We are seeing it happen again: One Nation is outpolling the Greens, according to the latest Newspoll. Not only this, but they are outpolling the Greens by their widest margin yet. Yes, this is the same One Nation of that is chastised for possible electoral fraud. The same One Nation that is being investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission for not declaring donations made to it. The same One Nation whose candidates and representatives consistently distorts the truth, and merely only pretend to stand up for everyday Australians.
The Greens, by contrast, are almost perfectly and seemingly clean; at least on the surface, anyway. So much so they go to great lengths to ensure that they can't possibly be portrayed in a negative light in a way that they can't defend their way out of - to the point that they'll even water down potentially controversial (read: radical) platform positions to avoid negative media attention. Yes, One Nation, the Russel Coight of Australian politics, the party where "if something can go wrong with it, it will"; is outpolling the Greens (sorry, I don't have a suitable analogy here); a party that goes to great lengths to keep out of any sort of trouble.
What is the lesson that could be learned here for the Greens? Well, I'm definitely not saying that Richard Di Natale should start accepting donations without declaring them to the AEC, or start colluding with his Chief of Staff to start committing electoral fraud; but there is definitely a school of thought that is building among some sections of the party that it should eschew its desire for being 'clean at all costs', and its desire for being a party of Government.
A 'rough around the edges' style works to draw an audience; the type of person who 'tells it like it is' without the politispeak. It works because such a style is authentic and has an incredible amount of pulling power, and it also draws media attention and coverage. Such people are generally blunt and to the point, aren't afraid to employ a bit of colourful language on occasion, nor are they afraid of pulling a stunt or two, to prove a point. This is exactly why people like Scott Ludlam, and New South Wales Greens State MP Jeremy Buckingham, are incredibly popular both within and outside of their electorates, and is exactly why the Greens should be rougher around the edges by preselecting candidates who can be considered everyday people, and ditching its overall 'clean at all costs' attitude.
The second problem concerns watering down the messaging to the point of playing small target politics. The whole idea behind watering down their messaging to seem less radical, on the surface, is to avoid negative media coverage that portrays the party as a bunch of ideologues - but the media do this anyway so there really is no reason why the party couldn't explicitly campaign on a socialist platform, and dropping the social liberal shtick. The real reason behind the watering down of the message is so that it can draw voters away from the Liberal Party in the wealthy, blue-ribbon electorates in the inner east of Melbourne (such as Higgins).
This strategy, however, has mixed success, and comes at a cost of alienating the greater number of working class people looking for alternatives to the Labor Party: people, who may otherwise be drawn to the Greens pushing a more radical platform, turning to far right populist parties because the former is failing to be a genuine and authentic alternative to the business as usual consensus by not pushing a more radical platform.
It has been shown around the world that people prefer left-wing parties and candidates that put out radical, anti-establishment platforms that focus on economic and social inequality (as opposed to the 'culture wars' and identity politics), but such a party or candidate has to exist. If such a party or candidate doesn't exist, people will go to whichever parties or candidates are giving lip-service, anything or anyone that doesn't represent the establishment; those parties on the far right such as One Nation.
The solution for the Greens is simple: they need to take lessons from the likes of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and become that left-wing alternative that people are screaming for and eschew its desire to be in the much-loathed establishment, or the party will fade into irrelevance. Many rank-and-file members of the party know what's at stake, but the hierarchy of the party needs to get on board as well. Otherwise, the party will continue to stagnate and will decline, and something else will eventually come forward and take its place.
However, for the Greens, trending internal attitudes, style, and culture, that needs to be reversed, may already be too far entrenched to be reversed.
About the author:
Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.