[Marxism] A Preliminary Observation on the NSW Municipal Elections

Gould's Book Arcade ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Sun Mar 28 20:07:51 MST 2004

A Preliminary Observation on the NSW Municipal Elections

By Bob Gould

The results contain sharply contradictory elements. The first thing that has
to be noted is the rapid rise of the Greens as a distinct political force on
the left of society. Running through the results outside Sydney, and in
outer suburban Sydney, a very noticeable phenomenon was one or two
successful Greens candidates popping up, even in very conservative country
areas, alongside the country laborites, who also dot country areas, either
as Country Labor, or as labor independents. In these environments, outside
the Sydney metropolitan area, the logic of the situation will tend to
dictate a united front between the Greens and the Laborites, because their
common enemies are the conservative Nationals, Liberals and One Nation

When you get to the big, working class areas of blue collar and migrant
concentration in the mid western suburbs and mid southern suburbs of Sydney,
the Laborites either gained dramatically, or more or less held their own
(though a worrying thing, from a socialist point of view, is the apparent
election of two One Nation candidates in one ward of Bankstown). In these
blue collar, migrant areas, the Greens also did moderately well, and are
emerging as a significant force generally, though not always, to the left of
the Laborites. In the Randwick Council area, the Laborites held on pretty
well and the Greens emerged as a significant force. In the Waverly Council
area, where the left Labor council and the Greens collaborate, the
Labor-Green bloc did extremely well, despite ferocious local right wing red
baiting. It looks like the Laborites will have about 4, and the Greens will
have about 4 in a council of 12, and will share the running of the council,
which is a healthy situation from a socialist point of view.

In Leichardt and Marrickville, the local left Labor machine which is
influenced by Anthony Albanese and Marrickville Mayer Barry Cotter, made a
shortsighted and rather desperate electoral move which indicates that either
they haven't been studying carefully the changing demographic mix in the
inner city, or that they can't count very well, or both. They shot
themselves in the foot, or in this case, in the head, by changing the ward
boundaries in both municipalities, and changing the number elected in each
ward, from 4 to 3. If they'd left the old ward boundaries, they would in
fact have done far better than they did in this election. Their change of
the ward boundaries was driven by shortsighted vindictiveness towards the
local Greens, many of whom are ex-members of the ALP, and in fact,
ex-members of the Albanese faction of the left. With wards of four, Labor,
which is a substantial electoral force in most blue collar areas, and even
in areas that are more gentrified, stands to get 2 coucillors, or at least 1
(with a quota of 20%). With a quota of 20%, even in blue collar areas, you
are likely to get two Laborites, one Green and one Lib. In more gentrified
areas, you're more likely to get 1 Laborite, 2 Greens, and one Liberal, or
in extremely affluent areas, 1 Laborite, 1 Green and 2 Libs. If you go for
the sensible wards of four, which takes account of the changing social
composition of the inner city, the result that you get dictates to more
sensible socialists, either in the ALP or the Greens, a realistic politics
of a left united front, as successfully practiced in Waverly.

The big-heads of the predominant ALP left machine in Leichardt and
Marrickville chose to go down the opposite path of total, unrestrained
political warfare against the Greens, and they've paid the price. They
adopted four wards of three councillors in both municipalities, and
predictably, the Greens outpolled them in every ward of Leichardt Council,
and did very well in Marrickville. The Greens had a reasonable political
argument about the undemocratic nature of wards of three, and that clearly
meshed in with the changing social composition of the area. Interestingly,
the Greens actually got two out of the three in the most affluent hotspot of
the Leichardt municipality, the Balmain peninsula (the rabid right winger,
Paddy McGuiness was obviously bored by his period on council, and didn't
stand again, and in the event was replaced by a Green, which must gall him
no end). In the Leichardt municipality, the Labor team made an electoral
pact with the Liberals, which is quite unprincipled from a socialist point
of view. In my view, on both sides of the electoral fence in Leichardt and
Marrickville, the left Labor side, and the Greens side, a sense of
proportion ought to prevail. The Laborites ought to ditch their bloc with
the Liberals, and the left Labor people should seek a modus vivendi with the
Greens in both areas. I know a lot of the personalities in both camps, the
Labor and Green camps, in both municipalities, and there are very good
people and good socialists and left wingers in both camps. They exist
alongside a few factional crazies in both camps. A good start to rebuilding
sensible relations between Labor and the Greens in both municipalities is
for the Labor representatives in both municipalities to acknowledge their
mistake and take the initiative for restoring wards of four in both council

The result in the City of Sydney is the more or less predictable result
given the social composition of the City of Sydney these days, once the
conservative populist, Clover Moore, announced her candidature. This was a
classic case of the Sussex Street ALP machine not noticing the cement track
bearing down on them, so to speak. Clover Moore has established herself in
the top end, gentrified areas of Paddington, Elizabeth Bay, Surry Hills,
etc, as a representative of a kind of conservative populism, incorporating a
certain concern for the residents, but also a political pitch to extremely
affluent residents.

Clover Moore is a bonapartist kind of political figure, and gets very good
media, because many of the people who actually work in the media at the
journalistic level live in her area, etc, etc. When the smoke cleared on the
night, there was a pronounced swing against Labor, of the sort that has
happened every time Labor has tried to contest Clover Moore in her own, very
affluent heartland in the inner city eastern suburbs. The interesting thing
about Moore's vote in affluent areas that vote Liberal in Federal Elections,
like Kings Cross and Elizabeth Bay, is that Clover Moore outpolled both
Labor and the Liberals by about 5 to 1 (in due course, when the results from
each booth are finalised, I'll post them on this website, because they're
absolutely fascinating, the figures I'm using for this article are based on
the Big Board that I copied at the ALP wake on Saturday night).

Even in the face of Clover Moore's cement truck, in the generally
ultra-affluent City of Sydney area, the electoral results, particularly the
ALP's 23%, remain a dramatic class map of the City of Sydney. Despite the
swing to Moore, the booths that Labor won were Redfern Town Hall, Redfern
Central, St Josephs Redfern (by a massive 641 to 284 to Moore), and Gardiner
's Road. These are all booths in the area of the massive council flats in
Redfern. I've heard anecdotally, that Labor won Waterloo and St. Peters, but
the results weren't up on the night. In Ultimo and Pyrmont, Labor won Ultimo
(430 to 270) but the other end of the peninsula, where all the new expensive
units are, Pyrmont, was won by Moore (792 to 442). In the Glebe area the
class division was palpable. Labor won Glebe Town Hall, and anecdotally,
Glebe Public School, which are booths in the middle of the Department of
Housing Glebe estate area. Moore won the ultra-affluent Glebe Point booth
located at St Scholastica's College (421 to 178). The division between
Clover Moore voters and Labor voters in the City of Sydney contained a very
large element of class and social status. The Clover Moore campaign made a
pitch, very intelligently, to what they clearly perceived as the upward
social mobility of their constituency.

The 10% Green vote in the City of Sydney, was spread much more evenly across
the city. The Greens didn't do as well, however, in either of the two
extremes - the Liberal voting areas, or the Labor voting areas. The Green
hotspots were the Newtown Church, and Erskinville Public School, which are
areas of 'bottom end' gentrification. The Greens got a very respectable
result of about 10%, considering the magnitude of the Clover Moore cement

An interesting feature of the voting was that the Clover Moore teams vote
dropped fairly sharply in the vote for councillors, and they are unlikely to
get more than three on the council. The Laborites will get either two or
three, and the Liberals will get one. The Greens have a chance of getting

The Socialist Alliance ran in Auburn, Bankstown, Newcastle, Wollongong,
Marrickville, Leichardt, Randwick and the City of Sydney. I haven't so far
been able to locate the results other than for the City of Sydney, but I
imagine they'll be consistent with the results from Sydney. In the City of
Sydney the Socialist Alliance candidate for Mayor, Susan Price, got about
346 votes (0.7%), and the same candidate standing for the council got about
a hundred votes (0.2%). The Alliance vote was the kind of undisciplined,
almost off the radar, vote, that any independent gets in this situation,
which is indicated by the extraordinary gap between the mayoral vote and the
councillors vote. I saw the Labor scrutineers worksheet for the Newtown
Public School result, and despite the fact that the Socialist Alliance
indicated a preference for the Greens, then Clover Moore, over Labor, 17 of
the 31 Socialist Alliance votes stopped after the Greens, and of the
residual 14, 8 went to Moore, and 6 to Labor. The notion that the Socialist
Alliance vote in the City of Sydney was some sort of conscious socialist
vote is delusional.

Everything in current politics gets us back to the question of the necessary
united front to remove the reactionary Howard Government. The municipal
elections took place against the backdrop of the extraordinary hysteria
being whipped up by the Liberals and the bourgeois press against Latham's
announcement about his intention to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq
(working for Labor on the booth at Newtown Church, a Clover Moore-Green
hotspot, took me back a bit to the rather hectic 'against the stream'
atmosphere of say, the 1966 Vietnam election, which Labor lost. One elegant,
benighted male Tory of approximately my own age, with his equally elegant
wife, hissed at me "we don't reward traitors", presumably referring to
Latham and Iraq. The reader may imagine my vernacular and abusive response).

The Federal Elections require a tight unity between Labor, the Greens and
those socialists who have any brains at all, directed at removing the
Liberal Government. This unity won't be all that easy to achieve, given a
certain amount of natural sectarianism, both in the Labor and the Green
camp, produced by the undeniable fact that Labor and the Greens are to some
extent in electoral competition. Nevertheless, both groups must exchange
preferences for a successful electoral outcome for the left side of society.
>From this point of view, the conservative populism represented by the Clover
Moore cement truck in the City of Sydney has a good side, but also
potentially a very bad side. The emergence of non-class conservative
populists breaking the Tory ranks like Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and slightly
more leftist independents like Peter Andren and even to some extent Clover
Moore, is a good thing insofar as it weakens the Tory electoral grip. For
instance, it would be a good thing if Clover Moore could be persuaded to run
against Malcolm Turnbull in Wentworth, which is part of her electorate. She
is very unlikely to do that, however, but having extended her conservative
populist base into the seat of Sydney, I can see another cement truck
emerging on the horizon, of a Clover Moore candidate against both Labor's
Tanya Plibersek and the Greens in the seat of Sydney. The problem with
conservative populists like Moore, is that their politics is carefully
crafted to the way they perceive their affluent social base. It's a brutal
fact that Moore and the other two independents kept the Liberal Greiner
Government in power in NSW when they could have voted them out, and to that
end, we can't underestimate the hysterical right wing campaign that will be
waged in this federal election by the Liberals and the bourgeois press. We
are getting a taste of that at the moment. From this point of view, the DSP
and ISO leaderships capitulation to this conservative populism of Clover
Moore is a most dangerous political decision, and the most reactionary one
possible in the current political situation. Peter Boyle's delusional
treatment of the Clover Moore cement truck, as some sort of unambiguous
shift to the left, flies in the face of current political realities, and
also, it flies in the face of the clear class divisions that are so
dramatically apparent in the pattern of votes in the City of Sydney
elections. Any socialists who have any notion of class left in their veins
should have preferenced Labor over Clover Moore in the City of Sydney

Peter Boyle has for the last couple of years been babbling in an
increasingly incoherent way, trying to make Lenin's early and only partially
developed theory about 'aristocracies of labor' applicable as some kind of
philosophers stone in current Australian working class politics.
Nevertheless, he treats Clover Moore's conservative populist avalanche in
the City of Sydney, supported both by the Liberals and the bourgeois press,
as some kind of unambiguous swing to the left. It hardly needs to be pointed
out that the social momentum of Clover's conservative populism is hardly
located anywhere in the labor aristocracy, so much as in the social
stratosphere a bit above any 'labor aristocracy'. So much for Boyle's
incoherent use of Marxist theory in any application to current working class

(For an insight into the issues in the amalgamations in Sydney, and such
things as ward sizes see my submission to the recent government inquiry into
municipal structures in NSW:

Gould's Book Arcade
32 King St, Newtown, NSW
Ph: 9519-8947
Fax: 9550-5924
Email: bob at gouldsbooks.com.au
Web: www.gouldsbooks.com.au

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