Ironically, the Australian anti-migrant campaigner is moving to the UK – but back in her homeland, things are less amusing
Since losing her seat in national parliament, Pauline Hanson has been an unlikely source of entertainment for Australians. There was her TV appearance on Dancing with the Stars, the Aussie version of Strictly Come Dancing, and last year raunchy pictures, supposedly taken of her more than three decades ago, were widely circulated in the Australian press (they turned out to be fake). But nothing tops the latest turn in the Hanson saga: she is moving to Britain.
"It's pretty much goodbye forever," Hanson said earlier this week. "Sadly, the land of opportunity is no more applicable (sic)."
The episode drips with delicious irony. Those familiar with recent Australian political history need no reminder of Hanson's record. As a newly elected independent MP in 1996, Hanson declared in her maiden parliamentary speech that Australia was "being swamped by Asians". She founded the One Nation Party on the platform of bringing net migration to Australia to zero and abolishing multiculturalism in favour of "assimilation". Now, Australia's most prominent crusader against immigration is about to become an immigrant herself; a self-declared patriot is abandoning her country.
How Hanson will be received in the UK is anyone's guess. But it is likely that she will have a bit of a shock when she steps off her long flight at Heathrow. This is, of course, the further irony. You suspect Hanson imagines she will be moving to the Britannia of yesteryear rather than the pluralistic Britain of today. A former fish and chip shop owner, she would be horrified to learn that chicken tikka masala is Britain's unofficial national dish. No doubt TV producers are already knocking on her agent's door to film a documentary about Pauline's adventures in the mother country.
If there are places where Hanson might fit in, they are perhaps the musty meeting rooms of the BNP. The group's angry white nativism and xenophobia are at one with the views once peddled by her One Nation party.
Yet there are significant differences between One Nation and the BNP. Unlike the BNP, One Nation was ultimately a political failure. It survived only a few years before it was deregistered; Hanson herself lost her Queensland parliamentary seat in 1998 and made three further failed bids for office. And while One Nation was accused of racism by its critics, its rank-and-file weren't populated by the kind of paramilitary thugs who surround Nick Griffin.
Even so, there is much in Hansonism that far-rightwing groups such as the BNP might aspire to emulate. Although Hanson left behind no political party organisation, her impact has been profound. She reshaped Australian political culture, many would say for worse. Tapping into white cultural anxiety, Hanson unleashed a nasty chauvinism that reprised an Anglo-Celtic race patriotism.
Her politics were in some ways a vanguard for the reactionary cultural politics of John Howard. It is no accident that Hanson's uncompromising stance on asylum seekers quickly became Howard government policy, as in the case of "temporary protection visas" for refugees.
By offering subtle approving nods to Hanson's rhetoric, Howard built a core working-class and lower-middle-class constituency for his Liberal party in formerly Labour electorates in outer metropolitan suburbs. This was the so-called dog whistle tactic, which allowed racialised appeals to become part of mainstream Australian politics. At the same time, Hanson's politics confounded a progressive left that failed to hear the grievances of the culturally disaffected.
When in 1997 Hanson launched One Nation by draping herself in the national flag, most Australians cringed. Eight years later, when the Cronulla race riot took place in Sydney, most striking was the use of the Australian flag as a symbol of exclusion. Today, on Australian roads, motorists fly the national flag from the roofs of their cars. A growing number of white Australians now tattoo their sunburnt flesh with the southern cross as a symbol of "Aussie pride".
These aren't expressions of benign patriotism or civic virtue, but they do express the legacy of Pauline Hanson. Australia is now a country where national symbols divide as much as they unite citizens.