The hostility toward the Greens evident within the ALP, especially within New South Wales, should come as no surprise. For the Greens, to a certain degree, now occupy a position that was once seen as the preserve of the far Left. They propose outcomes that attract idealists, but are not called to account for them because they are not in power, and are quite unlikely to be. Like the far Left, the Greens can be accommodated when things are going well, but the link with them can be an embarrassment when things are going badly.
And indeed things are going badly for Labor. The ACT elections will be held within three months, and while the Liberals are not likely to win power on their own, Labor seems unable to win any new seats: the most likely result at the moment is that the Greens will lose at least one seat to the Liberals.
Next year comes the Federal elections, and on present indications the Gillard Government will get a walloping. And why? Every pundit has a list of reasons, and high on them all is the apparent influence of the Greens, a small group exercising what many core Labor people will see as far too much power. At the moment their chief grievance is the carbon tax. As they see it, Labor had agreed not to introduce such a measure, and only did so because it was the price of power. That price was simply impossible to explain, and all the other explanations about the virtues of the tax are empty of meaning to most people. Mark Latham has written a pungent account of what his former constituents in Bankstown think of it.
I have argued before now that Julia Gillard’s best strategy, once the outcome of the last elections was clear, was to carry on as a minority government, sweet-talking the Greens, saying the right things and doing little placatory things that would please the Greens. The likelihood that the Greens and the independents would unite with the Coalition to defeat the Government on the floor of the house was not high unless the Government was involved in some scandal.
Now Labor is saddled with the carbon tax, which (as I argued yesterday) is going to be hugely unpopular, and please very few voters other than those who are convinced that humanity is threatened with a kind of Thermogeddon, and that only a carbon tax will save us. What will happen when Mr and Mrs A. Battler get their winter gas and electricity bills is fairly easy to imagine.
Who is responsible for all this? The NSW Right has no doubt: it is those dodgy Greens, and the sooner they are left to drift in their own leaky craft the better. Of course, there are others within the ALP who feel that unless the party seems close to the Greens then Labor will lose more disaffected supporters. My guess is that the fight with the ALP will go on, and muddy the waters over the next year.
In my opinion the Greens would do better if they themselves abandoned the ‘climate change’ theme and concentrated on other aspects of sustainability that have some appeal to the ordinary voter. It is all too easy to see the Greens as Balmain basket-weavers (why Balmain I don’t know) out of touch with the real world. Yet we have learned a lot about how to manage our environment over the last half-century, and much of what we have learned came from the urgings of people who were the predecessors of today’s Greens. London and Paris today are clean and white; the Clean Air Act in Britain abolished open coal fires in households, and that was the start. We have more national parks, and more of us care about them, and for them. These are practical and explicable policies.
Alas, the notion that catastrophe awaits us if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels is simply too dramatic a theme to lose, especially now that the Government has introduced its carbon tax. So the Greens won’t abandon it, and the Government is stuck with it. Expect more public irritation with the link with the Greens as the months pass.