The Left, the Greens and the crisis (from Overland)

by · September 6, 2013

Peak Greens?

Peak Greens?

My long-form essay on the trajectory of the Greens since 2010 is now up at Overland Journal‘s website, and will be in the print edition due out next week. No comments option at Overland, so feel free to comment below.

The rise of the Greens represented a historic realignment of the Left of Australian politics, a development I explored at length in Overland 199 in 2010. It was a reconfiguration that, at its peak, saw the party grow to 10 000 members, win 1.6 million Senate votes, gain ten federal MPs and make an impact well beyond such numbers. By relating to issues and movements that detached voters from the ALP – opposition to corporate globalisation and the War on Terror; support for refugee rights and serious climate action – the Greens disrupted labourism’s century-long grip on the Australian Left.

This allowed the Greens to enter into a formal alliance with Gillard, fuelling hopes that the government could deliver a ‘new paradigm’ of progressive governance. Whatever the Gillard administration’s policy achievements – and it’s hard to make the case that Gillard’s was a government much outside the neoliberal consensus of the past three decades – the inter-party alliance was a political disaster. The Greens’ forward march has been halted and now reversed. Apart from the NSW state election in 2011, every election the Greens have contested since 2010 resulted in a fall in their primary vote, a trend reflected in federal polling over the past twelve months.

I would argue, somewhat controversially, that the Greens’ failure was not primarily one of principles, policy, communication skills or the personality of their leader, even though such factors undoubtedly played a role. Instead, the central problem was the party’s conscious strategic shift from standing outside a publicly reviled political class, one that they claimed to want to replace, to becoming responsible participants in the political establishment and, as a result, getting caught in its crisis.

While the Greens’ record in the last three years makes for a less cheering story than the one I told in 2010, it also illuminates the key political contradictions of our time. I write this as a former Greens activist and continuing Greens voter, and as someone who believes that the Greens remain a key force shaping the fortunes of the wider Left. Building a better politics therefore requires not a denunciation but an honest appraisal of the party and its context, its strengths and its limitations.

Read the full essay here.

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