Politics: Who Stole Labor’s Votes?

Certain die-hard Labor supporters are turning me into a rabid Greens voter (as opposed to a mildly enthusiastic Greens voter). There is far too much unseemly rejoicing over the Liberal Party putting the Greens last on their HTV cards, tinged with a smug feeling that after all the Greens aren’t a real party and this will keep them in their place. Grown-ups don’t vote for small parties, one gathers. Sensible people realise that Australia only has two real political parties, and a vote for anything else is just a protest vote, a sign of immaturity. As for uppity small parties that try to become big parties, well, they need to be put in their place.

(and no, I am not impressed by the Liberals, either, who have expressed themselves in deeds rather than words – but then, that’s the Liberals for you. I’d hoped for better from Labor.)

As a connoisseur of small parties, this is making me furious. (Actually, it’s also hitting all my angry feminist buttons, too – presumably it’s that whole notion that the Greens are gettng ideas above their station and need to be put back in their box, which sounds awfully familiar from the feminist context.)

The thing is, the Greens did not steal my vote from Labor. Nobody did. Labor lost my vote all on its own. Not as much as the Liberal Party lost my vote, but then, the Liberal Party never really had my vote to lose. But I am not a die-hard voter of any stripe. If the Labor Party actually started acting more like the Labor Party and less like Liberals Lite, then I might well consider voting for them. If the Liberal Party developed a social conscience, I would even consider voting for them (though they probably wouldn’t be the Liberal Party any more).

If Labor wants to regain the votes of people like me, it needs to stop assuming that a vote for the Greens is a protest vote (if we are all protest voting, why are so many of us voting Green, rather than distributing our votes among such admirable protest vote choices as the Sex Party or the Socialist Alliance?), or a sign of immaturity. It needs to stop defining Green votes solely in relation to Labor, or as Labor votes gone astray (believe me, I’ve scrutineered for the Greens and Greens voters do not follow How To Vote cards. Most of them put Labor before Liberal, but there are definitely some Green Liberals out there too). Above all, it needs to stop reacting and start *thinking* about why so many people are voting Green. What values do the Greens espouse that Labor does not? Maybe these are things that Labor quite legitimately has decided it doesn’t believe in. Then again, maybe not.

But you can’t cynically move your policies closer and closer to those of the Liberal Party on the one hand, and then complain when voters flee in droves to one of the few sane parties espousing something different. It’s hypocritical.

The Greens are not, in any real political sense, a threat to Labor. They are not going to achieve government in their own right. Even if they get the balance of power, they are hardly going to support the Coalition – they have almost nothing in common. However far to the right Labor has moved, it is still closer to Green policy in almost all areas than the Coalition is likely to be. The only threat the Greens present is a moral one – by existing, by having sane and humane policies about immigration, healthcare, public transport, workplace relations, human rights, and, yes, the environment, they remind voters of what Labor used to stand for, and how far it has moved from there.

No wonder the Greens are making Labor nervous. If Labor wants to recapture those votes, they are going to have to move back towards what they used to stand for, and that’s scary, because judging by their current trajectory, Labor secretly thinks that Australians really want to vote Liberal.

Which is an indictment in itself.

Personally, I think the Green threat could be just what the Labor Party needs.

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