I feel like Wills has entered a new era in the last few years.
We’ve been a safe Labor seat since forever (setting aside that little lapse with Phil Cleary), and have been entirely ignored by both major parties, but in the last couple of elections, the Green vote has been creeping up, and I must say, it has borne dividends. We got a new local member from the progressive side of Labor, we are suddenly being noticed in infrastructure planning, and in the last two weeks, I’ve been door-knocked by volunteers both for the Greens and for the Victorian Socialists. (The Greens volunteer seemed a little appalled by my interest in politics when we met at the tram stop and even more appalled when he knocked on a door that evening and yes, it was me again; the Socialist volunteer was absolutely lovely, and persuaded us to put up signage for Sue Bolton… and then nobody ever came back to us to deliver it, which is just such a classic Socialist Alliance way to behave – great ideas, no follow through. Though having said that, Sue has been an excellent local council member.)
On Tuesday night I even got a phone call from my local Labor member, Peter Khalil. He is certainly working hard for my vote – the phone call lasted nearly half an hour, and ranged from climate policy and getting refugees off Nauru and Manus Island, to the need to raise pensions and fix the NDIS, the restoration of penalty rates, and solidarity with workers. He had a lot of good answers, was hardly rude about the Greens at all (!), and was actively positive about Sue Bolton… admittedly, she is also not much of a threat to him, but it was clearly important that she is solidly working class and unionish, unlike those suspiciously middle-class and thus untrustworthy Greens. (I refrained from mentioning my own suspiciously middle-class background. I suspect he guessed about my Greens-voting habits nonetheless.).
I have to say, I was quite impressed, and am seriously considering the unprecedented action of putting a major party first on my Lower House ballot. I mean, if Labor is actually going to field good quality progressive candidates, we should really encourage them, even if it does mean risking sinking back into safe-seat invisibility. But what a labour-intensive way to get out the vote. I wonder how many people he could possibly have called? Or do other people not take ‘what else do you want to know about?’ as quite the invitation I took it to be?
(Obviously, whatever my final decision about the Lower House, I’ll still be voting independents and tiny parties all the way in the Upper House. I may be swayed by a persuasive local candidate, but I do have some standards…)
But the phone call led me to think a bit about the question of voting for a candidate versus voting for a platform. In the Senate, where I don’t know the candidates, and am largely voting with the intention of adding variety (and a bit more socialism / action on climate change) to the Upper House, I’m generally going to vote for an attractive policy suite over a specific candidate, unless that candidate has shown themselves to be exceptional.
In the Lower House it’s a bit trickier. For major parties, while it’s nice to have a good local candidate, you also know that they are bound by the policy platform, and it’s always difficult to know which factions are dominant and how much an individual MP is going to be able to push for what they believe in. On the other hand, if they are able to have a say on policy, then there is a much higher chance of that policy getting through.
For minor parties, though, I think the quality of the individual candidate starts to become more important – possibly more important than their party platform. I mean, for starters, recent history suggests that members of small right-wing parties, at least, have a tendency to leave the party and become independent, start new parties, or join different right wing parties. But more importantly, if there are only one or two representatives from a small party, they have to be the sort of people who are really good at working with others, or no matter how good their ideas are, they will never be heard.
I’m not sure where that leaves me, to be honest.
So what do you do when you have an OK candidate for a minor party, and a really good candidate for a major party that you don’t entirely trust to let the good candidate get his way? It’s an interesting question, and not one I’m entirely sure I have answered yet to my own satisfaction. I do think that Labor is running on the most progressive policy platform we’ve seen from them for a while, and I want to encourage that, but I must admit, I don’t entirely trust them not to start getting scared of being too different from the Coalition once they are in power. Which is why I like having a few Greens and Socialists around to keep reminding them that they need to work for the lefty environmental votes.
And how much do you weigh the fact that you actually really do rather like a candidate as a person? I know I tend to give this more weight than I intend to at times – I mean, even with this blog, I tend to find myself giving the benefit of the doubt to otherwise dubious political parties whose members have been polite and informative in my comments section, and they wind up higher on the ballot than they would based on policy alone. Is this a matter of letting my emotions override my judgment? Or is the behaviour of a party’s candidates a useful and meaningful standard by which to judge that party?
Or is the better measure how a party treats their good candidates?
(Incidentally, it seems worth noting that with this election, Wills has candidates from the Victorian Socialists, Animal Justice, the Greens, Labor and (sigh) United Australia… but no candidate for the Liberal Party. He got disendorsed a couple of weeks ago. So with the exception of Palmer, it’s really a choice between left, further left, slightly loopy left or environmental left. Just how we like it here in the People’s Republic of Moreland.)
P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you balance policy versus people, but I also know that I have friends who are helping to campaign for at least two, and maybe as many as four, of the parties above. So let’s not make this about which party is the best, and let’s especially not make this about how the other parties are hypocritical/ineffective/not in Solidarity with the Workers, because all that’s going to do is make me cross.
I wasn’t going to do a Eurovision song, since this wasn’t even going to be a post until it metastasised out of a different post, but now I’ve realised that I have the perfect excuse to put one of my favourite Eurovision songs ever here, so I’m going for it.
Another thing I’ve been pondering is what, exactly, our candidates and politicians hope to achieve with door-knocking and phone calls. I mean, yes, obviously they hope that we will vote for them. But what is the mechanism? Is it about making a personal connection with the voter? Is it about showing a voter that your policies are in line with their interests? Is it about telling us your track record? Or is it just about reminding us that you exist?
(And is it or is it not the most horrific job interview process in the world? I mean, imagine applying for a job by cold calling everyone on the board of the organisation and trying to get them to talk to you so that you can tell them how awesome you will be in the role. I’m cringing at the very thought…)
Iceland was definitely not singing about politics back in 2012, but I’m pretty sure their lyrics would strike a chord with most incumbents right about now.
When I gave you all my heart and soul
Morning will come and I know we’ll be one
Cause I still believe that you’ll remember me.