Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has joined the advisory board of the International Democrat Union. It is an organisation that is much more radical than its self-declared defence of the “centre right” spin suggests.
The alliance that marked the transition to the hard right is the IDU’s embrace of Viktor Orban, the Hungarian leader now standing for “illiberal democracy” around the west.
This echoes Tony Abbott’s post-leadership embrace of the Orban right. In 2015, he was appointed director of the Ramsay Institute for Western Civilisation, a body that created years of controversy.
“Defending western civilisation” is Orban’s code for Great Replacement theory terrors: the ugliest version says that Jewish elites are importing immigrants to replace the white, Christian population; the polite version asserts that the “woke” left undervalues the western tradition and in its carelessness (or malignancy) is inviting in hordes of non-western immigrants to overwhelm their western superiors. Abbott too is on the IDU’s honorary advisory board alongside John Howard and Morrison.
Abbott is not the only Australian to join in with Orban’s fear mongering about immigration and “family values” (code for intolerance of anything not strictly enforcing marriage between man and woman). There is a posse, including Alexander Downer and Kevin Andrews, that joins the talking circuit spreading Orbanist intolerance.
The ugliness of adopting the Orban worldview is perhaps encapsulated in his most assiduous acolyte – Florida’s Governor. Ron DeSantis is described as inventing American Orbanism. DeSantis’s most recent stunt was to fly plane loads of immigrants to affluent and liberal Martha’s Vineyard where he abandoned them. Sky News’s James Morrow has described the dehumanising gambit as a “genius”move that “beat the left.” The fact that Martha’s Vineyard residents poured out to aid the victims of the gimmick is not mentioned in propagandist coverage.
Back when the IDU was founded in 1983, it declared as a founding principle that it was “committed to advancing the social and political values on which democratic societies are founded, including the basic personal freedoms and human rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in particular, the right of free speech, organisation, assembly and non-violent dissent; the right to free elections and the freedom to organise effective parliamentary opposition to government; the right to a free and independent media; the right to religious belief; equality before the law; and individual opportunity and prosperity…”
Like so many figures and organisations on the ever more radicalised right, this is no longer the case. The decay of former conservatives’ belief in freedom (at least for the affluent) has become a solidifying certainty that societies must have “conservative” values enforced upon them.
Based in Munich, the IDU is currently helmed by former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. In 2018 Harper tweeted the IDU’s support of Orban and in 2019, Harper showed how far his politics had hardened by spending Hungary’s national day celebrating with Orban and other IDU leaders. Harper intervened in Canadian politics this year to reassure his older centre right voters that the conspiracy-friendly leadership contender for the Conservative party was a safe bet. Pierre Poilievre is now “toying with paranoid populism.”
The IDU’s Deputy Chairman is Brian Loughnane, husband of News Corp voice, Peta Credlin. Loughnane has been also on the international advisory board of Orban’s primary “think tank” aiming to funnel his ideas to the west, the Danube Institute. He remains listed as an “Expert” to the affiliated Hudson Institute.
The IDU’s Honorary Chairman Michael (Lord) Ashcroft is a figure in several Tory controversies over the decades. He reportedly paid half a million pounds to have Isabel Oakeshott co-write an unauthorised biography about David Cameron airing lascivious gossip, to help undermine the faction of the party that would negotiate solutions. It is not only his impact on the media that has damaged the Tories. His large donations, made possible by his offshore domicile in Belize that enabled him to avoid taxes in Britain, are counted as a factor in driving Britain’s Conservative party further right. It is now resembles a toxic clown car of figures that ought to be unelectable in any functioning democracy.
The Republican Party representative on the large leadership group is Mike Roman. He is notable as the man Trump employed to manage “election protection” in his 2016 campaign. Roman’s main role in American politics has been to foment propaganda to discredit the fairness of American elections, a key ploy in its democratic decay.
Ever more overtly, right wing organisations that embrace Orbanism while still spruiking freedom promote a particularly Christian Libertarian form of freedom. There should be freedom from taxation and regulation for the people considered entrepreneurial. Any tax burden to fund unavoidable infrastructure must fall upon the working and middle classes. There should be no freedom to protest. There should be no freedom to be feminist or LGBTQI or to promote multiculturalism.
Anne Applebaum wrote of the conservatives with whom she spent the New Year’s Eve that marked the transition into the new millennium in her work, Twilight of Democracy. In her account of what has since changed in her friends of that moment she sees two trends. One is a cynicism that capitalises on the riches available to the talking heads of the radical right. The other is a nihilism that despairs of the liberal democracy like America as a “dark nightmarish place, where God only speaks to a tiny number of people; where idealism is dead; where civil war and violence are approaching; where the ‘elite’ is wallowing in decadence, disarray, death.” This right dreads the colourful chaos of modern democracy, so unlike the version these former conservatives imagined themselves to support during the Cold War. Some desire to break it all; others want, somehow, to reverse change.
Turning to the authoritarian Orban signifies the despair of a former conservative. All the diversity of the modern world must be tidied away and the new voices silenced once again. Media polyphony is intolerable. If the uppity beneficiaries of the Civil Rights era won’t be humble, they must be forced back into their subordinate invisibility. There is no scope for human rights in this frightening world.
History too must be tamed to define the “conservative” present. Thus the Ramsay Centre disdains a lecturer “who is coming in with a long liturgy [did he mean litany] of what terrible damage Western civ had done to the world.” (Nick Riemer’s question about the verb used is illustrative.) Throughout the anglophone right, there is a violent antagonism towards the fact that history has warp and weft. No single story carries the truth, whatever the “history wars,” “war on woke” and Critical Race Theory campaigns would assert.
Christianity joins conservatism at the heart of the IDU’s mission, strongly allied to the Christian Democrat tradition. In the Orban model that not only excludes other faiths, including Judaism (despite disingenuous Budapest denials). It also excludes “non-traditional” ways of life.
The New Daily’s coverage of the radicalisation of the IDU, and Scott Morrison’s membership of its board, did Australians a service. It is important that we recognise what our “conservative” politicians represent and be wary.