Tanner v Bandt; the (often contradictory) reasons the ALP gives progressives not to vote Green

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:

  1. The Greens get funding for your first preference, rather than the ALP, which helps them compete with the old parties.

  2. 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.

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28 responses to “Tanner v Bandt; the (often contradictory) reasons the ALP gives progressives not to vote Green

  1. FACT of the matter is, the Greens pose a real threat to Tanner in the forthcoming federal election.

    Remember, Labor hates the Greens so much they’d rather deal with Family First and the Coalition. The reason Labor hates/fears the Greens is that they realise that traditional lefties are better served by the Greens than the right of centre ALP.

    You’ve probably mentioned all this Jeremy so yeah, I admit, I didn’t read your entire post before commenting.

  2. Lucky WordPress doesn’t pay me by the word.

    There was just so much to respond to in that argument. It became ridiculous over twitter.

  3. I will read your post…’onest just wanted to chuck my 2c in without delay…

  4. “the ALP might be a disgrace, but they’re not quite as bad as the mining companies’ lapdogs in parliament, the Liberals.”

    That’s exactly how I feel… Great post Jeremy

  5. confessions

    People should be able to vote for whichever party they want. I reject this inflexible notion that ‘all progressives should vote for X party’, because the simple reality is that individuals cast their vote on a range of issues, and for a range of reasons. That is their entitlement.

    To be honest I really don’t understand why this is such a problem?

  6. The problem is people being bullied into voting for the ALP with bullshit lines like “a vote for the Greens is a wasted vote”.

    If the ALP represents your views with its votes in parliament, by all means vote for them.

  7. Wisdom Like Silence

    His points about the greens being seen as a single issue party and a fluctuating voter base are pretty accurate. The Greens have to start acting like a 3rd political force and stop acting like jack russel terriers begging for table scraps and yapping at the other parties heels. They have to show union members they wont lose jobs, show small business owners they wont bleed to death under their government, in other words they need to start the strip tease, people in this coutry vote with their wallets best interest at heart, everything else is secondary.

  8. timandtess

    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.

    Couldn’t agree more! Well said!

    I hope this time round more people feel that thier vote counts- there has been too many important issues that both the major parties have dropped the ball on…

  9. confessions

    Bullied Jeremy? I’m not seeing that from the replay of the conversation with your friend.

    If you (or anyone else for that matter) want to vote Greens, then by all means you are free to do so. Surely this is all you need to say to people who try to insist you should vote another way?

  10. Splatterbottom

    The ALP shouldn’t worry too much about its left flank. The votes it loses will come back to it through preferences. It would be far better off worrying about the centre flank. If the Libs get those votes they are gone, and with them government.

    While there is nothing funnier than watching mewling leftists hiss and claw at each other, the real concern of the ALP faithful is that a shift to the left will guarantee a LibNat victory. The reason the ALP has power is that it ditched the errant leftism of Latham. Any attempt to go back there is political suicide.

    “Progressive” politics is a sideshow to keep permanently disaffected ratbags off the streets. It has no place in a party with pretensions to govern the country.

  11. “His points about the greens being seen as a single issue party and a fluctuating voter base are pretty accurate. “

    That they’re seen as a “single issue party” is certainly something they should tackle. But I don’t vote for them for their environmental policies, and there are a lot of former ALP voters and supporters who’ve moved across to the Greens too.

    The “fluctuating voter base”? They’re growing.

    ‘They have to show union members they wont lose jobs, show small business owners they wont bleed to death under their government, in other words they need to start the strip tease, people in this coutry vote with their wallets best interest at heart, everything else is secondary.”

    No, they don’t. If the Greens start playing that game, I’ll be voting for someone else.

  12. ““Progressive” politics is a sideshow to keep permanently disaffected ratbags off the streets.”

    Yeah, how fringe and crazy it is to believe in better provision of public services, more spending on public infrastructure, treating refugees humanely and not discriminating against people on the grounds of their sexuality.

    “Bullied Jeremy? I’m not seeing that from the replay of the conversation with your friend.

    I’m not being “bullied” – but there is a heavy-handed “voting for the new party is a waste” line being crammed down Melbourne lefties’ throats. And it’s superficially persuasive.

    I’m responding to that and pointing out just why it is garbage.

  13. Wisdom Like Silence

    The Greens are smart enough to play the game and keep their heads out of their arse Jeremy, showing people what they will get from voting for them is how you get more votes. They need more votes. They can do it, they just need to start spruiking their economic policies more than their environmental ones, and the beautiful thing is they don’t need to change their policies one bit for voters to understand they’ll be better for the economy, people will come running.

    I said strip tease, not whore themselves like the ALP and the Coalition.

  14. Splatterbottom

    Given that Tanner is one of the sanest people in parliament it will be a very great shame if he loses his seat. Who are the Libs preferencing anyway?

    The purpose of the Greens is to provide an alternative which allows a message to be sent to the major parties. No one seriously thinks they should be trusted with government.

    The rise of the Greens is really just a reflection of the fact that ‘progressives’ have comfortable middle class lives and do not wish to be burdened with policies that might be supported by ordinary working class folk.

  15. “The purpose of the Greens is to provide an alternative which allows a message to be sent to the major parties. “

    No, it isn’t. It’s to represent progressive voters in parliament.

    “No one seriously thinks they should be trusted with government.”

    Speak for yourself.

    “They can do it, they just need to start spruiking their economic policies more than their environmental ones, and the beautiful thing is they don’t need to change their policies one bit for voters to understand they’ll be better for the economy, people will come running.”

    Oh, I agree. It’s difficult for them given the powers stacked against them, but I think they can do better.

  16. confessions

    I’m responding to that and pointing out just why it is garbage.

    Oh. My bad, I misunderstood.

  17. “No one seriously thinks they should be trusted with government.”

    They couldn’t do much worse than the coalition under Howard who squandered the boom and Rudd who hasn’t done much better. Rudd for example will promise the world and deliver NOTHING! I can’t see the Greens being any worse….

  18. It’s been explained to me that it’s something to do with electorate sizes or whatever, but it still seems unfair that in the 2007 federal elections the National Party got 5.5% of the vote and 10 lower house seats. The Greens managed 7.8% but no seats.

  19. That’s because of single member electorates. To win a seat you need your support to be concentrated in a small number of seats. That works for the Nationals, but obviously not for the Greens.

  20. I get sick of people saying a vote for a minor party is “wasted”. In fact, voting for someone who won’t win the seat means your vote gets counted TWICE – the first preference sends money to your favoured party, and sends a message to the major parties; the second preference votes in the least-worst of the major parties.

    Vote Liberal Democrat, Green, Australian Democrat, or any other minor – it’s like having two votes!

  21. Or put everyone but the majors in order of most liked to most hated, then put the major parties last and second last, in the order you want them of course.

  22. I’m not sure how I could put Fundies First ahead of the Liberals.

  23. Well yeah … there are some odious candidates every now and then.

    Tho in 98 I actually put One Nation ahead of ALP and the Nationals (I live in what was till the last election a safe national seat, I don’t ever remember a Liberal candidate, and in all honestly it was the only time I ever felt my reps vote counted at a Federal election.) Despite their bullshit they were closer to the Greens on the most important issue of the year (imo, and it wasn’t the GST).

    But yeah – Fielding ahead of, er … anyone. Fair enough I wouldn’t do it either.

  24. confessions

    I get sick of people saying a vote for a minor party is “wasted”.

    Unless you live in a marginal seat, your vote pretty much is wasted if you want to turf the incumbent.

    My MP is a fossilised Liberal on a HUGE margin who first came to parliament when Julius Caesar was running around. Nothing is shifting him except retirement. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who I vote for – my vote is swamped by the blue rinse set who continue to vote Liberal.

  25. “Progressive” politics is a sideshow to keep permanently disaffected ratbags off the streets. It has no place in a party with pretensions to govern the country.

    Yeah, damn progressive politics. I mean, what has progressive politics done for the country besides free education, Medicare, social security etc.? Nothing!

  26. It matters a lot, confessions – your vote is counted in terms of which party gets funding, and if you vote for someone progressive like the Greens then it tells the major parties that there’s a progressive constituency out there they should consider.

  27. Pingback: What will happen in Melbourne? « An Onymous Lefty

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