The far-right’s creeping influence on Australian politics


Andrew Markus, Monash University

This article is the last of a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here.


Far-right political groupings are a constant feature on the fringes of Australian politics. In the 1950s and 1960s, they included the League of Rights and minuscule neo-Nazi parties. In the 1980s, there was National Action, the Australian Nationalist Movement, Australians Against Further Immigration and the Citizens Electoral Council.

In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of a number of groups that combine online organisation with intimidating street activity: Reclaim Australia, Rise Up Australia, the Australian Defence League, the United Patriots Front, True Blue Crew and Antipodean Resistance.

While hostility between – and within – far-right groups is typical, they are united by their nationalism, racism, opposition to “alien” immigration and disdain for democracy.

Most far-right activists continue to be excluded from polite society. But the endorsement of their ideas by some mainstream political figures has allowed them to make creeping gains into the political culture.

Paranoid style

A feature of far-right movements was characterised in the 1960s by the American political scientist Richard Hofstadter as the “paranoid style”:

a style of mind that … evokes [a] sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.

A common belief concerns conspiracies that are hidden by the media, which disseminates what today is termed “fake news” or “alternative facts”, previously known as propaganda and misinformation.

The conspirators have been identified in various guises, with the common element being the promotion of international and cosmopolitan, as distinct from national, values. They include Freemasons, Catholics (or “Papists”), Jews, Muslims, Communists, Socialists and Fabians.

International organisations such as the United Nations are especially suspect – seen as agents of a “New World Order”. Climate scientists and environmentalists, with their proliferation of international treaties, have become major targets in recent years.

Eric Butler, the driving force of the League of Rights for half a century, strove to unmask what he saw as the “New International Economic Order”, orchestrated by Jews, manifested in the Indigenous land rights movement, the destruction of family farms and small businesses, and the policies of “multi-racialism and multi-culturalism”.

In the 1980s and 1990s, far-right groups focused on their discovery of the “The Grand Plan – Asianisation of Australia”. The 1997 book The Truth, issued in Pauline Hanson’s name by a group of her followers, revealed “the internationalist elite of The New World Order” that was plotting the destruction of Anglo-Saxon Australia through “immigrationism, multiculturalism, Asianisation and Aboriginalism”.

In contemporary Australia, far-right movements focus on Islam. It is seen as an authoritarian force that supposedly seeks world domination through the infiltration of Muslim populations into the West, the establishment of a separate legal system (Sharia Law) enforced through mosques, and the subjugation of non-Muslims through acts of terror.

Hostility to immigration

The distinctive mindset that characterises supporters of minor political parties of the right is evident in public opinion surveys, but findings on members of fringe political groupings are less reliable because their numbers in national surveys are very small.

Nevertheless, we can confidently conclude that a high proportion of people attracted to the far-right have a heightened negative view of their life circumstances, a stronger sense that the area in which they live – and their country – is on a downward path, and negative views of immigration and ethnic diversity.

The 2017 Scanlon Foundation national survey, which I led and analysed, disaggregated attitudes by political alignment. In response to the open-ended question “What do you think is the most important problem facing Australia today?”, immigration (viewed negatively) was the most important issue for One Nation supporters. By contrast, it ranked fifth for Coalition voters, sixth for Labor, and was not ranked at all by Greens voters.

When asked for their view of the level of immigration, 86% of One Nation supporters indicated that the intake was too high, compared with just of 37% of the national sample.

Heightened concern over immigration links to nationalist values. Asked to respond to the proposition that “people who come to Australia should change their behaviour to be more like Australians”, 78% of One Nation voters strongly agreed, compared with 37% of Coalition voters, 30% of Labor and 4% of Greens. An overwhelming 92% of One Nation voters strongly agree that “in the modern world, maintaining the Australian way of life is important.”

Expanding reach

While there is consistency over time in far-right values, in one respect there has been change. Where once these previously fringe political groupings struggled to reach large audiences, they have now improved their messaging and, most importantly, harnessed the power of the internet and social media to grow their networks.

This is illustrated by the “Stop the Mosque” campaign in the Victorian regional centre of Bendigo, which reached a level of activism and civil disobedience that won national and international attention. Opponents of the mosque established a Facebook page in January 2014; within six months, it had amassed more than 8000 followers.

Links were forged with like-minded groups across Australia, the United States and Europe, who provided encouragement, campaign advice, donations and access to resources. Protest activities were maintained for over two years and spread to other areas.

The emphasis on the perceived threat of Islam has been a crystallising issue for the far-right in recent years, helping it to grab headlines and recruit followers. Pauline Hanson and the Liberal National Party’s George Christensen spoke at anti-Islamic Reclaim Australia rallies in 2015.

The politics of the paranoid style remains in vogue among the far-right, which limits its possibilities for growth. But today, as Collette Snowden has observed, its reach is greatly enhanced:

with the dedication and commitment of a few passionate supporters, small and more marginalised groups are able to create a public presence that previously would have required years.

The ConversationThe influence of the far-right should not be overstated, but it is a danger sign when mainstream politicians associate themselves with its hateful agenda.

Andrew Markus, Pratt Foundation Research Chair of Jewish Civilisation, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Why the Australian Christian right has weak political appeal


Geoffrey Robinson, Deakin University

This article is the fourth in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here, part two here and part three here.


The Christian right has been a forceful presence in American political life since the 1970s. Conservative Christians in Australia have attempted to mobilise religion in similar ways, but have not been able to gain a permanent foothold in our mainstream political culture.

Religion is never just religion; it can mean at least three different things. First, propositions about the world: Does God exist? Is Jesus his son? Second, an expression of shared identity: “we are Christians/Muslims/Jews”. A third approach understands religion as a “technology of self-governance”. That is, we reflect on our conduct and thoughts and try to live according to a moral code.

In the lives of the politically religious, these concepts are entangled. Australian political religion began as an expression of identity, but today draws much of its appeal on notions of self-governance. Yet this appeal has limited political potential.

Catholics and Protestants

For the first half of the 20th century, religious identity was a major faultline in Australian politics: Protestants tended to support conservative parties; Catholics generally favoured Labor.

Popular Protestantism emerged as a technology of self-governance associated with crusades for moral reform. Among Catholics, disproportionately less educated, religion was still understood as a form of group identity rather than a way of living. Australia, like other countries of European settlement, saw an alliance between Catholics and the left, despite the illiberalism of the Catholic hierarchy.

It was only in the 1930s that a new generation of Catholics (exemplified by B.A. Santamaria) adopted the style and rhetoric of Protestant politics. Santamaria called on Catholics to live their faith and let it specifically shape public policy.

A new generation of educated Catholics was enthralled. They defied the Labor and Catholic establishment to form the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) after the 1955 Labor Party split.




Read more:
Australian politics explainer: the Labor Party split


This period represents the high point of Australian political religion. The DLP was a distinctively religious party, overwhelmingly supported by Catholics, while the suburban Protestantism of Sunday schools and Freemasonry shaped Liberal politics.

Traditional divisions dissolve

Yet, the edifice of old Australian political religion began to dissolve in the 1960s. Social upheavals undercut the power of religion as a set of unchallenged norms. For some, modern liberalism provided an effective substitute. For others, it offered only social disintegration and meaninglessness.

Established churches acquiesced in the rebellion against the old morality. Catholic certainties were shattered by the liberal reforms of Vatican II. Protestant certainties of sin and damnation seemed absurd in the age of post-ideological prosperity, and Protestant church attendance fell rapidly.

For a time, the DLP defied the trend, but it’s very cohesion as an anti-Labor force undercut its own rationale. After the DLP’s electoral collapse in the mid-1970s, it was logical for sympathisers (such as Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews) to transition to the Liberal Party. For these Liberals, Catholicism was a faith of group identity, persecution fears and clerical heroes (such as, in more recent times, George Pell).

Rise of the evangelical Christian right

But at the very time that political religion seemed doomed, it began to revive. Religious conservatives fought back and activated previously passive church membership in defence of traditional morality. In the United States, the 1970s was the decade of faith. Australia provided only a faint echo, but for ambitious evangelicals, the American Christian right was a model.

Fred Nile’s Call to Australia (later renamed the Christian Democratic Party) polled 9% at the 1981 New South Wales state election. Political religion offered a new way for its voters to have lives of self-fulfilment and purpose, lifting them from the suburban routines of empty churches to participation in a wider world.

Two years later, the Hills Christian Life Centre (later Hillsong) was established in explicit emulation of the American mega-church model.

Evangelical Christians pushed into politics even more explicitly in the 2000s. In 2001, the obscure Australian Christian Coalition rebadged itself as the Australian Christian Lobby and rapidly developed a high profile, as it sought to bring a Christian influence to politics. In 2002, former Assemblies of God pastor Andrew Evans established the political party Family First, and was elected to the South Australian upper house.

At the 2004 federal election, this kind of politics burst onto the national stage with the election of a Family First senator from Victoria and the Hillsong-affiliated Liberal Louise Markus in the western Sydney seat of Greenway. Markus’s Muslim opponent, Labor’s Ed Husic, believed religion was used against him during the campaign.

Dwindling appeal

In May 2004, the Howard government legislated to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, and by the end of the year, the devout Christian George W. Bush had been re-elected to the US presidency. Secular liberals feared the worst about the increasing political influence of the Christian right.

But this moral panic misjudged the appeal of religion. Political entrepreneurs like Evans successfully corralled religious voters, but for many of them the appeal of religion was as a technology of self-governance.

This fact underlay the failure of the religious right in the 2017 same-sex marriage debate. The driving force of opposition was a belief that religion made truth claims: a moral law that homosexuality was wrong. Yet even in the United States, younger evangelicals have become more sympathetic to same-sex marriage. The project of marriage equality with its emphasis on authenticity within limits is compatible with evangelical religion.

Yet the response to this failure on the religious right has been to pursue new “truths”, such as the natural rights economic liberalism of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, which absorbed Family First last year.

This position contradicted the economic centrism of many Family First voters and probably contributed to the Conservatives’ electoral failure at the recent SA state election.

The ConversationThe Australian Christian right never managed to scale the heights of its American counterpart, but it has still fallen a long way. Its rare and fleeting political successes are but fond memories for its adherents, even as evangelical faith continues to shape the lives of many outside politics.

Geoffrey Robinson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tony Abbott and the revenge of the ‘delcons’


Dominic Kelly, La Trobe University

This article is the second in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here.


When Liberal Party MPs dumped Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015, they could hardly have pleaded ignorance of the turmoil they were creating for themselves. The fact they were in government could largely be credited to the Labor Party having torn itself apart in the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard leadership wars.

Almost three years later, veteran political journalist Paul Kelly believes Australian conservatism is in crisis:

Conservatism is consumed by confusion over its principles and purpose. It is fragmenting in party terms – witness the Coalition bleeding votes to Hanson’s One Nation and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives. With John Howard long gone, it is devoid of any authority figure in office able to hold the movement together and retain it within the party. Abbott remains its figurehead with the faithful but his internal standing has nosedived.

Much as Rudd did for Gillard’s entire prime ministership, Abbott continues to stalk Turnbull, using his media allies to insert himself in national debates whenever possible. This delights his supporters, but infuriates those Liberal colleagues more interested in governing than fighting internal battles.

But can Abbott and the hardline conservative base succeed in reclaiming control of the Liberal Party?


https://public.flourish.studio/story/5533/embed


The ‘delcon’ insurgency

In April 2016, conservative Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine came up with the memorable term “delcon” to describe those “delusional conservatives” who remained firmly in the Abbott camp following the Turnbull coup. “The Delcon movement is tiny but viciously punitive to those it regards as heretics,” she wrote.

Devine had in mind prominent right-wing figures such as James Allan, a law professor at the University of Queensland, and John Stone, the former Treasury Secretary and National Party senator. Following the coup, both were quick to announce they would never vote for the Liberal Party “while led by Malcolm Turnbull and his fellow conspirators.”

But Devine’s delcon jibe did nothing to make them reconsider their positions. If anything, it hardened their resolve. Allan wore the term with pride, and re-affirmed his position that:

with Malcolm in charge it’s actually in Australia’s long-term interest to see the Coalition lose this next election, for the long-term good of party and country.

Stone preferred the term “dis-con” – claiming to be a disaffected, not delusional, conservative – and argued that voting against the Liberals was an act of principle intended to teach the party a lesson about loyalty.

Meanwhile, Stone and Allan have used every opportunity to urge the Liberal Party to restore Abbott to the leadership. They were especially emboldened by Turnbull’s disastrous election performance in 2016, which increased the power and influence of the Liberal Party’s right wing, even as it remained in the minority.




Read more:
Can the Liberal Party hold its ‘broad church’ of liberals and conservatives together?


Though other leadership options have been canvassed, Stone’s overwhelming preference is a restoration of Abbott:

Readers will know I have continued to believe the Coalition’s best chance at the next election will be by restoring Abbott as its Leader. A different choice, hailing from the party’s right (Peter Dutton?), would be enough to see many Dis-Cons stream back into the Liberal’s corner; but if the choice were Abbott, that stream would become a flood. Like him or loathe him, Abbott towers head and shoulders over anyone else in the Liberal party room, whether seen from a domestic policy viewpoint or as international statesman.

Minor party alternatives

However, while Turnbull remained in the job, disaffected conservatives were forced to consider placing their votes with other parties of the right. In the 2016 election, Stone recommended merely placing candidates from “acceptably ‘conservative’ parties” (such as Family First, the Australian Liberty Alliance, Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Shooters and Fishers Party) above those Liberals who voted for Turnbull in the leadership spill.

But by April 2017, increasingly exasperated with the Liberal Party’s unwillingness to remove Turnbull, Stone was ready to abandon the party altogether:

If … nothing has been done by mid-year, we still loosely unattached Dis-Cons will need finally to make the break – to sever our former Liberal loyalties and definitively look elsewhere to lodge our votes. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, of course, beckons, as do the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps most attractive may be Cory Bernardi’s Conservative Party; but one way or the other, decision time approaches.

However, the recent electoral results of these alternatives have been decidedly underwhelming. One Nation seemingly came from nowhere to win four Senate seats in 2016, but performed significantly below expectations in subsequent state elections in Western Australia and Queensland.

The performance of Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives in the South Australian election in March this year was even more disappointing. Launched in April 2017 as the party for conservatives fed up with the direction of the Liberal Party under Turnbull, the party received a miserable 3% of votes in Bernardi’s home state, and has since suffered the defection of one MP to the Liberals.

Abbott’s relentless campaign

And so, an Abbott-led Liberal Party remains the goal for disaffected conservatives, and Abbott has proven more than willing to present himself as their flag-bearer. One report suggested he is preparing the ground for a return to the leadership in opposition, though Abbott publicly refuted the story.

But the former prime minister continues his relentless campaign to undermine Turnbull’s leadership. He launched Pauline Hanson’s book at Parliament House, urging the Coalition to work with the “constructive” One Nation, and mischievously suggesting that “you are always better the second time around”.




Read more:
The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Abbott is also a central figure in the Monash Forum, a loose collection of conservative Liberals and Nationals urging the government to invest in coal-fired power stations. Tellingly, the story of the group’s emergence was first broken by Peta Credlin, Abbott’s former chief of staff.

As they did in 2009, conservative MPs are exploiting internal divisions over climate and energy policy to undermine Turnbull’s leadership. The Monash Forum was slammed as “socialist” by Paul Kelly, and derided by Miranda Devine as merely “the usual suspects among the tiny delcon contingent of Liberal MPs”.

The ConversationBut though their numbers may be small, the delcons’ political impact is immense. They are determined to bring down the prime minister at any cost, including doing long-term damage to the Liberal Party.

Dominic Kelly, Honorary Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can the Liberal Party hold its ‘broad church’ of liberals and conservatives together?



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John Howard, pictured here with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is fond of describing the Liberal Party as a “broad church”. But that breadth has led to increasing fracture within the party in recent years.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

This article is the first in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics.


In July 2017 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull upset conservatives within his own ranks by emphasising the liberal, as opposed to conservative, traditions of the party he leads.

One of the great truisms of contemporary Australian politics is that liberals and conservatives on the non-Labor side are locked in a dance in which each partner tries to dominate the other, even as they cling to each other in an endless embrace.

Many assume it has always been thus. In reality, the contemporary emphasis on the ideals of liberalism and conservatism is a relatively recent phenomenon, which political figures of the past would find somewhat puzzling.

Deakinite liberalism

In the 19th-century Australian colonies, liberalism reigned supreme. Most political figures identified as liberals and conservatives were uncommon. Even those who held conservative views, such as New South Wales politician James Martin, were happy to pose as liberals. Liberalism was not particularly ideological and often meant little more than good government.

As Australian politics divided along Labor versus non-Labor lines in the early 20th century, the non-Labor side took the name Liberal Party. Its members embraced a range of political positions, from Deakinite progressives (after Alfred Deakin) to adherents of laissez-faire economics.

As Judith Brett has argued, the key difference between Labor and non-Labor did not necessarily lie in policy as much as in the way the Labor Party pledge enforced caucus control of individual conscience. This was anathema to liberals.

Liberals in the Deakinite tradition were not opposed to state action and supported increased social co-operation, as long as that co-operation was voluntary and enhanced the individual as an ethical being. Such views can be found in the writings of the philosopher and social commentator Frederic Eggleston.

Menzies’ pragmatism

So, when Robert Menzies relaunched the Liberal Party in 1944, his motivation was not an ideological zeal to impose what today is understood as liberalism on the country. This can be seen quite clearly in his 1942 radio talks, collected as the Forgotten People.

In these talks, Menzies generally discusses freedom rather than liberty. His main focus is the individual and the family as the foundation of society, and the need for individuals to be self-reliant and to strive to improve both themselves and their families.

Robert Menzies was Australia’s longest-serving prime minister.
Wikimedia Commons

The Forgotten People expressed a set of moral ideals rather than a political ideology. The focus was a particular form of moral personality, not an abstract model of society. In his emphasis on the family, Menzies was not appealing to a “conservative” ideology; the importance of the family was taken for granted by all sides of politics at that time.

Menzies’ liberalism was concrete and practical in nature. It was inspired by the same philosophy, idealism, that had influenced Deakin and Eggleston. Menzies understood, for example, that in an increasingly technological society, moral ideals were needed to prevent such technology from being used for evil purposes. That is why he was a strong supporter of universities and liberal education.

As prime minister from 1949 to 1966, Menzies dominated the philosophical direction of the Liberal Party. Menzies understood liberalism in practical – and 19th-century – terms as being equivalent to good government. He did not intend to reshape society in line with a liberal ideology.

Ideological fracturing

One of the most interesting developments of the 50 years since Menzies’ retirement is that the non-Labor side of politics has become more ideological. Deep fractures have emerged between those who identify as liberals and those who consider themselves to be conservatives. This has happened at a time when, in many ways, liberalism has triumphed as an ideology in Australian life.

For example, the ideal of the family, which was so strong in the Forgotten People, has taken something of a battering at the hands of almost all political parties.

The individual is now the central political ideal, and there has been an increasing focus on rights, something Menzies would have viewed as alien to the Westminster system that Australia inherited from the United Kingdom.

The 1980s were a crucial period of transformation. Malcolm Fraser, prime minister from 1975 to 1983, can be understood as the last of the old Menzies-style liberals, but many Liberals largely disowned him for not being more economically liberal during his term of office.

Fraser was followed not only by the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating Labor governments, but the full emergence of a far more ideologically committed liberalism in the Liberal Party. The party’s more economically liberal “dries” fought and defeated the Deakinite “wets”. This culminated in the Fightback! program of John Hewson and the defeat of the Liberal Party at the 1993 election.

Howard’s ‘broad church’

The genius of John Howard was to recognise that there was only so much liberalism the Australian people would tolerate, and to reinvent the Liberal Party as a custodian of both economic liberalism and social conservatism. Howard was fond of describing the Liberal Party as a “broad church”, which was “at its best when it balances and blends those two traditions.”

However, he also made the Liberal Party more ideological, as conservatism emerged as an ideology alongside liberalism. Howard completed the process through which conservatism and liberalism emerged as distinct – and competing – ideological positions in Australian political life.

Both Deakin and Menzies would find this ideological division puzzling. For them, liberalism was less an ideology than a moral outlook on the world that encouraged individuals to act in a responsible and ethical fashion.

The ConversationHoward’s broad church worked well, as long as he was at the helm. Once he was gone, the Liberal Party seemed to erupt in conflict between liberals and conservatives. More than a decade later, the conflict shows few signs of reaching a peaceful resolution.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How conservatives use identity politics to shut down debate


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One of the worst examples of identity politics came from Malcolm Turnbull on Monday’s Q&A program.
ABC News

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservatives are currently obsessed with identity politics.

Almost every issue of The Australian comes with a fusillade against the ways identity politics threaten civic discourse. And a Financial Review editorial in September warned:

… thoughts, expression and questioning are now more likely to be silenced in the excess of identity politics, where race, gender, sexuality and group-think declarations have replaced class as the key political dividers.

Yet one of the worst examples of identity politics came from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his Q&A appearance on December 11. In opposing the idea of an elected Indigenous Advisory Council, he claimed that politicians such as Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney represent Indigenous Australians. In fact, they represent the electors of Hasluck and Barton – few of whom are Indigenous.

It is great that there are Indigenous politicians in parliament (Turnbull somehow forgot the two Labor senators, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy). But they are not there to “represent” Indigenous Australians any more than Mathias Cormann is there to represent Belgian-Australians.

Political party identities

The primary identity of politicians in our system is their political party. Sometimes other identities will seem more important, as in the case of the four openly gay Liberal MPs who pushed their party toward a free vote on marriage equality, or Michael Danby’s support for Israel – which goes far beyond the views of his party.

What these cases suggest is the complex and overlapping nature of identities, and the trap of defining anyone by only one identity. Nor does belonging to a particular group, whether through race, ethnicity or gender, mean one automatically speaks “for” that group. Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop never sought to speak “for women”.

Identity politics, as we understand them, are often assumed to have emerged from the women’s, black and gay movements in the early 1970s. There is an earlier history, linked to the development of nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, and the growth of anti-colonial movements across European empires.

Identity politics are born when people feel excluded because of something important to their sense of self – whether it be race, gender, sexuality or language. But they are also thrust upon people, as in the tragic case of those Jews who believed themselves to be 100% German until the Nazis came to power.

A sense of a shared history is crucial to empowering people who have been oppressed, and sometimes made invisible. When I was a schoolboy in Hobart we were taught that there were no Tasmanian Aborigines, who had effectively been wiped out by settlement. Today more than 4% of the state’s population identify as Indigenous.

Not necessarily born this way

Conservatives are particularly disturbed by the idea that gender identities might be fluid, which seemed their central concern in the marriage equality debate.

Ironically many of those who defend ideas of gender fluidity also believe their sexual identity is, in Lady Gaga’s words, “born this way”. In both cases the rhetoric ignores the evidence of both history and anthropology.

Identity politics are neither inherently left nor right. Some Marxists denounced the new social movements as threatening class unity, in terms rather like those who now see identity politics as fracturing a common polity.

One of the common criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was that she spoke too often to specific groups, rather than in the language of inclusion. This is an odd argument given Donald Trump’s blatant attacks on Hispanics and Muslims, which were clearly an appeal to white Americans who felt their identities were under threat.

Most critics of identity politics speak as if they were above identity, when in practice their identities are those of the dominant group. Pauline Hanson excludes Aborigines, Asians and Muslims from her view of Australian identity, cloaked in the language of patriotism.

Like Hanson, those who attack identity politics are often most zealous in defending their own versions of identity. Current proposed changes to citizenship requirements are supported by an emphasis on “Australian values”, as if these are both self-evident and distinguishable from more universal values of political and civil rights.

On the same Q0&A program Turnbull defined Australian values as based upon “multiculturalism”, which acknowledges that contemporary society is a mosaic of different and overlapping identities and communities. It is possible to argue that respect for cultural diversity is a national value, while ignoring the question whether Australian law treats all cultural values equally.

In practice, cultural diversity is clearly subordinate to a legal and political system heavily based on British precedents. A genuine multicultural identity might start by extending the term “ethnic” to include people of British ancestry, as much an “ethnicity” as any other.

Identity as a means of exclusion

Identity politics threaten democratic debate when they become a means of shutting down any comment that does not grow entirely out of experience.

Writers have been criticised for creating characters who do not share their author’s race or gender; speakers shunned for expressing views that are deemed “insensitive”.

Writer Germaine Greer may have views on transgender issues that should be opposed. But they should be met with rebuttal, not a refusal to listen. Critics of identity politics are right that zealousness in protecting identities can itself become repressive.

Identity politics become dangerous when they become an argument for exclusion.

The ConversationUnfortunately, the most dangerous examples of exclusion come from those who clam to speak for “the people”, a term which itself depends upon a certain version of identity. The populists who attack identity politics do so while creating their own, limited image of national identity.

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the UK general election held Thursday, the Conservatives lost their majority. With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats (down 13 since the 2015 election), Labour 262 (up 30), the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 35 (down 21), the Liberal Democrats 12 (up 4). Northern Ireland (NI) parties hold 18 seats and five went to the Welsh nationalists and Greens.

Vote shares were 42.4% for the Conservatives (up 5.5), 40.0% for Labour (up 9.5), 7.4% for the Lib Dems (down 0.5) and 3.0% for the SNP (down 1.7). This was Labour’s highest vote since 2001, and the Conservatives’ highest vote since 1983. The total major party vote share was the highest since 1970. Election turnout was 68.7% (up 2.3 from 2015, and the highest turnout since 1997).

In NI, the very socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 10 of the 18 seats on 0.9% of the UK-wide vote. As Sinn Fein, which won 7 seats in NI, will not take its seats owing to historical opposition to the UK government’s rule of NI, the DUP and Conservatives have enough seats for a majority. PM Theresa May has come to an arrangement with the DUP, and the Conservatives will continue to govern.

The tweet and pictures of the right wing Daily Mail below show how shocking this result was. When Theresa May called the election, the Conservatives had a 15-19 point poll lead over Labour.

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While the Conservatives lost many seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in England and Wales, they gained 12 seats in Scotland. The overall Scotland results were SNP 35 of 59 seats (down 21), Conservatives 13 (up 12), Labour 7 (up 6) and Lib Dems 4 (up 3).

If the Conservatives had not performed so well in Scotland, it is likely that a progressive alliance of Labour, SNP and Lib Dems would have taken power. The Conservatives’ 13 Scottish seats are their most in Scotland since 1983.

There were several reasons for the Conservatives’ shocking performance. First, Labour’s manifesto had many popular measures, while the Conservative manifesto had a highly controversial proposal.

Second, US President Donald Trump is very unpopular in much of the developed world. Even if Trump had kept out of the way, there would probably have still been a “Trump Factor” in Labour’s rise. But Trump exacerbated this hatred by withdrawing from the Paris agreement a week before the election, and then by attacking the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the London terror attack. The lesson for mainstream conservative parties is: keep your distance from Trump.

Third, I believe the Conservatives focused too much on Brexit in their campaign. The Brexit question was decided last year, and it probably did not have a great impact on voting. In my opinion, the Conservative campaign should have focused on the economy.

Conservatives win elections when in government by claiming that the opposition will wreck the economy through its reckless spending and increased taxation. The Conservatives should have focused on this message, and not on Brexit.

After beginning the campaign as a massive underdog, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation has been greatly enhanced. Virtually all commentators assumed that radical left wing politics could never work, but he has proved them wrong. If not for the Scottish Conservative gains, Corbyn would probably be PM.

The best pollsters at this election were Survation, with a one-point Conservative lead, and SurveyMonkey, with a four-point lead (actual result 2.4 points). Other pollsters “herded” their final polls towards a 7-8 point lead. The worst results were from ComRes (a 10-point lead), ICM (12 points) and BMG (13 points). These three pollsters made large adjustments to their raw votes, and ended up overcompensating for the 2015 polling errors.

French lower house elections: 11 and 18 June

The French lower house has 577 members, elected by single-member electorates using a two-round system. The top two candidates in each seat, and any other candidate who wins over 12.5% of registered voters, qualify for the second round. Candidates sometimes withdraw before the second round to give their broad faction a better chance, and/or to stop an extremist party like Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The key question is whether President Emmanuel Macron’s REM party will win a majority. Polling has the REM on about 30%, the conservative Les Républicains on 21%, the National Front on 18%, the hard left Unsubmissive France on 13% and the Socialists and Greens on a combined 11%.

The ConversationThere has been little movement in the polls since I last discussed the French lower house elections ten days ago. If the current polls are accurate, the REM will easily win a majority of the French lower house after the second round vote on 18 June. Polls for both the first and second round close at 4am Monday Melbourne time.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Egyptian Court Refuses to Return Passport to Christian


Convert from Islam tried to leave country to save his life.

ISTANBUL, March 15 (CDN) — An Egyptian court last week refused to return the passport of a convert from Islam who tried to leave Egypt to save his life, the Christian said on Friday (March 12).

On Tuesday (March 9) the Egyptian State Council Court in Giza, an administrative court, refused to return the passport of Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary. El-Gohary said he was devastated by the decision, which essentially guarantees him several more months of living in fear.

“I am very, very disappointed and very unhappy about what happened,” he said, “because I am being threatened – my life is being threatened, my daughter’s life is being threatened very frequently, and I don’t feel safe at all in Egypt.”

Nabil Ghobreyal, El-Gohary’s attorney, told Compass the government declined to give the court any reason for its actions.

“There was no response as to why his passport was taken,” Ghobreyal said.

On Sept. 17, 2009, authorities at Cairo International Airport seized El-Gohary’s passport. El-Gohary, 57, also known as Peter Athanasius, was trying to leave the country to visit China. Eventually he intended to travel to the United States. At the time, El-Gohary was told only that his travel had been barred by “higher authority.”

El-Gohary, who converted to Christianity from Islam more than 30 years ago, gained notoriety in Egypt in February 2009, when he filed a court application to have the religion on his identification card changed from Muslim to Christian. El-Gohary’s action caused widespread uproar among conservative Muslims in Egypt. He was branded an “apostate” and multiple fatwas, or religious edicts were issued against him. In accordance with some interpretations of the Quran, some Muslims believe El-Gohary should be killed for leaving Islam.

Since filing his application, El-Gohary has lived in fear and has been in hiding with his 15-year-old daughter. Every month, he said, they move from apartment to apartment. He is unable to work, and his daughter, also a Christian, is unable to attend school.

Their days are filled with anxiety, fear and boredom.

“We are very fearful,” El-Gohary said. “We are hiding between four walls all day long.”

El-Gohary went through extraordinary efforts to get the documentation the court demanded for him to officially change his religion, including getting a certificate of conversion from a Coptic Christian religious group. The certificate, which was the first time a Christian church in Egypt recognized a convert from Islam, also caused an uproar.

But ultimately, in June the court denied his application. He was the second person in Egypt to apply to have his religion officially changed from Islam to Christianity. The other applicant was denied as well. El-Gohary has not exhausted his appeals and may file legal proceedings with an international legal body. He has another hearing with the administrative court on June 29.

“I don’t understand what I have done wrong,” El-Gohary said. “I went though the normal legal channels. I thought I was an Egyptian citizen and I would be treated as such by the Egyptian law. I went through the front doors of the legal system, not the back doors, and for that I am being threatened, chased, and I live in continuous fear.”

The National Constitution of Egypt guarantees freedom of religion unless it contradicts set practices in sharia, or Islamic law. While it is easy to change one’s religious identity from Christian to Muslim, it is impossible to do the opposite.

El-Gohary’s case was mentioned by name in a human rights report issued Thursday (March 11) by the U.S. Department of State. El-Gohary said he was pleased that his case was in the report. He said he believes it is his duty to open new doors for his fellow converts in Egypt.

“This is something I have to do,” he said. “It is a duty. I have become a symbol for Christians in Egypt.”

El-Gohary said he hopes U.S. President Barack Obama, other world leaders and international groups will pressure the Egyptian government to allow him to leave the country.

In spite of his ordeal, El-Gohary said faith is still strong and that he doesn’t regret becoming a Christian.

“I don’t regret it at all,” he continued, excitedly. “This is the narrow road that Christians have to go through and suffer to reach eternal life. I have no regrets whatsoever. We are very grateful to know Christ, and we know He’s the way.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Lutheran denomination splitting after gay pastor vote


The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination is splitting following a controversial decision at its August conference to allow noncelibate homosexuals to serve as pastors, reports Baptist Press.

It will take months to determine how truly significant the change to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA) is, but a conservative group of Lutherans calling themselves Lutheran CORE already is calling for the more orthodox churches to leave the denomination. Lutheran CORE leaders voted Nov. 18 to form a new Lutheran body, and churches nationwide are now taking sides in the dispute. It takes a two-thirds vote for a church to leave the ELCA and join Lutheran CORE, which has formed a committee that will draft a proposal for how the new church body will function. The committee’s recommendations will be released in February and voted on in August.

The ELCA claims 4.8 million members and 10,500 churches.

"Many ELCA members and congregations have said that they want to sever ties with the ELCA because of the ELCA’s continued movement away from traditional Christian teachings," Lutheran CORE chair Paull Spring said. "The vote on sexuality opened the eyes of many to how far the ELCA has moved from Biblical teaching."

Meeting in Minneapolis in August, delegates to the ELCA’s biennial conference voted 559-451 to allow openly practicing homosexuals to serve as pastors. It became the largest denomination in America with such a policy. The Episcopal Church, a smaller denomination, has a similar stance.

The Minneapolis conference was followed by a meeting of 1,200 Lutheran CORE supporters Sept. 25-26 in Fishers, Ind., where delegates to that meeting voted to authorize the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee to "initiate conversations among the congregations" toward a possible "reconfiguration" of Lutherans. That steering committee voted Nov. 18 to begin the process of forming a new denomination. The word "CORE" is an acronym for "Coalition for Renewal."

Neither side is predicting how many churches will leave or stay. In Erskine, Minn., 80 percent of Rodnes Lutheran Church members voted Oct. 18 to leave the ELCA, the INFORUM.com website reported. But in Waseca, Minn., Nov. 22, 77 percent of Grace Lutheran Church members voted to stay, the Waseca County News newspaper reported.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, believes the issue of homosexuality eventually will divide all mainline denominations.

"You either approve gay and lesbian sexually active pastors and clergy or you don’t," he told Baptist Press. "Opinion is divided enough in the mainline denominations that if you approve it, then you’re going to have conservatives leaving and if you don’t, then you’re going to have liberals leaving. I believe that this issue will end up reconfiguring the entire mainline Protestant landscape. It is in the process of dividing the Episcopalians. It’s dividing now the Lutherans. It’s in the process of dividing the Presbyterians, and it eventually will end up dividing the Methodists."

Land asked, rhetorically, referencing the ELCA’s namesake, "Does anyone have any doubt what Martin Luther believed about this? The question is whether you’re going to be under the authority of Scripture or not. And, clearly, there are large chunks of mainline Protestantism that have decided they are going to stand in judgment of Scripture."

Report from the Christian Telegraph