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.