ZNet and the Greens – an Australian story
By Nicholas Houston at Oct 20, 2011
After reading ZNet for years from Australia and Latin America and agreeing with just about every word written I have an important question to ask in relation to American politics. It is particularly relevant following the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and it goes to the strategy and effectiveness of the broad left in the United States.
The question is: Why is there no alternative party to the Democrats on the left of American politics?
In most other western countries there are parties on the left that stand in distinction to both the conservative parties and the traditional social democratic parties. Yet despite the effort and energy of the American left, the analysis of the ZNet community, and on-ging activist interventions, there appears no place to put an alternative vote that means anything in the United States.
If I could, I will tell a short and happy story about the recent situation in Australia.
In Australia the Australian Labor Party (ALP) currently forms Government with the Liberal Party forming the Opposition. For translation purposes you can read “Democrats” for the ALP and “Republicans” for the Liberal Party, noting the humorous twist of the conservative party in Australia calling itself the “Liberal Party”. The ALP holds Government through the support of 3 independent Members of Parliament (MPs) and one Green Party MP in the House of Representatives. Ms. Julia Gillard is the Leader of the ALP and is therefore the Prime Minister.
Problems with the ALP and a solution
The situation we face in Australia is not dissimilar to the situation in the USA in that the ALP, the traditional party of social democracy, quietly abandoned its beliefs and left traditions over a 35 year period in favor of a soft neo-liberal ideology. For some time voters did not notice this or link the ALP’s abandonment of its tradition to the rightwards rush of public debate and public policy.
But more recently, perhaps over the last ten years, the Australian Greens (the Greens), an alternative left party, has emerged. The Greens now claim between 10%and 15% of the popular vote in both federal and state elections with this vote likely to increase. In the Federal sphere the popular vote does not generally translate directly into Green seats in House of Representatives (the place where Government is formed) because of “first past the post” electoral laws in that chamber. But in the Senate where candidates are elected proportionally to the vote received, the Greens popular vote in the 2010 election has translated into a strategic bloc of votes.
The situation in the current Parliament is that the Greens with about 15% of the national vote has about 12% of Senate seats, and given the delicate balance between the major parties, this is enough to block Government legislation if the legislation is also opposed by the Opposition. Given that the Opposition generally oppose Government legislation this means the Government needs the support of Green Senators to get anything through the Parliament.
The significance of this is that the left has a voice and a vote in national politics!
Impact on extra Parliamentary politics
This is incredible, and if you stop to think about it, hugely tactically significant.
We are not reduced to campaigning on issues with megaphones from outside the tent, begging right wing ALP politicians to show an ounce of social democratic decency, but actually have a say in the formation of policy and the law. Just as importantly we have a public moral voice on issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental policy, labour rights, taxation, gay marriage, migration, education, welfare, privatisations etc. is backed by about 15% of Australians.
The implications of this are enormous and very positive in just about every sense.
For a start the ALP is under pressure from its left flank and must decide whether it is to return to its social democratic roots or embrace a centre right ideology that is likely to end in electoral annihilation. Then strange new alliances are beginning to emerge between the Greens and previously conservative rural electorates who have themselves been abandoned by the neo-liberal policies of the Liberal Party. Other cosy if not corrupt relationships between unions and the ALP are also being re-examined. But best of all, there is the beginnings of a proper contest of ideas that conservatives must respond to, and this often makes them appear the contradictory fools they are, if I can say that.
The benefits of this new situaton are apparent to everyone who believes in progressive politics with the most encouraging thing being that the Green vote has increased at every election over the last 10 years and this process is not going to stop!
Born in the USA?
Which gets me back to the USA where the abysmal situation seems to be that the left has no voice inside the formal political system at state or national level and very little ability to effect outcomes. The analysis provided by ZNet writers is great, the campaigns run from outside the system seem to be creative, the Occupy Wall Street Movement a delightful breath of fresh air and honest commentary, but there is still no-one to vote for and the impact of these extra parliamentary campaigns would appear to be uncertain into the future.
It is apparent that Obama is not a social democrat but of the centre right, and that the wars are continuing, the banks are saved while the rest of the country goes to the dogs and the rest of it, but still there is no alternative mainstream voice or place to vote.
My open question to all of you who write and contribute to ZNet is this:
Why is there no alternative party to the Democrats on the left of American politics?
And why doesn’t the ZNet community commence a debate with other progressive forces and independent unions aimed at organizing the basis of a political party to contest ideas and elections?
This would be a beautiful work to observe!