It started with Paul Howe’s article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. It has now snowballed into a full media storm. The great ALP-Green skirmish.
It is an interesting viewpoint from where I sit (or live). I live in Northcote, which is your typical lefty inner suburban Melbourne lefty suburb. Working class, and with plenty of migrants up to twenty years ago, but now almost all gentrified with mainly anglo tertiary educated professional people.
And the microcosm of my suburb, and of my municipality (Darebin) and my Federal Division (Batman) says a lot about the changes and subsequent friction that is occurring between the ALP and the Greens.
Northcote was Labor as Labor can be. It was one of the safest seats in Australia for the Australian Labor Party, which has held the seat for all but six years since 1910. However, at the 2010 election the Greens overtook the Liberals on preferences and came second against Labor, reducing the seat to a “fairly safe” Labor seat. Just look at the swing to the Greens in the last Federal election:
This was partly due to the wave of Green votes in the south of the electorate (where Northcote is located). Northcote is very similar in its housing and population to suburbs such as Brunswick and Fitzroy which are recognised as areas with the highest Green vote in Australia.
But the swing to the Greens was not uniform and the next table tells the story:
In inner city Northcote the Greens are doing really well, outpolling the ALP, but back in the more brick veneer north, in Preston where you still have plenty of migrants and fruit trees and tomatoes in the backyards the ALP still reigns supreme (and the failure of the Greens to capture these voters is why they won’t replace the ALP. But that’s another story).
Here we have the dilemma of the ALP in a nutshell. In the south the tertiary educated progressive voter (which in many cases is also quite affluent) who is concerned by climate, refugees, same sex marriage etc. has left the ALP. While in the north you have people who most likely feel that these are peripheral issues, and perhaps they see the ALP dealing with them as a irrelevancy as they are more concerned with things such as electricity prices and pensions. Also I may speculate that while I can’t see areas like Preston moving anywhere near the Coalition, this may be a different story in other parts of Australia.
Drag0nista made a very interesting observation that those who seems to think that the ALP needs to win progressive voters back off the Greens to win, are mistaken. They need to win back disaffected Labor voters who are parked with the Libs or others/independents.
If Drag0nista is correct, right wing strategists of the ALP may have decided that it is better to gain votes by distancing themselves from the Greens in middle suburbia than retaining them in the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps they have decided that if inner seats become Green it is a price to pay if the ALP gets votes elsewhere. Because the first thing I got from Howe’s article was that he really didn’t ‘get’ the inner suburban Green voter.
If Howe thinks that by thinking the way he does in that article he is going to reclaim the green voter in the inner suburb he’s seriously mistaken. The Green voter in the inner suburb is a different type of voter that was encountered before. They have had enough of the ALP chasing the so called ‘Western Sydney Battler’ vote and feel abandoned. While I thought that the Greens are wrong in not giving the Malaysian solution at least a go for a limited amount of time, they are politically right in not wavering from their position. Remember when the Democrats made a deal with the Coalition to introduce the GST? Arguably the GST was better for their changes, but it did really hurt them electorally. I think that for some voters not voting for either major parties, with their inevitable compromises and policy changes gives them some sort of moral superiority, any compromise would be seen as a betrayal.
There are also two main weaknesses in Howe’s argument. One is that he may rant against the Greens, but he fails to ask why the Greens have arisen in the first place. Why did people who voted ALP, or were even members decided to go for the Greens? I think the ALP needs to ask that question.
The other is that while he mentions the DLP, and Lang etc. these were internal splits in the Party. The Greens arose from a grassroot movement and as such it is a very different phenomenon, and one that due to this may have much more momentum.
Personally I have voted ALP and Greens in different elections and I will continue to do so. I like and dislike aspects of both parties, but as a NVL (Never Vote Liberal) person I don’t have a lot of other choices if I actually want to cast a vote. I just hope that we won’t witness long decades of the ALP and the Greens squabbling while the Coalition is in government.