The November Victorian state election is fast approaching and candidates are being preselected by all of the main parties.
However, it is the formation of the Victorian Socialists, which consists of City of Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, City of Moreland councillor Sue Bolton and lawyer Colleen Bolger — an unlikely alliance of the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative — to contest the Northern Metropolitan Region in the Victorian Legislative Council that has aroused some serious attention from the left.
The Victorian Socialists may be the “new kids on the block” — albeit comprising long-established organisations — but they have caught the imagination of both traditional Labor supporters and Greens supporters like no other formation. It has also drawn a number of left-wing independents and trade unionists into the fold.
Within a few days of the group publicly announcing its formation and intention to register as a political party, it had received the required 500 members for state registration. This was achieved with minimal mainstream media coverage and was largely driven by social media. The fledgling organisation now has more than 800 members and the paperwork has been filed with the Victorian Electoral Commission to formally register as a political party.
To have a good chance of scoring a seat in the Legislative Council, they would need to gain at least 8–10% of the region’s vote, together with favourable preference flows.
There is a large, disenchanted Labor vote to eat into, which the party is targeting. The Greens have lost the profile of its somewhat rough around the edges leader Greg Barber due to his retirement from parliament, whose votes are also up for grabs.
There is also a significant and growing left vote that does not sit with any of the main parties that the Victorian Socialists could tap into.
However, 8% of the vote is a tough feat for a new party to achieve, especially given that parties that have “socialist” in their name rarely get more than 2% of the vote.
But it must be remembered that Jolly is no new name. He is a seasoned and experienced political campaigner who has stood for the state seat of Richmond (albeit as an independent candidate) at every Victorian state election since 1999. In his latest effort, in the 2014 election, he received 8.5% of the vote.
Key people within the formation emphasise that it is no vanity project. Jolly, himself, says "we're in this to win it". But questions have been asked as to how or even if the Victorian Socialists would have the capability to replicate across 11 electorates what Jolly has managed in one.
It must be understood, however, that this is a party that is already actively in campaign mode and highly visible at community events and rallies, to much fanfare.
As an example of the pulling power of this project and the excitement that it is generating, more than 600 people have indicated on Facebook that they are attending, or are interested in attending, the Victorian Socialists campaign launch on May 12.
The party is also very conscious of targeting issues relevant to where it is campaigning, but overall the Victorian Socialists seem to be following a core theme and set of priorities — better public services, better public transport and better public housing. It is also targeting the militarisation of the police, which seems to be gaining some resonance.
It is not just campaigning in the inner suburbs either. It is campaigning everywhere in the region, from Broadmeadows to Richmond. On April 21, the Victorian Socialists stated on its Facebook page that within the next week it would establish branches in every Northern Metropolitan lower house electorate, which will surely amplify its local grassroots campaigning and party building efforts.
It is not only the visibility, excitement and overall people-power behind the campaign that is giving the Victorian Socialists a serious chance come November. It also has some serious financial backing coming in from, in particular, the trade union movement. While political campaigns from socialist groups in the past have been run on the smell of an oily rag, this campaign is very different. It has the crucial ability to put some solid infrastructure and support in place and the ability to more easily promote itself to those outside of its own circles without the need to rely on the mainstream media.
The combination of community excitement, boots on the ground and serious financial backing is coming together nicely to create the critical mass needed to give the established parties a real shake up at worst and, at best, to get a Victorian Socialist into the state parliament.
Although the party is only eyeing a seat in the Northern Metropolitan Region at this stage, a successful campaign will encourage it to broaden out and target both upper and lower house seats in working-class areas across Melbourne and rest of Victoria in the future.