The Australian federal election proved pretty agonising. I think we all dodged a bullet in the end; the right wing Coalition just unable to form government after the tolerably-enough-centrist Labour Party managed to cobble together the numbers to govern in a hung parliament. I, for one, spent way too much of the seventeen days of negotiations refreshing The Age's website waiting for something to happen. I'm one of these cynical people who doesn't buy any of the "new paradigm of politics" talk and just expects the current parliament to be all kinds of awkward. Sure, nobody can ram through an agenda, but I don't expect many tangible outcomes to be achieved either. The Coalition now just seems to be behaving like a spurned lover towards the independents, acting as if they had some divine right to govern when clearly the uninspiring campaign gave us an uninspired result that gives nobody any kind of popular mandate. Personally, I'm just hoping the Coalition goes and self-destructs in a spectacular fit of petulance.
Now, here in Victoria, we are heading for a state election in November, and after the federal seat of Melbourne fell from Labour to the Greens, Labour's getting nervous about losing up to four inner Melbourne state seats to the Greens. Including mine! Oh, glorious day; I finally live in an electorate that matters in an election. So I was reading an opinion piece in The Age today, and I was a little surprised to read this bit:
"The problem for Labor is that, at this stage, no one really has any data on why its supporters are turning Green. What is really driving them? Is it simply a protest or a more permanent shift?"
Well, as somebody whose preferences go to the Greens and other like-minded progressive parties such as the Socialist Alliance, Sex Party, and Secular Party, I frankly think the answer to this is pretty bloody obvious. A few decades ago, it is safe to say that I would have been a rusted-on, committed ALP voter. However, in the intervening period, the ALP - like so many formerly social democrat Labour parties across the planet - has drifted to the right. It's staggering to realise that the Labour Party in the UK is today further right than the Tories were pre-Maggie Thatcher. The Australian Labour Party has not quite fallen that far, but the shift has nonetheless been pronounced.
Those of us who believe in progressive and leftist politics just don't believe in the ALP any more. We don't want a wishy-washy centrist party that makes token gestures in our direction while failing to make any meaningful progress on important issues, and that continues to pander to base and regressive viewpoints in a race to the bottom with the Liberal Party and their backwards claptrap. We want a party that is actually on the LEFT. A party that has an ideological platform we can actually identify with on a broad and general level, rather than one we can settle for and begrudgingly accept if we absolutely must compromise and water down our core beliefs. Fundamentally, we are deeply unsettled by the general shift of politics to the right and to neoconservatism since the 1970s, and surely the continually increasing vote for the Greens is a clear sign that a sizeable amount of us want a real left wing, progressive option in politics. We don't want to choose between the centre and the right. It's not so much about the Greens per se as it is about keeping left.
State Labour isn't going to get much traction if they just try to attack the Greens, because it misses the point for so many of the voters who are defecting to the Greens from Labour. We already know that the Greens are just another political party and that they have their faults. Most of the ideological critique the ALP can offer is meaningless; it's preaching to the choir for people who weren't going to vote Green anyway, while those of us who are voting Green don't agree with the critique Labour is offering. If Labour ever wants to win back this consistuency, they have to re-establish their credentials as actually being a viable left wing party. Maybe it's too much to hope they will rediscover their social democrat roots, but a shift somewhere away from the centre towards a more firm left footing is what we want to see.
And if some of the members of Labour's right wing faction don't want to come along for the ride, then they can hop off the train and be left behind by history. I don't subscribe to any sort of theory of historical determinism or that political history progresses in a linear fashion, but it is the left that has consistently stood up for social improvement, for rights, for freedom, and for a better, fairer world. It is the left that has kept asking "how can this world be better?" The conservative historical lineage is one of opposition to democracy, the secret ballot, minimum wages, workplace safety, religious freedom, sexual freedom, reproductive rights, racial and cultural equality, ecological sustainability, and helping the poor and marginalised. They usually come around. I don't know why the rest of us are expected to wait for them and pander to them, though.