The results of the byelections in the safe Liberal seats of Bradfield and Higgins are a disaster for the Greens and for the Rudd Labor Government.
The swing to the Greens in Higgins, according to Antony Green on the ABC election site, was about 24 per cent. The figure in Bradfield it was 14 per cent.
Despite superficial appearances, this is a massive setback for them.
Labor did not stand a candidate in either seat. At the last election the ALP won 31.5 per cent of the vote in Higgins. In other words the Greens failed to pick up about 7 per cent of the Labor vote.
In Bradfield the Labor vote in 2007 was 26 per cent, meaning there was a 12 per cent loss of Labor votes for the Greens.
Many of these lost votes may well have come back to the Greens through preferencing from other parties. However, the fact that on a two candidate preferred count there is a small swing to the Liberals in both seats means that the conservatives have won great victories.
The failure of the Greens to fundamentally alter the overall result and attract voters in what is traditionally a sympathetic demographic for them at the same time that there was a leadership crisis in the Liberal Party last week indicates they have not, through their parliamentary do-nothing else strategies, been able to move out of their electoral ghetto.
Indeed the fact that the Greens are euphoric about the results in these two very rich electorates shows they view the ruling class as the best vehicle for action and explains their commitment to market mechanisms for addressing the very problem the market created — climate change.
It also reflects their contempt for ordinary working people and their ambiguous cross class ideology, which rejects the working class as the agency of fundamental change.
But it is not just the Greens who have failed.
Labor didn't stand a candidate. This act of political cowardice was designed to prevent any possible swing against Labor (or a low swing to them) being painted as a repudiation of the Rudd Government and thus give momentum to the Opposition.
In fact it has backfired. The Labor geniuses who gave us Senator Fielding have now engineered victories for the Liberals that make Tony Abbott look good.
Labor's failure to stand candidates has allowed the conservatives to claim great victories in both seats. Not only that but the climate change denier faction within the Liberal Party will now be able to portray the results as a vindication of their stance both on the emissions trading scheme and the change of leadership.
Most members of the bourgeoisie, apart from some sectors of the polluting faction, overwhelmingly back Labor. They may now begin to hedge their bets.
The failure of Labor to actually present a real plan for action on climate change, coupled with its massive transfer of our wealth to the polluters, has opened up an avenue for deniers and sceptics, a political opening that the Liberals are now attempting to widen to a highway.
The Greens have played on the same road and been run over.
As I have argued before, the Greens have a real opportunity to change the framework of the debate in Australia on climate change through extra-parliamentary action. This would not only force the debate to the left but in fact also increase their vote.
Action on climate change is not about amending the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill from a position of weakness but organising mass demonstrations, civil disobedience and strikes by a sizeable and potentially growing minority energised by the prospect of action to force real and meaningful changes about climate change on the Government.
The Greens' fascination with change from above will stop them from heating up the action against climate change.
And so we face resurgent reaction, a Labor Party whose likely response is to be to shift further to the right and a Greens party scared witless of unleashing real forces to fight against global warming.
What a political choice — between the deniers and the do-nothings. These are bleak days for all of us who want real action on climate change.
This article first appeared in En Passant with John Passant.
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