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Some notes on local government elections and socialist councillors





Background

The Socialist Party's Stephen Jolly was initially elected in 2004 to a Melbourne council position on 12% of the vote  but received a much  larger figure when he stood for re-election. The Socialist Alliance did better than that 12% -- without getting a candidate elected -- at the last council elections in Victoria. SA candidate,Stuart Martin,  who stood for Maribynoing City Council, received 18.9% of the vote.   Jolly's initial win was also facilitated by preference flow .

Now the left has 2 socialist activists elected to local government and both are identified as members of socialist organisations.

It is also adamantly clear to anyone that this marks a first for the Alliance.

I mean it had to happen sometime and leading up to the SA's 7th National Conference -- which will be married with the merging of the Democratic Socialist Perspective into the SA -- is a great opening to the lead up to the conference.

And SA members, around the country, are pleased. The news seems to have gone viral.

How useful is a councillor's position?

But insofar as we know, being elected to a level of government is indicative of a different political presence than what you'd garner within, say,  a trade union. I don't mean to suggest a hierarchy of engagements -- but an election campaign is usually an opportunity to strut out your stuff, and unlike trade union positions have been traditionally difficult to nail in Australia by the socialist left.

That said, in terms of a classic Marxist view of the state I think there is a qualitative difference between local government and other levels of state administration. The experience of Liverpool City Council under Militant leadership and London for a time in the 80s under Ken Livingstone suggests that these local gov't 'units' can be harnessed very effectively to advance the political struggle.

The tragedy of Australian politics is that the Greens have not done that very effectively at all as they are so often willing to be contained by electoralism.

At the local level of council you not only have a role in your local ward area in way of a certain administrative influence -- but you are also a free agent to get up to whatever mischief your position empowers you for the sake of your duty to your electorate.

At the moment, Stephen Jolly, for instance, is running a campaign to stop a new local law aimed at driving Aboriginal people from Smith St, Collingwood.

The ALP councillors I've worked with see their agency as baby kissing opportunities, dealing out largess, patronage and glad handing for the sake of photo ops while chummying up to the key local players -- real estate developers, major retail and commercial businesses,the RSL and their party's prospects at the next poll. Similarly, I've always found councillor status a great networking tool as I've used that marker to build stuff in the local community. Without councillor patronage it would have been no go and councillor support can make or break any community group. So it's a superb, almost essential, networking tool.

The challenge is to politicize it.

In effect, council level politics more or less has been used to mediate directly between the 'business community' and working people. In that sense I guess they function like a trade union but the key question is whose side are you going to be on? If you are feral in terms of the needs of capitalism then they have to organize to get you thrown out of office but have to wait 3 or 4
years before they can do so.

And if socialists in local office can move the goal posts to the advantage of community campaigns...That's fantastic.

It is also worthwhile pointing out that winning a ward and gaining attention for your outlook while serving as a councillor is often a prerequisite to doing well at the state election because your politics -- and that of your party -- is more familiar to more people in that area.

For instance, while Jolly was an out of left field candidate in 2004, he doubled his vote at the next poll.

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