near centre stage of Australian politics.
Yet her artistry is propelled by a powerfully bitter truth which her voters know too well: the people were not asked if they wished for the cultural and economic remaking of Australia undertaken by governments over the past twenty-five years. More specifically, in terms of conservative politics, a social agreement with some resemblance to Hanson's One Nation underpinned the Menzian Coalition, the push for Asian trade led by the old Country Party notwithstanding. That social agreement was an imperfect yet real rapprochement within Australia society which gave the bush a prominent role, and which gave a "fair go" to owner-operators and workers (and a role for the Labor Party as tribune of the latter group). Above all, this worldview held that, in the "One Nation" Australia, Australians could and would look after Australians.
Robert Reich, Christopher Lasch, John Ralston Saul, Manuel Castells and others have well-described the "revolt of the elites", which has seen, since the 1970s at least, elites throughout the West dump their fellow countrymen to "go global". In the Australian context, the escape from Australia as "One Nation" did not occur in any democratic way. Rather, as in other Western countries, the abrogation of the national agreement was done on the run. That the politicians concerned were trying to deal with economic stagnation through an increased emphasis on the global marketplace does not obviate that their tearing up of the national agreement was carried out with an extensive usage of lying and manipulation in the form of image based political showmanship. The people were not involved, were not invited to participate in a remaking in any democratic sense, but were instead conned and dragged along with promises of a better future, "because we have no choice".
Hanson titilllates as politainment because the raw nerve she touches in such strangely sexualised fashion is the broken national deal. In now goes without saying in Australia that in the bush and regions it is bitterly clear to many that the policies of globalisation have not made things better, as promised, but worse. Australia's compulsory voting system ensures that that the bitterness of this minority comes to occupy a place in the political structures of the nation, making these anything but "relaxed and comfortable".
The larger electoral phenomenon, of which Hanson and her One Nation Party are only a part, is that votes are now flowing between parties on the basis of which leaders, parties and candidates can best evoke a vision of a return to an inclusive Australian community as against political others who are made to stand for exclusiveness: Howard's "For all of us", Beattie's One Queensland, whatever slogan Beazley comes up with and so on.
To an extent, expressions of inclusiveness are an appropriate aspect of the political process of any nation. Yet the very appropriateness of a wish for inclusiveness disguises how central this desire has become, disguises the desperation with which voters are seeking a return to or a renewal of such a state of affairs.
The great lie of Hanson's opponents, the "major political parties", the great lie of the Howard's and Keating's and Beazley's, the lie that we, their audience pine to hear, the lie that fuels the increasingly desperate political showbusiness of our time is that the nation-state retains adequate sovereignty to facilitate a just and good and egalitarian life for its people.
Yet, the nation-state as a largely self-contained platform for building a decent society is gone, given away by and/or taken out of the hands of our leaders.(See, for example, the Australian Financial Review, 24-25 February, p.40: Global Gain for those who play the game.) To an important extent, all that we are left with is their performance that they can deliver such a state of affairs to us. Complacently, and with little imagination, our politicians are performing their own impotence, which we as audiences consume, oscillating as a body politic between the failed inclusiveness delivered by those in power and the hoped for inclusiveness promised by those out of power.
The position we, and so many around the world, find ourselves in is that the nation-states in which we reside have diminishing power over many of the the issues that matter to our well-being and that of the world. Further, our inability to realistically - and structurally - acknowedge this reality is impeding our practice of democracy. The policies generated by our search for an unreal inclusiveness are wonky, ostrich-like, out of touch with the global issues beyond any "One Nation" are mounting up, unattended, throughout the world.
The true riposte to Hanson, to Howard, to Beazley and all of their ilk everywhere then is: not One Nation, still less One Queensland, but One World. The globalisers operate on a one world basis. The citizenries of the world and their representatives, in being confined to national levels of political legitimacy, are being dudded. Let us deal with the reality of our being dudded by beginning to acknowledge, within our political processes, our actual abscence of sovereignty. Let us begin to build worldwide within our existing institutions of democracy bridges of practice to a yet unknown framework of global governance by electing candidates who explicitly champion, in both local and global forums, debate upon issue of the global good which are yet grounded in the local. Our politicians can help by building representation with such a brief into constitutional structures. Imagine elected representatives to the United Nations, WIPO, WTO...
Australia, the country that invented the secret ballot and pioneered compulsory voting, could perhaps start the world down this path. Why not?