I finally got around to checking out the International Democratic Union, of which our own John Howard was recently elected president. I was mainly interested in the repeated use of the phrase “centre-right” to describe someone who is, on his own assessment, the most conservative major party leader Australia has ever had (given his embrace of radical economic reforms, ‘right-wing’ would actually be more accurate than conservative).
The IDU goes further, claiming to embrace parties of the ” centre
and centre right”, and the meeting of the IDU was accompanied by lots of triumphalist rhetoric about the recent electoral successes of the centre-right.
To my mind, the term “centre-right” suggests people like moderate Republicans in the US, Tory and Liberal Party “wets” – all endangered species, if not extinct. The only Liberal “moderates” I can think of are Marise Payne and perhaps Amanda Vanstone, both peripheral figures in the Howard government. The few remaining Republican moderates are either defecting (Jeffords) or being replaced by hardliners.
Admittedly George Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative”, but his government has clearly been a coalition of orthodox rightwingers (Cheney, O’Neill) and the far-right (Ashcroft, Wolfowitz). Colin Powell is the only senior figure who could remotely be described as “centre-right”, and his influence on policy has been modest.
The swing to the right in Europe has followed the same pattern. The striking feature is the disappearance of the old centre-right and its replacement by coalitions of the right and far-right, notably in Austria, Italy and Denmark . This followed the move by parties of the Left to take over the ground formerly occupied by the centre-right, both in substance and in style.
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