The 2018 Victorian State Election is fast approaching and candidates are being actively preselected by all of the main parties. However, it is the formation of the Victorian Socialists, which comprises of City of Yarra Councillor Stephen Jolly, City of Moreland Councillor Sue Bolton and lawyer Colleen Bolger - an unlikely alliance of Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative - to contest the Northern Metropolitan Region in the Victorian upper house that has roused some serious attention from the Left.
The Victorian Socialists may be the 'new kids on the block' (albeit comprising of long established organisations), but they have caught the imagination of both traditional Labor supporters and Greens supporters alike like no other formation has and it has also drawn in a number of Left-wing independents and trade unionists into the fold as well. Within just a few days of the group publicly announcing its formation and intention to register as a political party, it got the required 500 members. This was achieved with minimal mainstream media coverage and was largely driven by social media. The fledgling organisation now has over 800 members and it has filed its paperwork with the Victorian Electoral Commission to formerly register as a political party.
In order to have a good chance of scoring a seat in the upper house, they would need to get at least 8-10% of the region vote combined with favourable preference flows. There is a large, very possibly disenchanted, Labor vote (which is what the party is targeting) to eat into, as well as that of the Greens who have lost the personal profile of its somewhat rough around the edges leader Greg Barber due to his retirement from Parliament, which is also very much up for grabs. There is also a significant and increasing Left vote that doesn't sit with any of the main parties that the Victorian Socialists could tap into.
8% of the vote is a tough feat for a new name and new party to achieve, especially given that parties that have 'socialist' in their name rarely get more than 2% of the vote in any given electorate where they stand; but it has to be remembered that Jolly is no new name. He is very much a seasoned and experienced political campaigner and operator who has stood for the state seat of Richmond (albeit as an independent candidate) at every Victorian state election since the 1999 election. In his last effort, at the 2014 election, he achieved 8.5% of the vote.
Key people within the formation very much emphasise that it is no vanity project. Jolly himself even says that "we're in this to win it". However, questions have also been asked as to how or even if the Victorian Socialists as a whole will have the capability of replicating across 11 electorates what Jolly has managed in one. It must be understood, however, that this is a party that is already actively in campaign mode and highly visible at community events and rallies to much fanfare. As an example of the pulling power that this project has and the excitement that it is generating, they have more than 600 people on Facebook who have indicated that they are attending, or are interested in attending, the Victorian Socialists campaign launch.
They are also being very conscious as to target issues based on where it is they are campaigning, but it overall does seem to be following a core theme and set of priorities - better public services, better public transport and better public housing. They are also targeting the over-militarization of the police force which also seems to be gaining some resonance. It isn't just the inner suburbs that they are campaigning in, either. They are very much campaigning everywhere in the region, from Broadmeadows down to Richmond. On the 21st of April, the Victorian Socialists stated via its Facebook page that within the next week that they would be establishing branches in every Northern Metropolitan lower house electorate - which will surely amplify their local grassroots campaigning and party building efforts.
Not only is it the visibility, excitement and overall manpower behind the campaign that is giving the Victorian Socialists a serious chance come November; they also have some serious financial backing coming in from, in particular, the trade union movement. While political campaigns from socialist groups in the past have been ran on the smell of an oily rag - this one is very different and has the crucial ability to put together some very solid infrastructure and support in place as well, should they so choose, as well as the ability to more easily promote itself to those outside of its own circles without the need to rely on the mainstream media.
The combination of overall community excitement, boots on the ground and serious financial bankrolling is coming together nicely to create the critical mass needed to really give the established parties a real shake up at worst and at best, to get a Victorian Socialist into the state parliament. Although the party is only eyeing a seat in the Northern Metropolitan Region at this stage - a successful campaign may be all too encouraging for them not to broaden themselves out and to target both upper house and lower house seats in working class areas across Melbourne and rest of Victoria in future elections.
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.