‘The biggest socialist election campaign of our generation’

Photo: Victorian Socialists Western Victorian Region/Facebook

Victorian Socialists lead candidate for the Northern Metropolitan Region Stephen Jolly is rushing off to a Yarra council meeting after a long day at a pre-polling booth. It’s the beginning of two weeks of pre-polling before state election day — November 24.

Pre-polling is increasingly popular with voters keen to get the deed done. But, it’s difficult for small parties without the resources to fund volunteers to take days off work.

Nevertheless, the Victorian Socialists’ campaign over the past 10 months has built up a very impressive network of members and supporters to staff booths.

“Ours has been an old-school campaign”, Jolly told Green Left Weekly. “Just like every other mass working class campaign, we’ve done the hard work of reaching out.

“We’ve probably reached a million people through our door knocking, leafleting, postering and ads.

“We have created the biggest ever socialist campaign of our generation, and we can feel proud of that.”

Asked what difference a Victorian Socialist MP could make, Jolly said: “Well, we’d do things differently [from the other parties] because our policies are fundamentally different.

“We oppose capitalism, for a start. We are the radical alternative to the neoliberal model supported by the major parties.

“I say to people all the time: ‘You don’t just have to believe me, look at my record. Look at Sue Bolton’s record.’

“Sue’s a socialist councillor in Moreland and I’m a socialist councillor in the City of Yarra. And I’ve been re-elected four times, each time with more support.

Bolton is second on the Victorian Socialists ticket for the Northern Metropolitan region.

“We both have a track record of listening to, and working for, the community.

“Our promise to do things differently also means that if elected, we’d only take an average wage and devote the rest back into the movements.

“That’s different from any other party.”

Growing alliance

The Victorian Socialists came together this year as an electoral alliance between socialist parties and individuals to run candidates in the Northern Metropolitan Region.

Its success helped drive its expansion to the Western Victorian Region, where former Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary Tim Gooden is the lead candidate.

The Victorian Socialists’ campaign has involved hundreds of activists. Volunteers and members have been talking with migrant communities, public housing tenants and other marginalised groups, all of whom say most of the other parties (big and small) take them for granted.

This groundswell of support for an explicitly socialist party has, unsurprisingly, got the conservatives worried.

A record number of small right-wing parties, mostly ambiguously named, are contesting this election. They have hired preference whisperer Glenn Druery, a staffer for conservative Senator Derryn Hinch, to help finalise a tight preference swap for Legislative Council seats.

Druery’s advice doesn’t come cheap: he charges $5000 from each party plus a success fee of $50,000 for each MP elected, according to a Crikey report on November 8.

Meanwhile, Fiona Patten’s Reason Party (formerly the Sex Party) has said that a vote for the Victorian Socialists risks electing a right winger.

The other parties in the running for the last spot in Northern Metropolitan Region are Patten’s Reason Party, the Animal Justice Party and Hinch’s Justice Party.

“This is absurd”, Jolly said in response, adding that it is Reason that is risking the election of far-right extremists because it is preferencing the conservative Liberal Democrats above the Greens and Labor in every upper house seat.

Patten has done this before. In 2014, Sex Party preferences helped elect Shooters Party candidates in two seats and got another right-wing candidate from Vote 1 Local Jobs over the line against the Greens in the Western Victoria Region.

“The Victorian Socialists are the only party you can vote 1 for and be sure that if we aren’t elected, 100% of your vote will go to other progressive candidates before the right.”

Victorian Socialists is preferencing the Greens, then Reason, Animal Justice and Labor.

Gooden told GLW that while preferences are “against us”, especially as the Animal Justice Party put the Victorian Socialists number 5 after some right-wing parties, “we’re getting a great response from workers”.

“We’re running a full slate of workers and trade union activists in the Western region — something that has not been done before.

“People want to see a worker elected to parliament. They are so sick of highly paid politicians who have nothing in common with the rest of us.”

Worker candidates

Gooden cannot take time off his construction job, so he is burning the midnight oil. He starts work early and finishes his day with a stint at the polling booth. 

He says a Victorian Socialist MP would be different because they couldn’t be bribed: “We would remain activists: that would keep us grounded.

“We would use our time and resources to meet workers, the unemployed and other community people. We would reflect their concerns in parliament and challenge the cosy deals that put our class at such a disadvantage.

“We’d expose corruption and use parliamentary privilege, if necessary, to name and shame the elites that rip people off, treat them like dirt, poison the environment and exploit the disadvantaged.”

Long-time militant unionists, such as now-retired Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union organiser Brendan Murphy, sing Gooden’s praises.

“Tim’s the reason why I decided to support the Victorian Socialists, and to assist him in whatever way I can to get him elected,” Murphy told GLW.

“Knowing Tim for as long as I have, I’ve found him the most genuine person out of all the candidates.

“He’s 24/7 involved in workers’ rights, refugees’ rights, any battlers’ rights. He’s always at the forefront”.

This is high praise indeed. Murphy is a long-time union militant and one of a number of CFMEU organisers the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission is taking to court for allegedly breaching right of entry conditions.

Murphy is also standing for the party in the lower house seat of Polwarth, one of 11 seats in the Western Victoria Region.

Asked whether it is premature to draw lessons from the campaign, Gooden replied that the big lesson was how much can be done when the left works together.

“At the beginning, no one thought the campaign would grow to the size it has. The mass doorknocking, especially in Melbourne, have been truly inspiring.

“The smaller ones down here have also been great: talking to people about their concerns, challenging them to see how things could be done differently has been an eye-opener.

“The electoral system is so skewed to big money and the preference system can be so easily manipulated, so our best weapon has been our numbers, and our unity.”