My following column appears in the Guardian today:
Treating voters with contempt is the perfect way for the left to guarantee itself permanent exile from the political scene.
On election night, Melbourne writer Catherine Deveny tweeted: “This is win for racists, morons, homophobes, fuckheads, jumped up bogans, misogynists, billionaires, haters, comedians.” Such sentiments might momentarily make you feel good and superior to your fellow voters, but in the end you’re merely speaking to the converted; succumbing to rage is the wrong response to an outcome you’re unhappy with. Overland editor Jeff Sparrow perfectly articulated the issues the day after Tony Abbott’s victory:
“The left can easily fall prey to bitterness, a disdain for the public who voted in such a deeply reactionary figure. That would be a terrible mistake. Denouncing ordinary Australians as fools and halfwits, as slackjawed dupes of Murdoch too dim to grasp the obvious, might make us feel better but hurling abuse at those you want to convince has never been a successful strategy, particularly in a context in which the left is all too often portrayed as a clique of self-satisfied elitists.”
So let us look forward instead, and analyse what the left should (and shouldn’t) do.
Blaming Rupert Murdoch for Labor’s loss only highlights the lack of viable media alternatives; the Australian Financial Review’s Neil Chenoweth rightly argues that News Limited’s influence is inflated by its own bluster. Finding new and original ways to cover elections is vital, including resourced, ethical and accountable independent coverage from every seat in the country via print, online and social media sources. This could be be financed through ingenuity and a desire for local news to grow (America shows us the way).
A plethora of minor parties thrived this election. One in particular, the Wikileaks party, should have been a far more effective advocate for free speech but was let down by internal mismanagement and lack of transparency (something highlighted by strong Wikileaks backer, Gary Lord, on the day of the election). It’s simply not good enough to claim that libertarianism is opposed by the left and right in Australia, which might explain why Wikileaks polled so poorly. A raft of high-profile departures during the campaign tainted the Wikileaks party’s oft-stated claims of accountability. I write this with sadness, after being a Wikileaks supporter since 2006.
By all means, let’s not ignore the consistent campaign by Murdoch’s minions dressed up as journalists and editors to destroy Labor and the Greens. The “absolutist tendencies” of the Greens, condemned by The Australian this week, is nothing more than corporate frustration over the Greens surviving and maintaining much of its parliamentary numbers; its national influence, likely reduced, will continue.
Already much has been written about the decline of the Greens vote and why this signals confusion amongst the public about the role of the party: are they left-wing agitators, permanent opponents of government, or simply paying the price for sleeping and working with a neo-liberal Labor party? I’d argue the last option. The Greens’ humane policy on asylum seekers was arguably one of the key factors lifting its falling support. NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon is already frankly assessing what her party needs to do under a Coalition government to clearly differentiate itself from the Labor party on key issues such as tackling rising temperatures and Denticare.
Leaving Australian politics to the two major, pro-war parties is not a rational option so a vibrant Greens, and/or alternative left-wing force, is vital. The Greens need a thorough examination of the kind of party they want to be in the 21st century after unsuccessfully joining elite Canberra politics in 2010. For a party so committed to tackling serious climate change, it’s hard to celebrate then leader Bob Brown’s “win” over a climate package that locked in notoriously corrupt international “offsets”, especially from Europe.
The future viability of a party that wants to obtain far more than 9% of the national vote requires a serious investigation into what went wrong. History records very few examples globally of a left, green party succeeding by moving closer to the centre. The German Greens arecurrently suffering this fate.
The Greens candidate for the inner Sydney seat of Grayndler, Hall Greenland, wrote this week that “without a positive and convincing model of an alternative society, voters are going to be generally conservative and defensive.” This should involve explaining why a larger and more accountable public sector, better public transport, more independent foreign policy, open borders, serious action on climate change and more regulation on energy companies must all be part of any long-term strategy.
But this isn’t the 1960s or 1970s. Lives and the world have changed, so the left must adapt to different circumstances and explain why a bigger, publicly funded safety net – unlike the increasingly privatised network of failures in Western Australia under Liberal premier Colin Barnett – is the best way to ensure long-term prosperity.
A serious left will look both inwardly and globally for answers, and they may not like what they see. Canadian journalist Naomi Klein condemns mainstream green groups for foolishly jumping into bed with corporations to reduce carbon emissions. In a clear message to the Greens and other green groups, she explains that such partnerships have been a spectacular failure. She recently told Earth Island Journal that handouts to polluting corporations – a key part of Labor policy, backed by the Greens – has shown “the way in which neo-liberal economic orthodoxy has infiltrated the scientific establishment”. The scale of the climate crisis, due to the likely ongoing burning of dirty fossil fuels, requires sober consideration.
A period of reflection, anger and despondency is expected. But calmer heads will soon realise that a strong left must do more than just resist the onslaught of cultural, economic, climate and covert wars. Whether it’s the Greens or other political forces, a palatable and popular left shouldn’t just wait until the stock market crashes before expecting a rise in support. The global financial crisis in 2008 should have been a golden age for the left, a rare opportunity to show the failures of the Wall Street corruption. The Occupy movement was a brief and glorious moment.
Never underestimate the resilience of vulture capitalism. The challenges faced by the left remain great.