Stephen Jolly, the Socialist Party candidate for Richmond, is a high profile activist with electoral runs on the board.
He came to prominence with the campaign to reopen Richmond Secondary College in the early 1990s, and has been on the frontlines of many campaigns in Melbourne’s inner north since, including recent efforts to stop the East West Link and to defend public housing.
He was first elected to Yarra Council in 2004 with a 12% vote in his ward, and his record as a councillor fighting for working people is reflected in votes of 29% in 2008 and 34% in 2012. He received more than 9% in Richmond at the 2010 state elections.
His campaign is highly visible throughout the electorate, with numerous posters declaring the campaign slogan of “put a fighter into parliament”, “stop the East West toll road tunnel”, “cap public and private housing rents”, “plan our city for residents not developers, “free and frequent public transport”, and “protect our live music and arts culture”.
“By the end of the campaign we will have letterboxed about 160,000 leaflets and knocked on at least 20,000 doors. Around 3000 posters will have also gone up,” Jolly told Green Left Weekly. “We are using the campaign to promote socialist ideas to new layers of people”.
But is such a big effort the best use of the current scant resources of socialists, who argue for revolutionary change through mass action rather than parliamentary reform? And aren’t radicalising people uninterested in elections?
“It’s true that there is disenchantment with the major capitalist parties but that points to the need to build an alternative to those parties”, says Jolly. “Socialists need to work in many different areas to win support for our ideas. Yes, the trade union, student and social movements are important, but so too is the electoral arena”.
Jolly emphasised that “real change takes place when people mobilise and organise themselves” and that if elected he would use “my position, my office, and my resources to assist the social and trade union movements and community campaigns”.
He pointed to the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Ireland, which has three members of parliament “playing a key role opposing new water taxes in the parliament but also organising people on the ground. The trust and connections they are building with people is crucial to also winning them to the idea that revolutionary change is necessary”.
A victory for Jolly is not likely this time around, but given the current unstable state of mainstream politics it is possible that socialists will be in state parliaments before too long and will face complex questions, such as how to relate to minority governments. GLW put the hypothetical case of a minority Labor government courting his parliamentary vote after the election.
“It should be a principled position for socialists never to enter a government coalition with a capitalist party,” says Jolly. “This means that the Socialist Party would not support a supply and confidence agreement with either Labor or the Liberals. We have no confidence in either of them and would not support their budgets that are designed to benefit their big business backers”.
“We would demand that Labor and the Liberals form a coalition between themselves. As capitalist parties they have more in common with each other than we do with either of them.
“Our goal is to build a movement capable of changing the profit-driven system. Getting sucked into being a junior partner in a capitalist government would not help facilitate that”.