Ok, I’ve read a number of times about The Greens losing votes in the Federal Election. Then after Saturday’s Miranda By-Election in NSW where the Liberals lost with a swing against them over 20%, Paul Sheehan treated us to this:
Bushfires should be good for the Greens.
They have been warning about the rising impact of extreme weather events caused by global warming. Their deputy leader, Adam Bandt, spent last week attaching the bushfires raging across the state, with the destruction of more than 100 homes, to the policies of Abbott. The destruction of the Labor brand in NSW should also be good for the Greens. So, too, should be the government’s cuts in services. And the dominance of the NSW Liberals by lobbyists.
Despite all this, on Saturday, in an electorate that adjoins the bushfire-prone Royal National Park, and on a day when Sydney was ringed by fires and had just experienced the hottest September on record, the voters demolished the Greens.
In the 2011 state election, the Greens won a respectable 8.8 per cent of the primary vote in Miranda. On Saturday, that was cut in half, to 4.4 per cent. This was also worse than their 6.6 per cent vote in 2007, and 5.9 per cent in 2003. You have to go back 14 years, to the 1999 state election, when the Greens were still a fledgling party, to find a lower Greens vote in Miranda, 4.2 per cent.
This follows a failure in last year’s local government elections, where the swings against the Greens were biggest in the areas where they had exercised the most power. Their primary vote fell 12 per cent in Woollahra, in Leichhardt it dropped 11 per cent, in Canterbury, 10 per cent, in Marrickville, 7.4 per cent, and in the City of Sydney, 9 per cent. Apart from several modest improvements in other local government areas, the Greens’ vote in last year’s NSW local elections was a general retreat.
Apart from making the rather strange comment that “Bushfires should be good for the Greens” – (I wouldn’t have thought that bushfires are good for anybody. Reminds me of a comment from someone about the “pro global warming lobby”?? when refering to people concerned about climate change) – Sheehan goes on to say later:
The Greens have been going backwards for several years. Yet the party shows no evidence of humility, nor signs of listening to the messages being delivered by the wider public.
This analysis concerns me for a number of reasons. Sheehan is not the first commentator to suggest that The Greens have had their day, and now the electorate is returning to “more sensible” parties. But very few of them aknowledge one of the very important differences when comparing the votes today with the previous election.
Bob Brown’s retirement.
Bob Brown was a high profile politician, who like him or loathe him, gave you the feeling that he believed in his cause. He managed to project his party into the media in a way that Milne is yet to do. This is how Sara Phillips, ABC, saw his retirement at the time:
Bob Brown’s departure from politics is a big deal. His party garnered nearly 12 per cent of the vote in the last election. The Greens held the balance of power in the upper house of parliament, and was a key vote in the government’s shaky grip on the lower house. The party appeared to be growing and seemed as though it were an increasingly serious third force in power.
His political style was one of calm reassurance. His lanky frame never looked at ease in a suit, but he carried out interviews in a way that seemed to emphasise the reasonableness of his view. Christine Milne, by contrast, always seems lecturing and peevish. Where Brown is all ageing greyhound, Milne is a Jack Russell.
Brown is certainly a focal point for the environment movement. He earned his stripes campaigning on the Franklin River dam protests. Ardent environmental admirers will point out that he even had the strength of conviction to go to jail for what he believed in. Environmentalists saw him as one of them.
It was not unexpected that the loss of Brown would lead to a drop in the party’s vote. Yet, in spite of the drop in support for The Greens, Adam Bandt retained his seat.
But I’m not as concerned for The Greens as a party, as much as Paul Sheehan’s other assertion that it “shows no evidence of humility, nor signs of listening to the messages being delivered by the wider public.”
A few years ago, there was a poll in one of the newspapers which asked if we thought that the Queen should abdicate now in favour of Charles, or wait until William was old enough to take the throne. My immediate thought was that it doesn’t matter what we think. The Royal Family is not a democratic institution.
And so with climate change, it doesn’t matter how we vote. It’s not a democratic institution. We can’t vote it out of existence. (Yes, all you sceptics, just because the majority of scientists say it’s real, doesn’t make it so! Personally, I’d rather go along with the majority than Lord Monkton.) Were The Greens to say that they’ve suddenly realised the economic potential of razing entire forests to the ground, it’s not really likely to win them any votes. And their reason for existing would disappear.
We expect The Greens to be a party of conviction. Even those who don’t vote for them would be surprised if they made a pragmatic decision in order to win a few votes. The Greens are expected to be like our conscience – at times, a little annoying for most of us; something to be ignored by others.
There are two ways of looking at what a political party should offer us. The first is that parties should stand for something, that it should have certain core values and that you know when you vote for, say Rossleigh Brisbane’s United Australia Party, that you’re electing someone who believes that economic prosperity is more important than people’s rights, but if you vote for the People Against Slavery Party they have a strong record on human rights. Any change in these core values should be a long and slow process, not something to be defined with each election.
The second is that parties should sway whichever was the breeze is blowing, and to reflect community sentiment. That its aim should be to do whatever it takes to gain the maximum number of votes.
The trouble with the latter is that we then end up with no alternatives. If every party is following the focus groups and opinion polls, then every party offers what the majority allegedly wants. For example, if you support gay marriage, which of the major parties was offering to bring that in? (In reality, neither, although Labor might have introduced a Bill.)
I’m glad that The Greens do stick to their policies. I expect them to not listen to the public, but to present their views and give the public a chance to judge them. I don’t agree with everything they say or do, but I’m pleased that they’re not the pragmatists chasing every possible vote.
Strange that Paul Sheehan also mentions how well the Christian Democrats did in the same by-election by doubling their vote to 7%. I can’t seem to find any articles suggesting that the Christian Democrats are lacking humility or not listening to the public.
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