The result of last November’s Victorian state election was the latest example of the rising volatility that exists on Australia’s political landscape. For the first time in over half a century a sitting government was defeated after just one term.
The Labor Party regained power with a 3.57% swing towards them on a two-party preferred basis, gaining 4 seats. However the actual swing to Labor in their own right, was only 1.84%.
For all intents and purposes the political and economic program of the two major parties was the same. The main policy difference was that Labor opposed the Liberals signature East-West toll road project. From originally supporting the road, Labor was dragged into a position of opposing it by a determined community campaign.
The Liberals had shrouded the project in secrecy and the community campaign helped to highlight the fact that the project would be nothing but a boon for big business. Voters went to the polls extremely doubtful about the road’s merits and Labor’s last minute change of position helped their fortunes.
After a honeymoon period, Labor will lose this regained support and lots more as they inevitably continue with cuts to services as well as maintaining corporate handout policies. There are superficial differences between the Liberals and Labor in the way they sell and implement these policies but the general direction is identical.
The Liberals lost 7 seats and suffered a 1.57% swing against them. They were undermined not only by the unpopularity of their policies, but also by the overwhelming opposition in Victoria to the federal Coalition government.
The Greens vote was almost static with a 0.27% swing to them, but they gained two inner-city seats, Melbourne and Prahran. This reflects both gentrification and a tactic of pooling most of their resources into a few seats. Their vote actually dropped in working class and regional areas. They are more than ever a party of the educated, middle class elite who are socially progressive but thoroughly comfortable with capitalism.
The Socialist Party stood in the seat of Richmond winning 8.5% of the vote, a similar result to what was achieved in 2010. We used our election campaign as an auxiliary to the work we were doing amongst the community opposing the East-West toll road and to put forward a political alternative to the major parties.
In the 20th century the Liberals and previous major rightwing parties had the support of the majority of the capitalist class and its major social base in the middle classes. The Labor Party had the support of the bulk of the working class as well as a mass membership. It was always pro-capitalist in policy but because of its working class base it was pushed into fighting for reforms from the system at certain points such as the Whitlam years.
However since the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s, the pressure of a neo-liberal policy pushed by international capital, has dragged economic policy from both major parties to a similar and more right-wing place. A massive policy and social gap has developed between the major parties and the vast bulk of the population, especially the working class.
We have the strange phenomenon where leaders of both the major parties regularly have net negative approval ratings in the polls. With no confidence it either major party, and seemingly no viable electoral alternative, voters tend to hold their nose and use the opposition of the day to punish the government of the day at election time.
While on the face of it the Victorian election seems like a victory for the ALP, in reality it signals a break-up of the post-war boom political consensus. While Labor has been able to form government by winning a majority in the lower house, they do not have a majority in the upper house. This will mean that passing legislation will not be straight forward and the potential road blocks will only add to the volatility that exists.
The political vacuum for a party that unashamedly stands for the interests of the working class is growing. The Socialist Party supports the creation of a mass working class party of the Left that will unite all those who want to fight neo-liberalism and the big business domination of society.
By Stephen Jolly