Policy before position would be ideal in local politics

Last weekend’s local government election reminded me of the debacle of the previous Leichhardt Council mayoral appointment. I talked to Labor Councillor Robert Webb outside the Orange Grove booth on Saturday. I told Robert how outrageous I had found it when Labor kept the Greens out of the Mayor’s position 4 years ago, by doing a deal with the Liberals (and Community Independents). Why didn’t Labor share the Mayor with the Greens, I asked. Oh they were impossible to negotiate with, we tried, he said. At the Council meeting to elect the Mayor 4 years ago, I had also asked Green candidate for Mayor, Jamie Parker – what are you proposing to Labor? Why don’t you stand up in Council and make a last open appeal? He didn’t. I asked Robert – why were the terms of the negotiations not made open? It would help the voter, such as myself, to make sense of what was going on? He shrugged and said that the Liberal Mayor couldn’t do anything that Labor didn’t want in any case. I said that wasn’t the point.

I left the conversation with Robert with a dawning realisation – the negotiations between the parties over Mayor had most likely been negotiations over position, not policy. Who would get the position for how much time? If the negotiations had been over policy – then it would have been easy to make them public. If the negotiations had been over policy – it would be a break from what appears to be current standard ALP practice. If the negotiations had been over policy, then voters would be able to make informed choices about who to support, on the basis of policy.

It looks as though the Greens may have the numbers to be Mayor this time, unless it gets drawn out of a hat against them. And it may be that they feel very keen to get pay back from last time. It may be redundant to be trying to work out how Greens and left Labor Councillors, such as Darcy Byrne, might work together on LMC this time round.

However – it is clear that Greens are winning supporters from amongst traditional Labor voters.

I think there are 3 reasons for this
– Labor Governments at both levels, are running policy agendas that are barely distinguishable from the Liberals, they do not stand up to capital and privilege for working class people, the social good, the greater good.
– the role of mobilised trade unions, and social movements, is weak and even more weakly reflected in the ALP as an independent force from Labor Governments (with the exception of the electricity privatisation issue in NSW, and an ambiguous Federal result from the anti-WorkChoices campaign, in that Labor was elected, but provisions of WorkChoices continue to be used, and Gillard’s new draft IR provisions are anti-union and anti-employee).
– the Greens are not beholden to justifying the unjustifiable acts of any serving governments or ministers.

I think the most productive pathway for left ALP members in relation to the Greens, is to engage in open policy dialogue, actually seeking to build local movements and activism in alliance with Greens, and to attempt to defuse competition among councillors for positions, and “bureaucratic level” (as it were) hostilities. What the ALP has in its favour over the Greens is that it has an organised working class social base – but this is being eroded on many fronts, and is an advantage that can only be preserved if that activist base is rebuilt, reengaged by leaders who stand for policy and principle. Competition for positions is a secondary concern to rank and filers who care about social progress, and is a central part of the turn off from politics by young people, in my opinion.

The Greens appeal because of their apparent policy commitments. The weaknesses in the Greens policies are many, especially on the economy, capital and class, in my opinion – but the weaknesses are not so obvious because the Greens are not in a position to enact policy, and because they are not engaged by anyone from the left, in policy debates that explore these weaknesses.

I think that the strengths of the Greens and the strengths of left Labor COULD combine to rebuild a progressive movement and a renewed left IF the movement of the rank and file, and policy and principle were the guiding motives, and issues of position, organisational and factional allegiance were subordinated. (Gary Moore’s 15 Sept letter to the SMH expressed a similar caution). It would be hard work – it wouldn’t be smooth – but it is a project that I could commit to if there were others also committed to it. I think that John Kaye’s work in NSW Parliament on electricity privatisation, and the co-ordination between his efforts and Power to the People are the example of a positive way for left/rank and file Labor and Greens to relate. Where there are Greens who do not have John Kaye’s instincts, then it should be possible to make open proposals to try to draw Greens in that direction so that Green supporters can see the limitations of some of their representatives.


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