Solid result for Victorian Socialists in first federal election campaign

Campaign workers on a booth in the Wills electorate on polling day.

Amid the disastrous election result across the country on election night, one small but important spark of hope was the impressive first showing at a federal election by the Victorian Socialists.

In all three seats the party contested, we won more than 4% of the vote. At the current count, Kath Larkin is on 4.7% in Cooper (formerly Batman), Sue Bolton is on 4.8% in Wills and Jerome Small, the candidate for the outer suburban working class electorate of Calwell, is on 5.2%.

In the scheme of things, these are still very modest results in terms of both the percentage of the vote and the limited number of electorates contested. 

But they are far and away the best results for socialist candidates at a federal election in many years, and build on the important vote we achieved in the Victorian state election in November. In that election, the Victorian Socialists came in fourth out of 19 parties in the Northern Metro region with 4.2% of the primary vote and achieved a vote of more than 7% in the lower house seat of Broadmeadows. 

Last year, we had a realistic shot at winning an upper house seat, something we failed to achieve only because we refused to engage in the dodgy preference deals that every other party in the election (including the Greens) participated in. The bigger stage of a federal election, and that we had no realistic chance of winning a seat but were running simply to put forward socialist arguments and help build a future electoral base for socialist candidates, meant it was always going to be an uphill battle to galvanise the same level of enthusiasm for our campaign.

In that context, the results are very encouraging. 

We put forward and won support for candidates who are workers, unionists and activists, not professional politicians. Candidates who put forward a platform of reversing privatisations, radical action to tackle climate change and standing up to racism. Candidates who are unashamedly and outspokenly radical.

In Cooper, which takes in inner-northern suburbs, such as Northcote and stretches out to Reservoir and Bundoora, the popularity of Ged Kearney, who is widely seen as a good local candidate and on the left of the ALP, made it difficult to convince Labor voters to switch to the socialists. 

But with the Greens vote collapsing by almost half, Victorian Socialists picked up some of their former voters, even though the bulk went to Labor. In some Greens heartland booths, we achieved impressive votes: 8.4% in Thornbury; 7.4% in Northcote; and 7.2% in Westgarth. 

It was not just the inner city Greens booths. At several strong Labor booths north of Bell Street, Victorian Socialists candidate Kath Larkin achieved solid votes — such as 7.2% at Newlands in Preston and 6.3% at Boldrewood in Reservoir. As a young union militant and fighter against racism and sexism, Kath was well-received as a candidate.

In Wills, which stretches from Brunswick in the south to Fawkner and Pascoe Vale in the north and west, Sue Bolton did well in booths such as Fawkner North (9.3%) and Brunswick South (8.7%), and in a string of others such as Brunswick North East, Mitchell and Fawkner East, which returned Victorian Socialists votes higher than 7%. Sue did particularly well in areas where she already had a profile as a socialist local councillor who has stood up for residents against greedy developers and right wing councillors.

In Calwell, a vast electorate across the outer northern suburbs from Broadmeadows to Craigieburn and Gladstone Park, Jerome Small consolidated the solid result he achieved in the Broadmeadows area last year and increased the socialist vote in the more far-flung areas of the Calwell electorate.

At the two Meadow Heights booths, one of the poorest areas in Victoria, Jerome got 9.8% of the vote. Other booths in the Broadmeadows area, such as 10.1% in Campbellfield; 9.5% in Meadows and Coolaroo; and 8.9% in Broadmeadows North (8.9%) held up or improved on the Victorian Socialists vote from the 2018 state election.

The northern part of Calwell was a weaker area in the 2018 campaign, but substantial progress was made this time in several areas such as Craigieburn West (8.9%, up from 4.3% in 2018) and Somerton (6.8%, up from 3.1%). 

The biggest thing pushing down the socialist vote in Calwell was the Gladstone Park shopping centre early voting booth, which had a huge voter turnout (about 16,000 voters) but where it was very difficult to campaign. Campaigners were not allowed inside the shopping centre where the booth was located, a factor that helped push our vote there down to 2.9%.

From the beginning, the Victorian Socialists argued that it is possible to win a left wing vote both in the Greens-dominated inner city and in the heavily migrant blue collar working class outer suburbs of Melbourne. 

With no media profile and none of the financial backing that the major parties or billionaires like Clive Palmer have at their disposal, we have made another small but important step towards proving this point in practice. Many people are worried the overall result proves how right wing everything is. But we have shown that with hard work and dedication, an audience for a socialist fightback can be found. 

It took an enormous effort. Hundreds of people participated in our campaign. Our volunteers knocked on more than 57,000 doors in the weeks leading to polling day. We put our leaflets in the letterboxes of more than 300,000 voters and had campaigners on the streets and at early voting centres every day from early in the morning until after dark.

The result we got would have been impossible without all the hard work our members and supporters put in.

In the coming weeks and months, the Victorian Socialists will be discussing our future and planning for the next round of elections in a few years’ time. We plan to come back bigger and stronger, and use the wealth of experience we have gained in the past 12 months to make a substantially bigger impact next time. 

But we will not be sitting around waiting out the next three years of a vile Coalition government. The coalition of groups and individuals who make up Victorian Socialists all agree that politics is about much more than elections. All of us will be at the forefront of building resistance to the Liberals’ agenda, fighting them every step of the way, starting today.

[Corey Oakley is the Victorian Socialists secretary. Reprinted from Red Flag.]

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