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As the world celebrated Talk Like A Pirate Day (with the true hardcore eschewing the "yarrr"s and brushing up on their Somali), the good burghers of Berlin have done one better; there, the Pirate Party has won some 14 or 15 seats in the city-state's 149-seat parliament; about half as many as the Greens and slightly fewer than the neo-Communist Left Party.
Indeed, the support for the party -- founded in 2006 on a civil liberties platform that focused on Internet freedoms -- was sensational. Not only will the Pirate Party enter a regional government for the first time, but its results far surpassed the five percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. The success was so unexpected that the party had only put 15 candidates on its list of nominations. Had their support been just a little higher, some of their seats would have remained empty because post-election nominations of candidates isn't allowed.Many of the seats came at the expense of the neoliberal Free Democrats, who were wiped out in Berlin. The Pirate Party (which started campaigning on a copyright-reform and online privacy platform, and expanded this to include the decriminalisation of drugs, the abolition of Germany's church tax system and a basic living wage for all), in fact, seems to be taking over the mantle of forward-looking progressive party from the Greens, who were once considered dangerous radicals (in the Reagan-era action film Red Dawn, the Greens winning West German elections was the catalyst that led to a Soviet invasion of the USA) but now have become all but part of the establishment.
The Pirates also have something other parties have long since lost -- credibility, authenticity and freshness. The erstwhile alternative Greens, whose share of the vote in the Berlin election fell well behind their expectations, were also once the young party with funny mottos and unconventional campaign methods. When they entered the Berlin parliament in 1981, other parties were skeptical. At the time, the now imploding Free Democrats described the Greens as "domestic policy anarchists and foreign policy gamblers", while lead CDU candidate Richard von Weizsäcker, who would later be appointed German President, said they were "impossible to describe."It used to be that the concept of "Green" (i.e., ecological consciousness and sustainability) was the hook to hang progressive ideals from; now, it seems, that the idea of the Pirate (as defined in opposition to the propaganda of Big Copyright, the steady privatisation of the public sphere and an encroaching authoritarian surveillance state) may be replacing the idea of Greenness as the banner that draws in progressives.
This Saturday is the Victorian state election. For those wondering what's going on there is a summary here:
State politics is a strange, sad, almost cute realm, where those ambitious, energetic people gather who are, on the one hand, far too inept and devoid of personal magnetism to succeed in federal politics, and on the other hand, far too inept and devoid of personal magnetism to succeed at anything else either. Oh the dilemma of the state politician: caught so exquisitely between the pincers of their dual incompetencies. But then, that is the life they chose when they decided to make no useful contribution to the world for their entire lives.
The combatants provide a fascinating study in contrasts. For example. John Brumby graduated from the elite Melbourne Grammar in 1970, whereas Ballieu graduated in 1970 from Melbourne Grammar, which is quite elite. So the sharp ideological differences began early on... And then of course there is the difference in their choice of parties. Whereas Brumby chose Labor because of its strong commitment to social justice, Baillieu chose the Liberals, because he believes in a just society.
What is important to focus on is the potential consequences of voting Green, which have been spelled out for us by trained investigative journalists from the major newspapers, who "went the extra mile" to unearth and expose secret Greens policies by cunningly visiting their website and then sniffing a bunch of glue. Basically, the Greens’ policy platform consists of three major planks:And here is a profile of the inner-city seat of Richmond (where your humble correspondent last lived in Melbourne), which the Greens are hoping to take (though, with the Tories putting them last, that may not happen). It's interesting to see that all the candidates are fairly socially liberal; the religious parties have given up on this seat, and even the Tories are running a gay bar proprietor as their candidate, and jumping through a lot of hoops to balance appealing to affluent small-L liberals in the city whilst not alienating their conservative core:
So we’re not saying don’t vote Green, we’re just saying, think long and hard about just how stupid you are.
- Forcing everyone to be gay
- Murdering old people
- Criminalising electricity
McFeely is not your average Liberal candidate, being an openly gay man from a working class family in Scotland. He also runs one of the best-known gay venues in Melbourne, the Peel Hotel in Collingwood, though the Liberal party website just refers to it as a 'busy Collingwood hotel' and also skips over issues of his sexuality. McFeely previously came to prominence in 2007 when he won a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling granting his hotel an anti-discrimination exemption so that he could exclude heterosexuals. This infuriated radio talkback callers, most of whom wouldn't have actually wanted to visit the hotel in a pink fit. He is opposed to gay marriage (because of its religious connection) but supports civil partnerships, and in 2006 tied the knot with his partner of 18 years at the British Consulate in Melbourne. McFeely briefly withdrew as candidate after a dispute with Liberal headquarters over his campaign, including a dislike of the photo that the Liberal Party suggested he use. The Liberal Party finally relented, McFeely the only Liberal candidate with a non-standard photo.
Natasha Stott-Despoja, former leader of imploding possibly-left-wing minor party the Australian Democrats and sometime Doc Martens-wearing "Member for JJJ", has revealed that she was approached by another political party to join them, should anything happen to her existing one (see above), and that this was in addition to the Greens' public invitation.
It could well have been Family First with an outside hope that she would have a road-to-Damascus experience and become the voice of Generation Hillsong, though somehow I doubt it; my money would be on the ALP. And as much as I'm not a fan of Buffy Stott-Despoja's brand of politics (which seemed heavier on sweeping symbolic statements of right-on-ness than on in-depth understanding of issues; let's face it, she's no Barry Jones), I think that would be a good thing. At least, if she had some sway in the ALP, it could stop them from moving too far to the right to outflank the tories and go for the wowser vote (see also: the national internet firewall proposal). Not to mention that Peter Garrett would have some company. Though last time I looked, the ALP seemed more interested in apolitical sports-heroes who appealed to the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers than in idealistic rabble-rousers.
I have just been informed that, in the upcoming Australian federal election, all major parties (Liberals, Nationals and Labor) and the Democrats are giving their preferences to Christian Fundamentalist parties (the Fred Nile group and Family First) ahead of the Greens, which stands the religious right a good chance of winning the balance of power on the strength of people voting above the line. Still, if it annihilates the Green Party before it becomes a threat to the established order, four years of religiots holding the balance of power must be a small price for the major parties to pay.
The table shows the preference orders on the above the line Senate tickets in NSW. It omits the minor parties that have little or no chance of winning. Check it out for yourself at www.aec.gov.au/election2004/candidates/pdf/gvt/2004NSWGVT.pdf
2. Family First
3. Liberals for Forests
4. Christian Democrats (Rev Fred Nile)
6. 50% Liberals/Nationals, 50% Labor Party
1. Labor Party
2. Liberals for Forests
3. 33% Christian Democrats (Rev Fred Nile), 66% Greens
5. Family First
3. Labor Party
5. Family First
6. Christian Democrats (Rev Fred Nile)
The pundits at Crikey analyse the Greens' chances in the upcoming election. Their analysis treads a middle ground between the ebullient optimism of Green supporters and the peremptory dismissals of traditional political commentators.
(I'm not sure I'd categorise the Greens as "radical left"; they're not rabid Trotskyites or neo-barbarians, and indeed seem less inclined towards totalitarianism than the Democrats (who at times leaned towards Scandinavian-style social engineering and similar ideologies). And is wanting decent public transport and an emphasis on renewable energy really an extremist position?) (via Graham)
Surely enough, the Greens take Cunningham, their first lower-house seat, and set their sights on the balance of power in Victoria (which they could well get, with the two major parties being what they are right now). This was a kick in the gut to Labor (the first opposition party to lose a byelection in half a century), not to mention to the Democrats (who tried, and failed, to win lower-house seats on many occasions).
It looks like the Bali bombing and the (anecdotal) rush back to the safe apron strings of conservatism hasn't tanked the Greens; the party is tipped to have won the seat of Cunningham in a byelection, giving them their first lower-house seat in federal parliament. That's what, one more than the Democrats ever had, no?
Anyway, good stuff. If the Greens can climb their way up to having serious political influence, then maybe Australia won't turn into the redneck state of South-East Asia.
(One of the Greens' policies is hardline opposition to invading Iraq, and an almost seditious disdain for Australia's current "I'm-with-Stupid" foreign policy. Maybe Graham was right and the Australian public is too smart to fall for the "Bali was bombed, therefore we must invade Iraq" bait-and-switch. Which would suggest that Australians are less gullible than the Poms. Discuss.)
More on the Greens' strong showing in elections. They've clinched formerly Labor-dominated Yarra Council, and won seats in Apollo Bay (of all places) and in the People's Republic of Moreland. Whether they build up a power base, or whether this is just a transitional stage to Liberals winning newly-gentrified ex-Labor seats, remains to be determined; though their policies look more sane and humane than the others'.
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