Having a vigorous debate with an ALP supporter on twitter over whether progressives in Melbourne should vote for the ALP’s Lindsay Tanner or the Greens’ Adam Bandt. It is not a topic that lends itself to 140 characters or less.
My friend has made the following points, common misconceptions that I think deserve a more detailed response than twitter allows:
- The Greens would need to really need to broaden their appeal to capture more votes
- It’s all good and well for Greens to “represent” people. But what have Greens ever achieved in single member electorates?
- If you’re happy for your vote to make no difference, then fine. Lodge your protest vote. But the Greens can’t effect change
- The Greens will never be in the position of the LibDems because they are a single issue party with a small support base
- For the ALP to be able to govern, they have to represent both left and right.
- And just how do the Greens represent their constituency? They have limited resources and no position of legislative power.
- A local Labor member has much more resources (staff, contacts, money, power) than a local Greens member ever could
- And a Greens member would likewise have to support policies opposite to her/his constituents’ values
- You can represent all voters, that’s what governments do.
- Then why aren’t progressives voting for Greens? Because progressives want politicians who can do something.
- If the left wanted the Greens to have more seats, they’d vote for them. Fact is, only about 10% of people do so.
- I agree with a lot of what Rudd has done, and a lot of what Howard did, and disagree too. But appreciate that they did something
- It’s a useless fight though. Our electoral system will never change to allow greater representation for Greens.
- But the risk is that if you first preference the Greens in Melbourne, they could win the seat
- The Greens could totally win Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane. But they’re only ever a chance to win about 5 HoR seats, nothing more
- What progressive policy has Carles or Organ ever got up?
- If most of the Greens support is disgruntled ALP voters, then they have a pretty fluctuating support base!
- I’d like to see a local member that can achieve things beyond a protest vote, which a Green HoR member could never do
- The ALP is a centrist party, therefore they represent both left and right.
- Voting Green will not get you “better funded public services, humane treatment of refugees, and marriage equality”
- Even if all those who agree with the Greens on issues voted Green, it wouldn’t be enough to put them in the BoP in the HoR
- And the Greens pander to their interest groups too.
- What signs are there that the increase in the Greens vote has moved the ALP to the left? I think it’s the opposite!
- And a lot of progressive voters may not agree with the Greens’ interest groups (councils, unions, enviro groups)
To be honest, I find that entire list somewhat depressing, particularly all the parts that essentially boil down to “we must support the status quo because it’s never going to change”.
The fact is, we each have one vote. That single vote doesn’t mean absolute power – but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. It’s worth just as much as every other person’s vote, and you should be extremely cynical and distrusting of anyone telling you that unless you vote for their candidate, it somehow doesn’t count. That it’s merely a “wasted” vote or a “protest” vote. That’s an incredibly arrogant dismissal of your views and your right to be represented in parliament.
It is also true that voting for the Greens and preferencing Labor has some particular benefits for those who’d like to see progressive policies in parliament, even if the Green candidate does not win the seat this time:
- The Greens get funding for your first preference, rather than the ALP, which helps them compete with the old parties.
- The more votes for the Greens, the more the ALP will realise that it can’t take progressive voters entirely for granted; it’ll have to do something to guard its left flank. So it’ll do something progressive. This might be token, but it’ll be better than Labor just concentrating on pandering to disgruntled Liberal voters.
Voting for the ALP, on the other hand, just tells them they can ignore progressives without consequence.
Naturally the two largest parties have set up a system that benefits them. With single-member lower house electorates it’s incredibly difficult for third parties to grow, unless they’re specifically regionally based (eg the National Party). The Greens could get 30% in every lower house seat and win precisely no representation in the House of Representatives. That’s a fundamentally broken, undemocratic system that deserves reform – and the best way to prevent that reform from happening, is continuing to vote for the major parties. If you want electoral reform, you’re not going to get it by giving your vote to the parties that benefit from the status quo.
And of course they also have much better access to resources – both public money (and benefits from incumbency like taxpayer-funded political advertising) and donor money. My twitter interlocutor thinks that money is somehow used for the benefit of their constituents – I think most of us realise that it’s mainly just spent on political campaigns to get themselves re-elected.
So I concede that the Greens and other third parties are operating from a position of extreme disadvantage in a system designed to maintain the privileges of the powers that be. (And that’s not even mentioning the media bias against them – News Ltd hates the Greens and enjoys telling the most misleading and vicious lies and half-truths about them every election campaign.) But so what? At the very least we can each use our single vote to say that we want something else.
Now, that sounds like I’m advocating “protest votes”, my twitter friend’s put-down for non old-party votes. But I don’t vote for the Greens to protest against any particular party – I vote for the Greens because on almost all the policy issues that are important to me, I know they will advocate for what I believe. I vote FOR them, in other words, and my vote is not defined by the other parties for which I don’t vote. Of course I am careful with my preferences to put the parties I most disagree with at the bottom – the ALP might be a disgrace, but they’re not quite as bad as the mining companies’ lapdogs in parliament, the Liberals. And the Liberals at least have some vaguely liberal people in the ranks who don’t want to persecute people just for being gay, so they’re higher than Fundies First.
But don’t dismiss my vote as a “protest” vote. It’s just as valid as anyone else’s. I might as well call your ALP vote a “protest” vote against representative government.
The fundamental problem with what my friend is arguing is that he thinks that your party being in government is really all that voters want and need. That it doesn’t matter what your side does to get there, because power is justification enough. That it doesn’t matter that to get power Lindsay Tanner regularly votes against progressive policies – the fact that he’s in power means he’s a better representative for progressive Melburnians than the pure but impotent Green candidate could ever be.
Well, first, what’s Lindsay Tanner done for progressive voters in the seat of Melbourne thus far with all that power? Secondly, if the problem is not enough people voting Green, then there’s an obvious solution to that – VOTE GREEN! Thirdly, what kind of democracy is it where my representative regularly takes the other side of an issue to mine? Having the “power” to do something doesn’t help if it’s the opposite of what I want you to do!
ALP voters have no idea what the party is going to do on any particular issue before an election. They don’t get to pick whether in their electorate they have a “left-wing” ALP candidate or a right-wing one. In contrast, Green voters know precisely what their candidate will do on an issue because they’re not trying to pander to people on the far right who fundamentally disagree. I know my vote won’t be used to lock up refugees indefinitely without trial. I know my vote won’t be used to discriminate against gay people in the law. I know my vote won’t be used to give the wealthy tax cuts at the expense of public services.
I know, putting my ballot paper in the box, that I have done my part for a more progressive Australia, and that if the 30% or more other Australians who agree with me do likewise then we’ll be able to pull the Australia back towards the left. I don’t want my party to have 51% of the vote if it means trying to represent both me and the people with whom I fundamentally disagree. As soon as that happens, they’d be representing neither of us.
Democracy is supposed to take place on the floor of parliament, not in party rooms behind closed doors. Parties should be making the decisions about what policies they represent before asking the electorate, and then the ELECTORATE decides which side of an argument should win. Parties having more than 50% of the seats in parliament, and therefore parliament being nothing more than a rubber stamp, is the real threat to democracy.
It’s also a fiction, because 51% of Australians clearly do not agree on the majority of issues: that’s why the major parties are all over the place. Whilst you can “represent” all Australians as a government, you cannot meaningfully represent both left and right at the same time, on the same issue. It’s impossible. Just like voters, you have to choose – and when the old parties are eventually forced to make a decision, they use the power granted them by their voters to do things with which a large proportion of those voters disagree, often profoundly. That’s how major parties “represent” their voters.
Fundamentally, we each only get one vote every three years. We deserve representatives who we know will do what we want for the rest of that time. That’s what I get by voting Green. I wonder how many Labor or Liberal party voters can say the same.