Council elections in Victoria, 2004


Green Left discussion list, December 16, 2004

Further to Nigel Irritable’s measured and careful discussion of the local government election results in Victoria, it might be useful to add some elements.

Firstly, whether socialists decide to run independently in elections is a tactical question to be decided by the socialists concerned. In my view it’s lunacy to counterpose such electoral exercises to the work of socialists who decide that their tactical orientation is to work in the Labor Party or the Greens.

It’s even worse to delude yourself that engaging in a fairly straightforward electoral exercise solves the central strategic problems facing socialists — whether you’re relatively successful as the Socialist Party and the ISO have been in Victoria, or relatively unsuccessful as the DSP-Socialist Alliance has been everywhere in recent times.

The particular strategic problem facing socialists is clearly the hegemony of the Labor Party over the organised working class and the demonstrated viability of the Greens as a small mass electoral formation to the left of Labor based largely in the new social layers.

It’s pretty clear that when they engage in their independent electoral activity the Socialist Party and the ISO do so quite seriously, in the way that Nigel Irritable describes.

The DSP tends not to do it in that way because of its preoccupation with the internal life of its own apparatus, which absorbs the energies of that organisation almost totally.

Several conjunctural factors obviously have a bearing on the Victorian local elections. Firstly, the Labor Party in Victoria has a more limited tradition of participation in local elections than it does in NSW and Queensland, for instance.

Secondly, and this is an area where people who know more might enlighten me. It’s my impression that when the reactionary Liberal government of Jeff Kennett enforced wholesale amalgamations of local councils in Victoria a few years ago, it introduced first-past-the-post voting everywhere. It appears that a number of mainly Labor and Green municipalities have reintroduced proportional representation, which is a progressive step. I’d be interested to know when that happened.

An even more progressive step would be to increase the number of councillors from three to four per ward, thus lowering the quota to 20 per cent. Maybe Steve Jolly could consider such a proposal for the Yarra council.

In the federal elections, the Socialist Party chose not to run, implicitly recognising the great polarisation in Australian society between the Labor-Green and Tory sides of politics in those elections.

The ISO, which did run in the federal elections as part of the Socialist Alliance, avoided to a large extent the extravagant anti-Labor rhetoric of the DSP, but the DSP rhetoric tended to dominate the Socialist Alliance campaign, for which the SA paid the inevitable penalty of a vote so small as to be off the electoral radar.

It seems to me that the better electoral result for the Socialist Party and the ISO candidates of the Socialist Alliance in the Victorian local elections is directly due to the less sectarian and more sensible tone of the ISO and the Socialist Party, both to the broader labour movement and to the Greens.

On the face of it, Steve Jolly’s statements before and after his election seem quite reasonable. He counterposed himself as a socialist both to the Labor Party and the Greens, but he also made an appeal to the better traditions of the Labor Party and to the ranks of the Greens for better collaboration around progressive policies. All of that seems to me entirely reasonable.

He delivered his vote for mayor to the Labor candidate and explained why. As he only had half a quota, it’s quite clear that Steve Jolly was elected on the Labor Party surplus, which carried over to him as preferences. Half the votes that elected him came from Socialist Party voters, and half from Labor voters.

I base this interpretation on local newspapers in Yarra, which have been sent to me by a friend. Was it the case that Steve Jolly and the Socialist Party actually exchanged preferences with the Labor Party? That’s a genuine question, because it’s not entirely clear from the local paper reports.

Anyway, it seems clear that Jolly’s election is the product of a good deal more sensible strategic orientation than that of the DSP, both in the terms described by Nigel Irritable about concentrating seriously in one area, and also adopting a more realistic overall approach to the continuing grip of Labor and the Greens on the masses.

Finally, one shouldn’t underestimate, in this kind of political exercise, Steve Jolly’s individual personal role. He’s a colourful immigrant to Australia with a strong Irish accent and in a modest way a charismatic figure with a long history of socialist political agitation behind him. The human element should never be overlooked as a factor in electoral politics.



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