The UK election & some possible Australia parallels

With the UK election happening this week, I recently wrote a piece for New Matilda about some of the parallels (as well as some of the differences) between the rising third parties of the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Greens in Australia.  You can read the full piece at this link.

For space reasons, I had to leave out a couple of other points I was going to make, mostly touching on what factors can help a third party maintain its base vote, rather than be at risk of relying too much on the protest vote (the most spectacular example of which was the rapid rise and equally rapid descent of One Nation).

In hindsight, I think one of the reasons why the Australian Democrats had difficulty fully consolidating a stable foundation of public support was an excessive focus on the national level, and very little presence in local government or local activism.  This came about in part because the Democrats gained the Senate balance of power very early in the party’s life – which naturally brought a big focus on national legislation and policy – but there was limited success at state level (apart from SA) and almost none in local councils.  This also left them with nothing to fall back on when the party’s credibility and support at national level drained away.

In contrast, the UK Liberal Democrats growing support has been built very deliberately on local campaigning and first targeting local council seats, and then building that support into presenting a serious challenge for the House of Commons seats.  This strategy was in part driven by the realities of the UK’s outmoded first past the post voting system and the consequential practice of strategic voting. The presence of voluntary voting in the UK and the different nature of local councils in our two countries also make the parallels somewhat imperfect.

None the less, the fact that the Greens have over 100 people elected to local councils across most parts of Australia does provide a more solid foundation, as well as a bulwark against some of the inevitable peaks and troughs in voter support which all parties go through.

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12 Comments

  1. Yeah, I think former nat pres Dr Aron Paul has written a lot of good stuff about this too.

  2. I agree that the Democrats made a tactical error in becoming content with Senate only watchdog politics.

    However, the Greens also need to think more about strategic positioning – as the UK Lib Dems have done successfully.

    There is still a pervasive view that the Greens are a single issue movement of the extreme radical left. These perceptions must be confronted and changed if the Greens hope to be Australia’s Lib Dem style third force.

  3. On a lower more basic level then local Government the Greens are also a movement. It’s a movement that many people in the community with strong environmental views can connect with. The Democrats never really had this. It was solely a political party, it wasn’t a brand that connected with people the way the Greens do. Green = Environement, Labor = Labour Movement, Nationals = Farmers and Liberals = private enterpirse. People who would never join a political party can connect with these ideas. The Democrats never really could be explained in such simple terms and had almost no support base outside its own member base. Perhaps for a while Keep the Bastards Honest was a simple brand that worked.

    Oh and don’t get us former Democrats started on Aron Paul.

  4. I would love to hear some former Democrats views on Aron Paul!

    Please get started.

  5. I think only very poorly informed voters would believe:

    Greens = Environment
    Labor = Labor Movement
    Nationals = Farmers
    Liberals = Private Enterprise

    We have not had a decent Labor Party governing this country for 30+ years.

    I think various government policies are aimed primarily at keeping the voter base happy, while selling us out to the Third World, a rather odd combination which cannot work in the longer term.

    Rudd has still not reversed the tax cuts Howard gave to high income earners. Instead he thinks we need to destroy our mining industry by taxing them at 40%.

    He has not capped Howard’s Child Care Rebate, so we still have the wives of billionaires being paid the equivalent of a pension to go out to work. This has incensed stay-at-home mums to the point that they are demanding equal funding for NOT “outsourcing” their child care.

    Liberals’ policy on Paid Parental Leave does not seem to take account of the fact we have a huge foreign debt hanging over our heads. They want to point the finger at Rudd et al, but how stupid are THEY?

    I think all kinds of parenting, child care, baby bonus and family payments should only go to those in need. We have had Middle Class Welfare for far too long.

    Our society needs to shake itself free of unmitigated greed and moderate its expectations. Perhaps a budgetting course could be taught in Year 10, and also in a Centrelink class.

    If Nationals were about farmers, why is the National Farmers’ Federation being destroyed from the inside out? I guess Nationals must not have enough politicians in the parliament to protect their voter base from lunatics.

  6. Lorikeet, I would say that uninformed voted = average voter.

    As a person with a strong interest in politics it never seems to amaze me how little Joe Smith on the street knows about what’s going on Politically.

    Also I think the Hawke Keating Government did a very good job of reforming Australia which was followed up in the Howard Years contributing to the strong economy we have today.

    As for this Government it’s too early to say.

  7. Sorry, Andrew O – I’m not interested in this blog becoming a proxy for people rehashing internal Democrats disputes from the past. People are free to express their views about specific public decisions/actions of Democrat Senators/MPs, but I think the voluntary office bearers had a hard enough time of it as it is without people having shots at them in hindsight.

  8. Andrew O:

    I certainly could not agree with your comments relating to Hawke, Keating and Howard.

    I think most people would like to get rid of Rudd as quickly as possible. He is certainly working to the Crush Australia Policy.

    So you think we have a strong economy? We’re up to our necks in debt, and Rudd has just given mining a thumping with his 40% tax.

    In the Labor Day Parade, nurses from the QNU were giving Rudd a hug. Once they find out what he really has in mind for them, they will wish they had given him a swift box in the ear instead.

    I think a lot more voters are paying attention to what goes on in the political arena, whether they are young university students, the elderly or anyone in between.

  9. Justin Campbell Says: On a lower more basic level then local Government the Greens are also a movement. It’s a movement that many people in the community with strong environmental views can connect with
    While at its inception one might have though that, today many voters are just looking for an alternative. The greens initially profited by the protest vote but whether they can hold even the vote they have today is questionable.
    I feel for the ALP voters who have seen their own party absolutely desert them. A feeling of helplessness has come upon most of these voters as they watch policy being prresented more akin to a liberal government then their own. Many though will not go to the greens who to the rank and file are just as threatening to their way of life as the Liberals. (whose doctors wifes not fill the ranks of the greens)

    While the UK with their Liberal Democrats and the US with their new
    Tea Party movements growing and looking to take centre stage, I cant see that happening here with the greens.
    Possibly a party similar to the Democrats or even the DLP will eventually emerge as a real contender. Events like privatisation in Qld might very well be the trigger to commence this transition.
    This is an event that will remove support for the ALP for a generation.
    Anyone who thinks this wont spill our into the Federal arena is wrong.

  10. the only reason some ppl turn to the greens is they have become disenchanted with the other groups and there is no better alternative at this time .
    the greens will not do well in w.a. bacause of the behavour of one of its members .
    labour will not do well here because of rudds tax grab on mining (trying to eat the golden goose ) that has saved the whole country from a bad downturn

    libs will do ok only because of barnetts stance against the fed govts grab at more power with neally all the money to fund it comming from qld and w.a .
    the nats well most people still remember they are the country party.

    labour will go to the people with climate control and we need more unskilled people
    libs will go to the people on border control and bring back work for nothing
    the nats ops country party well the just like the power and cant do it without the libs
    the greens will go with the enviroment and we will all be much better off if we get into bed with the libs ops i mean hug a tree .
    and i say god save australia please!!
    wheres jo when we need him.

  11. The Greens disappoint me still,Brown and media grabs means little,to me the Greens seem both tired and tied,sorry Andrew.

  12. labour will not do well here because of rudds tax grab on mining (trying to eat the golden goose ) that has saved the whole country from a bad downturn
    theres on prediction someone elce thinks is rite page 73 in the sunday times 9th may.

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