Modia Minotaur

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Are the Greens Irrelevant?

When someone suggested me that the Greens are, far from being on the ascendancy, a party whose relevancy has come and gone, I initially found the idea quite startling.

The party today launched its election campaign, in what is considered their strongest area - inner city Newtown, part of the seat of Marricville, held by Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt since the 2005 by-election. It is one of several seats in which the Greens, and not the Liberals, are generally the second-running party. This includes the neighbouring Balmain (formerly Port Jackson), which gave the party its biggest chance to win a seat in the 2003 election.

Even despite this, the notion of the Greens as a spent force - at the very least, in their current incarnation - is an interesting one to explore.

First and foremost, the core policy focus of the party has been usurped by the major parties. To be an environmentalist is no longer to be a fringe dweller - or a member of the Left, for that matter. Even those parties who have not taken up the cause of climate change acknowledge that it is an issue whose time has come. Rather than foregrounding the Greens, this has had the paradoxic effect of backgrounding them. This seems illogical in one way, but in another, it makes some sense. If the planes stopped flying over the No Aircraft Noise Party, there'd be no No Aircraft Noise Party.

Secondly, to survive, the party must do such distasteful things as make preference deals, like the one that was struck this week (though it isn't as rosy for the government as it may appear on first glance). It's been widely suggested that this deal would `anger' Greens supporters. Third party supporters often seem to forget that, in a country with a two party system and preferential voting, the idea is to make sure that, if your party doesn't win, the next best option wins instead. Greens supporter in these crucial inner-city seats are no `doctors' wives'. For some, the idea of preferencing anyone is repugnant, let alone the Big Bad ALP (the situation is particularly distorted in places like Marrickville and Balmain, where two parties that should have much to agree on end up spending more time getting stuck into one another than into the common enemy in the Liberal Party). The local myth about the Greens candidate who missed preselection because he wore a suit shows the way that the sort of professionalisation that the party requires to become a legitimate third-party force lies in direct opposition to the romanticised anti-establishment notions that attract many to the party in the first place. What would the hardcore supporters do if the Greens `sold out'?

It will be interesting to observe the fortunes of the party in the next few years. Despite being repeatedly feted to make their mark electorally, their primary vote has remained virtually unchanged for some time - the rhetoric of even the Greens themselves is turning away from winning a lower house seat in NSW to increasing their representation in the Upper House. It also appears the NSW preference deal is related to a wider deal designed to deliver the party balance of power in the next Federal senate. The Greens clearly believes the sizeable burden of holding the balance of power could be the making of the party. With a grassroots support base that would be far more furious at the party for even the slightest abandonment of its principles - perceived or otherwise - than were supporters of the Democrats were when Meg Lees supported the GST, it could also be the breaking of it.

8 Comments:

At 10:14 am, Anonymous David said...

Interesting. I'm not sure I'd agree that environmental policy has been usurped by the major parties (yet). They're talking about it but not offering many real solutions. Peter Garrett was interviewed on Lateline last night and running the new Labor/Lib concensus that clean coal will save us (from making any tough decisions). When asked whether, if carbon capture didn't work or was too expensive, that would mean that the coal industry might need to be reduced in size, he refused to answer.

I think the Greens, with their economic (and, to a lesser extent, social) policies that are distasteful to many environmentally sympathetic voters, may well struggle once the major parties start addressing environmental issues properly. But at the moment I think its clear that they'll both sell out environmental issues to business / industry concerns and that means the Greens still have a unique offering.

 
At 8:24 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

astute analysis.
I have had a passing association with Greens and agree that it faces a critical issue in terms of the dynamic you have identified.
The Greens make decisions by consensus, which while admirable is highly arduous and off-putting, takes at times hours - particularly in reference to said preference deals.

 
At 7:59 pm, Anonymous tim said...

David's hit upon the fundamental flaw in your analysis. Yes, climate change, the Greens' major platform, has become mainstream, but the old parties are still proposing non-solutions.

It'll take a while, given the propensity of the mainstream media to believe the government line (see how long it took for them to work out climate change was real...), but eventually (hopefully before this year's election), the old parties' non-solutions will be exposed.

That will be the major challenge for the Greens this year. If they can rise to it, then they certainly will not have become irrelevant.

 
At 10:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your posts on LW were shallow, largely devoid of political issues and policies and largely candidate focussed.

This post is even more banal, shallow and silly than your previous meanderings.

You are a waste of blog space.

Yawn.

 
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