Greens clouds, silver lining?

December 22, 2018
Jeremy Buckingham ripping up his 'membership card' on December 19..

It takes some Orwellian chutzpah to label the Greens NSW anti-democratic. That hasn’t stopped anti-socialist Greens MPs Jeremy Buckingham, Cate Faehrmann and Justin Field from doing just that.

They have made this fantastic allegation precisely because a recent internal election — in which two-thirds of members participated — resulted in a stunning defeat for candidates in their faction, including Jeremy himself. They are now attempting to recoup their losses. More of that in a moment.

Talking of that election — it was for the top positions on the Greens' upper house ticket for the March state elections — it is worth mentioning that the Greens are the only parliamentary party in this country in which all its candidates are directly elected by the members. In fact, you only have to be a member for three months before you can vote or even stand for election as a candidate. So much for being anti-democratic.

Buckingham, who is a Legislative Council MP in NSW, has just very loudly and publicly left the Greens denouncing the party as "rotten", "corrupt", "anti-capitalist", "Marxist" and "controlled by the extreme Left". None of this is true (I’m tempted to add unfortunately), even if there are plenty of members who own up to being eco-socialists, or steady-state economy supporters, or strong critics of the intrinsic growth fetish of capitalism. All of what you would expect in a decent Greens party.

In fact, in his final days Buckingham found himself offside even with the centrist national leadership of the Greens, who openly wanted him gone.

In his last months in the Greens, Buckingham was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer. An independent investigation did not find it proven, although it upheld the reputation of the complainant. Buckingham and his supporters keep returning to this investigation and its outcome when it is his aggressive behaviour during and after the investigation that has deprived him of support.

If Buckingham has gone, his allies among the Upper House Greens MPs, principally Cate Faehrmann and Justin Field, remain. After Buckingam’s hysterical exit and declaration that he would run against the Greens, Faehrmann posted her best wishes for his future projects.

Earlier, on December 12, Faehrmann and Field had issued a 5-day ultimatum to the party. They too charged the party with being anti-democratic and demanded the banning and expulsion of members of the avowedly anti-capitalist Left Renewal tendency.

Left Renewal is a small group of younger Greens, numbering no more than 30 or 40, whose radicalism is similar to the Democratic Socialists of America in the US Democrats or Momentum in the British Labour Party. (Incidentally, the claim that Left Renwal is led by older Greens, Lee Rhiannon and David Shoebridge, is laughable: Left Renewal was formed partly because of the belief that the old lefties in the party had grown too slack and accommodating. The name — renewal — explains it all.)

In their ultimatum Faehrmann and Field claimed to be champions of natural justice and procedural fairness. How they squared this with the McCarthyite demand for the immediate banning and expulsion of Left Renewal Greens is impossible to follow. No evidence was presented for Left Renewal’s supposedly disruptive and subversive activities. We say they’re reds, so out they go. In reality, any disruption is clearly coming from the other political direction.

The second barrel of the Faehrmann-Field ultimatum was a demand for a recount of the ballot for the upper house ticket if Buckingham was to go. This is a blatant attempt to cut the losses of their faction.

After a string of four victories for right-supported candidates in internal preselections in the Greens NSW, these forces decisively lost the election that pitted David Shoebridge against Buckingham for the top position on the Greens upper house ticket for the 2019 state election.

Shoebridge’s politics are radical social democratic, combining environmental activism with defence of civil liberties, support for public enterprise (especially in renewables and banking), justice for First Peoples, solidarity with unions, taxing the rich and corporations and the de-commodification of essentials like education and housing. He understands that at the root of our climate danger and growing inequalities are corporations. Shoebridge is a long-time friend and supporter of Lee Rhiannon, another Corbyn-ish Green.

Shoebridge’s clear-cut victory over his high-profile anti-fracking colleague Buckingham for top position on the Greens ticket was a blow to the more conservative elements in the Greens NSW.

Shoebridge’s preferences, along with the Greens affirmative action provisions, were enough to put Abigail Boyd in the number 2 (or winnable) position on the Greens ticket and relegated Buckingham and his comrade Dawn Walker, also a current Greens MP, to the (to be realistic) unwinnable third and fourth positions.

What Faerhmann and Field now want is a recount of the ballot with Buckingham’s votes added to Walker’s so that she is bumped up to the second and winnable position. In that way, the conservative bloc will have salvaged something from their defeat.

Their pre-Christmas ultimatum turned out to be a damp squib. When it expired on December 17 their threat to leave the party was shelved. They are not following Buckingham out of the party — yet. However, these ultimatum-ists have made it clear they will continue to disrupt the party.

So the Greens NSW will now contend with opposition within and without. This sabotage is not an ideal situation with state and federal elections due in the next six months.

Not surprisingly, some people are reaching for their history books to read up on the Great Labor Party Split of 1955. This resulted in the creation of the so-called Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and an extended period in the electoral wilderness for the Labor Party proper. The DLPers ranted about reds controlling the Labor party and Buckingham is but a small-time, distant echo.

Yet, as we know now, the best years for Labor — its inspiring opposition to the Vietnam War and the Whitlam government — were ahead of it.

[Hall Greenland is a former NSW Greens state convenor. This article is republished from his blog Watermelon Papers with permission.]

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