Lauren Southern : Attacked 'elitist liberal culture'.
Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were prevented from speaking in New Zealand but they exposed a liberal politics that has failed to recognise why right wing populism has such mass appeal.

EVEN THOUGH they never actually managed to publicly speak in New Zealand Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux still attracted nationwide coverage. Thanks to Mayor Phil Goff's venue ban and the subsequent media coverage and the debate about freedom of speech, the two 'alt right' activists attracted the kind of attention they never would have received if only they had been allowed to slip into the country with the minimum of fuss. 

But with protesters intent on shutting down  the two 'fascists' I think that commentator Matthew Hooton is correct in his observation that the protesters 'bought into the very demonisation' that Southern and Molyneux wanted.

The protesters, represented by groups like Tamaki Anti-Fascist Action, really wanted Southern and Molyneux to be goose stepping fascists wearing Swastika armbands but they were anything but. Southern and Molyneux are representatives of a populist right that has tapped into the failure of a liberalism and a centrist politics that has left many ordinary folk feeling unrepresented and disempowered by a political system dominated by an unresponsive political establishment. It was ironic that while the controversy swirled around Southern and Molyneux, the coalition government was busy pushing through the second reading of the Electoral Integrity Bill that will ensure that Parliament will become even more unresponsive to community demands, with MP's little more than "clones of their leader" - the words of former Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

To simply denounce the politics of Southern and Molyneux as a racist and xenophobic reaction against immigrants and multiculturalism ignores that they are tapping into the resentments of the considerable number of people who feel that the economy and the dominant culture have left them behind. It was no surprise that Southern directed many of her criticisms at an 'elitist liberal culture'.

The stark fact that the organisers sold some 1500 tickets to the cancelled Powerstation event should alert the political establishment - but probably won't -  to the fact that there is a nascent populist right movement in New Zealand too. It is not something just happening in faraway Europe or the United States.

I was interested to see that many of those protesting against Southern and Molyneux had the kind of politics not dissimilar to that of the present coalition government, particularly the Labour Party and the Green's. I looked up some of those on Twitter attacking Southern and Molyneux (often in very graphic and abusive terms) to also find more than a few gushing and adoring tweets for Jacinda Ardern. This kind of fawning adulation provides rich pickings for the alt right.

Commentators like Morgan Godfery and Toby Manhire of Spinoff both blasted Southern and Molyneux. But as they are both supporters of the Labour Party they continue to blithely ignore that the liberalism that they are oh so comfortable with is the very liberalism that has significantly contributed to the rise of the populist right.

The Labour Party has long been little more than a party of technocratic liberalism - of centrist politics- more congenial to the professional classes than to the blue-collar and middle-class voters who once constituted its base. This is a Labour Party that continues to promote a politics that doesn't take seriously the grievances of those left behind by neoliberalism, that talks 'transformation' but offers little more than 'business as usual'. Those who hoped the Green's would offer something more should have had their hopes dashed by now.

But, according to some on the left, the coalition government is the 'lesser evil' - and we should support it. But the nearly million folk who no longer vote have already rejected this lousy argument.

It is the failure of liberalism that populist right activists like Southern and Molyneux have capitalised on. But such is smugness and conceit of centrist politics is that its exponents  think they merely have to prevent activists like Southern and Molyneux from speaking  to stop the growth of right wing populism in this country.

But you can't stop a political phenomenon or a movement simply by putting obstacles in the way of its expression. The appeal of the populist right is to be found in a representative democracy that is neither representative or democratic and an economy that continues to benefit a handful at the expense of the many.

The answer is to forge a new progressive politics, powered by a socialist sensibility. Liberalism has only served to disempower the New Zealand left and enhanced the appeal of the populist right. But liberalism is so embedded in the political establishment  that it is as hostile to socialist politics as it is of the populist right. We have a lot of work to do.


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