Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Is Obama Scared of Tacking Action On Queer Rights?

Alongside healthcare is was pinned as one of the key issues that created chaos for Bill Clinton in his first years, lead to the rise of the right and the eventual Democratic defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections. The issue was allowing queer people to serve in the military; a debate that lead to the development of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which allows queer people to serve, but not openly. Now, in 2009, Barack Obama seems to be scared that if he tackles the same issue head on, along with many others important to the queer rights movement, he will also succumb to the same fate of Clinton in the 90’s.

Obama has always had good rhetoric regarding queer rights. Throughout his campaign and presidency he has promised action on a majority of the key issues on the queer agenda, including repealing the two most controversial queer policies; the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) (which federally defines marriage being between a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages performed elsewhere). Obama has also agreed to sign laws that will enhance hate-crimes legislation, ensure queer adoption rights and outlaw discrimination in the workplace. However, in the first six months of his presidential tenure very little work has been done on achieving these key issues. Not only has there been no legislative action on any of these items (except hate crimes legislation), Obama has also caused frustration through refusing to sign an executive order halting the enforcement of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy until it is officially overturned. This leaves open the question, is Obama just talk on queer rights or is he scared that tackling the issue will cause him political problems?

Whilst there are probably a number of reasons for Obama’s inaction, it seems almost certain that the biggest thing holding him back is a fear of a similar backlash to what Clinton received. Although Obama has been positive about queer rights, he often does so in a hidden manner, leaving positive actions largely unannounced and speeches to queer activists out of sight from the media. In other words, Obama is attempting to give the queer community exactly what it wants, but is attempting to do so in a way that won’t outrage his conservative adversaries (who he believes could make a political issue out of it).

Obviously, this is having a number of effects. First and foremost it is now delaying the attainment of extra rights for queer people. Second, and possibly more damagingly, it sends a clear message that discussing queer rights and taking positive action in a strong manner is still a difficult area for progressive politicians, therefore leaving others cautious about taking positive action in the future. By not standing up and fighting loudly for these rights Obama is saying that it is still okay for there to be an opposition to queer rights and is making this opposition legitimate, in turn creating further equality problems in the future. Last, As long as Obama continues to delay, he will be making it harder for him to make the changes as required. With political landscapes changing quickly, opportunities to change policies can often be lost quickly and as long as Obama continues to delay he will make it harder for these policies to be changed. It is therefore important that continued pressure is placed on the Obama administration to affect these changes sooner rather than later, before it becomes too late.

For more information on these issues and to help place pressure on Obama to take action you can visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org

The Courage Campaign (http://www.couragecampaign.org), which is a California based campaign is also doing a lot of work on queer rights, with a special focus on overturning proposition 8 and the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Monitering the Left | , , | Leave a comment

Progress on US Climate Bill

There has been further progress on the US Climate Bill in the past week with the US House of Representatives passing the cap and trade bill with a vote of 219 – 212. The vote, providing a major victory for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will now see the bill, which mandates for 17% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% cuts by 2050 (based on 2005 levels), sent to the US Senate ready for debate after the July recess. Here is faces an uncertain future, with doubts over a number of controversial issues within the text of the bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will be substantially changed in the Senate. The question remains however as to how much this will occur and what effect this will have on any future passage of the legislation. Overall there are a few sticking points that continue to provide problems for legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Costs:

The continued argument being pushed by opponents to the climate bill is that it will substantially increase costs of energy to consumers in a difficult economic time (ignoring that the bill will not come into effect until 2012). The problem here is not the large number of Republicans who are arguing this (as they are largely outnumbered in both houses of Congress), but rather the few more conservative Democrats who are concerned over this issue. A number of these Democrats voted against the bill in the House; the question is whether the Senate leadership will be able to provide enough incentives to win these Democrats over in the Senate, where their support is much more needed.

Free Permits:

The second big sticking point continues to be the handing out of permits for free. The bill mandates that 85% of the permits under the cap and trade system will be given out for free, with the funds raised by the auction of the 15% to be distributed to lower income earners to offset increase costs created by the bill (this is up from the 53% of permits that were going to be given out when I last posted on this bill). This large number of free permits was largely put in place to please the interests of Democratic members of Congress based in energy intensive states (i.e. the ‘rustbelt’ of the US). However, this is causing problems within the Democratic caucus, with many (including many conservative pundits) arguing that this not only doesn’t make economic sense, but also takes away a large amount of money that can be used to offset costs for consumers and/or to be placed into investment in renewable energy. It is almost certain that this clause in the bill will be changed in the Senate, with the big question being how much and whether this will cause serious problems for further passage in the House.

Use of Offsets and Nuclear Power: Other problems related to the bill include the use of offsets and nuclear power as a means for the reduction of emissions. It is now clear that if the Democrats want to see this bill passed they will to some level be forced to embrace nuclear power as a greenhouse free option. This of course is causing major problems within the Democratic caucus, with many opposing any nuclear option within the climate bill. Second, there is a large amount of criticism over the use of offsets within the climate bill as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions, with critics arguing that offsets do not equate genuine reductions.

Where to From Here

The future of the climate bill is very much unknown. It is certain that the bill will be changed in the Senate, with it possibly being strengthened in some ways (through an increase in the percentage of permits being sold) and weakened in others (with possibly more concessions to specific interest groups). However, it is unknown as to whether these changes will gather the support required to pass the Senate and block any attempt at a filibuster. Second to this, it is unknown as to whether the bill will then be able to re-pass the House if changes made in the Senate put off House members.

What I am certain of however is that there will be a bill eventually. With the Environmental Protection Agency recently winning a battle that allows them to determine Greenhouse gasses as ‘dangerous emissions’ and therefore being given the right to regulate these emissions, legislators will soon realise that emissions are going to be regulated whether they like it or not. It is therefore certain that pushes to have legislation on the issue will increase as legislators decide that they would prefer to regulate emissions on their own terms rather than letting the EPA do it for them. The question is therefore, how good can this legislation be and when will it be passed. Most indicators show that it probably will occur this year (with Democratic members of Congress not wanting to embarrass Obama in his first year), but whether this will be a good bill this time is not certain. Only time can really tell as to whether this will be the case, leaving this as an issue both to continue campaigning around and to continue watching.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

European Elections 2009 – Sweden

I wrote this post for my friend Ben Raue’s blog the TallyRoom about the likely outcomes of the Swedish vote in the European Elections and decided to post it here so people can read. Ben is covering the entire continent on his blog and has some great discussions on there about the upcoming elections. 

Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, two years after its formal establishment with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Sweden votes as a single constituency using a modified ‘Sainte-Laguë method of the highest average’ voting system. This is a system based on party list voting that uses a divisor, somewhat similar to the d’Hondt method of voting. The system has a minimum requirement of a 4% vote for a party to gain a seat. In 2009 Sweden will elect 18 MEPs, a reduction from the 19 they sent in 2004.

The results of the 2004 election saw seats allocated to the following parties:

  • The Social Democratic Party: 5
  • The Moderate Party: 4
  • June List (A Eurosceptic Party): 3
  • Left Party: 2
  • Liberal Peoples Party: 2
  • The Centre Party: 1
  • The Greens: 1
  • The Christian Democrats: 1

Whilst the dominance of the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party (Sweden’s two largest parties) will likely continue in the 2009 elections it looks likely that the makeup of the minor parties in this election will change rather dramatically. Here is what current polling shows about the major parties in the 2009 election:

  • The Social Democratic Party: Even though they lost government in 2006, the Social Democrats continue to outpoll all parties in Sweden and look likely to do so again in 2009. Current polling has the party ranging between 29-35% of the vote, which would most likely give the party an extra MEP.
  • The Moderate: The current governing party in Sweden (in an alliance called ‘The Alliance for Sweden’ with the Centre Party, The Liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats) the Moderates are the largest right wing party in Sweden. They too look likely to increase their vote in 2009, but not to the same levels as the Social Democrats.
  • June List: The June List was created as a ‘Eurosceptic’ party, focused around opposition to the adoption of the Euro in Sweden. Although they gained 14% of the vote in 2004 their support has collapsed since and they will not win any seats in 2009.
  • The Left Party: The Left Party is Sweden’s largest Socialist Party, with a long history of collaboration with the Social Democrats and Greens in Swedish Government. Whilst the Party gained 12% of the vote in 2004 it looks likely this vote will collapse to about 6%, leaving the party with only one seat.
  • Liberal People’s Party: A member of the Alliance for Sweden the Liberal People’s Party (or the FolkPartiet) advocates social liberalism and a strong commitment to a mixed economy. The party is currently around 8%, which would give them the two seats that they currently hold.
  • The Centre Party: Describing itself as a ‘green social liberal party’, the Center party is Sweden’s rural party and is a member of the Alliance for Sweden (currently holding the Deputy Prime Minister position). The party looks likely to hold at around the 5-6% mark, giving them one seat.
  • The Greens: The Greens are gaining extra support in Sweden and look likely to add to their one EU seat in 2004 with the possibility of a second or even third (although unlikely seat)
  • The Christian Democrats: Sweden’s largest religious based party the Christian Democrats are a small force in Sweden, but will gain enough votes to win one seat in the EU Election
  • The Pirate Party: Sweden’s fastest growing party; the Pirate Party strives to change laws regarding copyright and patents. Whilst extremely small in 2004, the issue of piracy has gained a large amount of attention in recent years giving the party a large amount of media coverage and support, especially amongst young people. It seems almost certain that the party will gain at least one seat in the 2009 election and possibly two. 

Overall it seems like the situation in Sweden will see an increase in the vote for the two major parties, giving them 10-11 of Sweden’s 19 MEPs, the elimination of the June List and a rise in support for the Greens and the Pirate Party, continuing the left majority status in the Swedish delegation.

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Monitering the Left | Leave a comment

Is Fremantle a Sign of Things to Come?

On Saturday the 16th of May the Australian Greens made history by winning their first lower house seat in any state or territory parliament (after winning the federal seat of Cunningham in 2002) and by winning the primary vote in an election for the first time ever. The Greens won the seat of Fremantle by outpolling the Labor Party by a 45-38% margin on primary votes and won the seat by 54-46% after preferences were distributed, sending Adele Carles into the Western Australian legislative assembly. With this victory under their belt the Greens are now turning their focus onto federal lower house seats, arguing that if the current trend continues federal seats such as Melbourne, Sydney, Grayndler and Fremantle will soon fall into Green hands. This is being followed by a number of analysts and political commentators who are now questioning whether the Greens have the ability to permanently break up the two party system in Australia.

Third parties in Australia have a history of falling. The Democrats, arguably the most influential third party in Australia’s history, collapsed dramatically in the last two federal elections raising serious questions about whether the two party system will ever be broken in Australia. Whilst theories around why the Democrats collapsed as they did are still debated, there is no doubt that their collapsed has raised serious questions about the ability of a third party to survive in the Australian system. However, the continued growth of the Greens since Bob Brown was first elected in 1996 and the extremely strong showings of the party since the 2007 election, in which they recorded over 1 million votes, are placing the Greens in a position to break down the two party system in Australia. Whilst many may be sceptical of the ability of the Greens or any other party to break down this systems the Greens are in an extremely unique position with many positive aspects that favour the possibilities of them to do so.    

There are five key factors behind why I believe the Greens will continue to grow in the future:

  1. Having a Strong Base: Unlike the Democrats who had no real natural base (being focused on those who were dissatisfied with the major parties), the Greens have a strong base, not only with the environmental movement but with the left as a whole. Whilst the Greens obviously began as a party based around the environment movement, a mix of hard work by Greens MPs on other issues as well as the general rightward shift in Australian politics (see below) has allowed the Greens to take the mantle of the only true ‘left’ party in the country. This gives the Greens a very strong base that continues to grow as the party continues to convince those in the left that they are not just about the environment. This ensures that as long as the Greens stat true to their ideals that they will have a continued base of support that will ensure continued parliamentary representation.  
  2. The Continued Rightward Trend of the ALP: Second to this, the Greens are also benefiting from the continued rightward shift of the ALP. There is no doubt that the ALP is upsetting many of those on the left who have traditionally voted for them as they continue to pursue or refuse to reverse many of the right wing policies introduced by the Liberal Party. The Greens are benefiting from this as they are being seen as the only real ‘left’ wing alternative. Whilst some may claim that this is just a sign of a ‘protest vote’ against the ALP that will eventually collapse,  it seems very unlikely that the ALP will return to its left wing beginnings any time soon, meaning that this ‘protest vote’ is likely to continue to solidify.
  3. A Desire to Govern: Unlike the Democrats, who biggest focus was on ‘keeping the bastards honest’, the Greens have a focus on creating a party that is strong enough to govern, not just to be in the balance of power. This is important as it puts the Greens in a position where they are seen to be more proactive in their role in parliament rather than being reactive to the major parties. This proactive nature of the party tends to create greater support within the public over the reactive nature that occurs when one is focused on balance of power situations.
  4. Having a Large and Extremely Democratic Membership: Somewhat unlike the Democrats, the Greens have a very large and democratic membership. The parties’ membership currently sits around 10,000 and is growing. This is important as it provides the party both a strong contingent to work and campaign for the party, as well as a large number of people who can be trained and recruited to run for office.
  5. Having Strong Roots in Local Government: In all states across Australia the Greens have strong roots and have campaigned hard for local government positions and hold many of these positions, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Fighting for these positions has been a very important tactical move by the Greens for two reasons. Firstly, it has provided much needed training for Greens members in governance, which provides great opportunities for such members to advance to state and federal government. A large number of candidates in past elections have come from the local level and I suspect this trend will continue in the future. Secondly, having members in local councils provide members of the public a real and local experience with Greens politicians. This is important as it allows the scepticism some have of the Greens to be dashed when they see the real benefits provided by having Greens in Government.  

 These five factors put the Greens in a very good position to break down the two party system in Australia and continue to grow as a party in local, state and federal parliaments. The Greens are surging and unless major unforeseen circumstances occur in the future it seems very unlikely that this surge will end any time soon, leaving the party in a position to create real influence in all levels of parliament and grow to become the most influential third party Australia has seen.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Democracy and the State, Monitering the Left | , , , , , | 14 Comments

Further Advances for Gay Marriage in the United States

The issue of gay marriage seems to be one that I keep coming back to recently, but again there have been further advances in the United States. Last week the Senates of New Hampshire and Maine (both relatively small states in New England) both passed legislation legalising gay marriage. For both states it looks likely that the lower houses will pass similar legislation soon ensuring that gay marriage becomes law. 

In my opinion the United States is now reaching what Josh Marshall describes as a tipping point regarding the issue of gay marriage and will soon see many more states adopt similar legislation. Whilst only four states currently have legalised gay marriage (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa) it now looks certain that Maine and New Hampshire will join that list soon and legislation has also been introduced and backed by Governors in New Jersey and New York (which is important as both states are large). Adding to this the fact that for the first time the number of people polled who support gay marriage has surpassed the number of people opposed and I think we are seeing a major shift in the US. This shift is the outcome of years of hard work by the gay rights community and whilst I suspect that we will see an increased campaign by the anti rights community I think we will see many more advances for equality in quick succession in the coming year.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Monitering the Left | | 1 Comment

Major Development for 2010 – Arlen Spector Switches Sides

It a major coup for the Democrats in the United States, Republican Senator Arlen Specter has today announced that he will be switching parties and will now become a member of and run in the 2010 primary for the Democratic Party. Specter has recently fallen under immense pressure from within the Republican Party as primary challenger Pat Toomey looked certain to beat him in the 2010 primary vote. Toomey launched his bid against Specter just weeks ago and looked certain to gain victory in a state that’s Republican Party has recently taken a sharp turn to the right as hoards of moderates have fled to join the Democrats. This left the moderate, but popular (state wide), Specter extremely vulnerable to his conservative challenger and almost certain to lose. Specter stated this shift to the right as his main reason for switching parties.

The move, with the almost certain victory in Minnesota for Al Franken will give the Democrats the magic 60 Senators, a number that ensures that they can now overcome a Republican filibuster and pass any required legislation. This means that Democrats now will technically not have to deal with the Republican Party in any way in the Senate and will be able to pass a large number of the sweeping changes that they desire. Although the Democrats must be careful with this increase in power, this provides a great opportunity for them to continue to push their more left wing agenda in the next two years.

This must be a big wake up call for the Republicans in the US. With the continued rightward shift of the party it looks almost certain that these sorts of shifts from moderates will continue to occur. Whilst this isn’t likely to occur in Congress (as there are very few moderates left) it will almost certainly continue to occur with the general voting population. Candidates such as Pat Toomey are popular with conservative voters, but are simply far too decisive and to the right of a population that is taking a left turn. Arlen Specter is just doing what millions of voters around the country have done in the past years in the United States and rejected the far right agenda of the Republican Party. I am almost certain that if the party continues with this far right agenda through supporting candidates such as Pat Toomey that they will face continued destruction in 2010. 

Read more at my previous post on ‘Will the Republicans Continue to Crumble in 2010’ and at the Tally Room and Daily Kos

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Monitering the Left | , , , , | 2 Comments

Will the Republicans Continue to Crumble in 2010?

It is said in the United States that the first 100 days of Presidents tenure are the most productive as it is during those days that the President is best able to use their political capital without needing to focus on the mid-term elections. Now, with Barack Obama’s first 100 days coming to a close I thought I would take this opportunity to look at the prospects of the 2010 election and what I predict will be a continued downfall for the Republican Party. In this post I will have a look at the three main areas of competition in 2010 (House of Representatives, Senate and Gubernatorial Races) and discuss the prospects of the Democrats and Republicans in these areas.

House of Representatives

At such an early stage it is extremely difficult to predict how the House of Representatives races will go in 2010. As House of Representative races occur on a much smaller scale than Senate and Gubernatorial races, far less work and fundraising efforts are required. This means that at this point of time potential candidates have still not appeared and races have not really begun, meaning it is difficult to tell what will happen. However, even with that a couple of key indicators are pointing towards another strong Democratic showing in 2010. These are:

  1. The approval rating of the Congress has risen recently. Now, approximately 30-35% of people approve of Congress, compared to the average 20-25% that occurred during the last House of Reps tenure. Given that the Democrats did so well in the last period, one could assume that with increased popularity they would continue to do well at the next election.
  2. The percentage of people who think that the United States are going  in the right direction has risen dramatically. Although this may be due to a change in President, when this occurs it normally points towards status quo elections, which would mean continued Democratic strength.

For a good discussion on the possibilities of a Republican rebound in the House of Representatives read this article

Senate

Although it is difficult to predict the House of Representative at this point of time, indicators of how the Senate will go are becoming much clearer and it looks good for the Democrats. With almost double the amount of Republicans up for election in 2010 than Democrats and a few key retirements the Democrats have a number of things going their way in 2010. Here are some of the key issues:

Retirements: At the current time Senators from 5 states ( Judd Gregg from New Hampshire, George Voinovich from Ohio, Kit Bond from Missouri, Mel Martinez from Florida and Sam Brownback from Kansas) have announced their retirements in 2010, with the possibility that two to three more will announce that they are retiring in the near future (Oklahoma (if Tim Coburn decides to retire as he has indicated he might), Texas (if Kay Hutchison retires to run in the primary for Governor, creating a special election) and Kentucky (if Jim Bunning buckles to pressure to resign from the seat). Although Kansas probably lost its only chance for a Democratic Senator with Kathleen Sebelius being elevated to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Democrats are almost certain to pick up the extremely blue leaning New Hampshire and Ohio and will be extremely competitive in Missouri and Florida depending on candidates. 

Conservative Challenges: With the hardening of the right base in the Republican Party over the past years, there are now a number of possible conservative challengers to more moderate Republican Senators. This is creating a great conundrum for the Republican Party. Whilst conservative candidates are now more likely to win Republican primaries (due to the exodus of moderates from the party) they are far less likely to win in a general election, where in states like Pennsylvania (where conservative Pat Toomey is likely to beat Senator Arlen Spector in the primary race) and Arizona (where conservative Chris Simcox is challenging John McCain) moderate candidates are preferred.

Vulnerable Senators: The Republicans also have two very vulnerable Senators in Jim Bunning representing Kentucky and Richard Burr in North Carolina. Bunning has made a number of gaffs in his time in office (including stating the Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be dead in 9 months after her cancer operation), is growing extremely unpopular and has a dismal fundraising record. However, even with strong pressure from within the party to remove Bunning, he looks unlikely to step down and is yet to face any primary challengers. This leaves the Democrats with a strong chance of picking up the seat. Richard Burr is facing some of the same problems Elizabeth Dole face in 2008. North Caroline is becoming bluer and Burr is suffering due to that. This means that he will likely face a strong challenge for his seat in 2010.

Vulnerable Democrats: It is important to note that there are a few vulnerable Democrats as well (although there are no retirements). The most vulnerable of these is Senator Chris Dodd (Connecticut) who is under a lot of pressure over his dealings with the bank bail outs. Dodd is facing a number of challengers and will have a tough run for re-election. Republicans also like to point towards Roland Burris in Illinois and Harry Reid in Nevada as possible vulnerable candidates. However, with Burris likely to lose a primary challenge and Reid having a huge incumbency advantage and election war chest, it is extremely unlikely that the Republicans will pick up these seats. 

Overall, it seems almost certain the Democrats will pick up seats in New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with strong challenges being played out in Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and Connecticut. This would lead to the Democrats finally picking up the 60 seats required to defeat a filibuster.

Gubernatorial Races

It is the gubernatorial races however that will provide the most hope for the Republicans in 2010. With retirements/term by Democrats occurring in such states conservative states as Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming the Republicans seem likely to pick up some new Governorships. However, these states are by no means big prizes and where the Republicans win here they are more than likely to lose elsewhere. The biggest chance for loss for the Republicans will be the state of California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be forced out due to term limits. The race will be tight with strong candidates emerging on both sides, but with the inherent blue nature of California one would predict a Democrat win.

The other big race will be in New York. With current Governor David Paterson facing low approval ratings in the state and possible primary challenges, this race could be tight. This is especially true as there is now talk that former New York Mayor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rudolf Giuliani may be considering running in the race, giving the Republicans a strong candidate. However, it is still extremely early to tell at this point of time, although I would predict that Giuliani would win the race if he ran.

Conclusion

Overall, things look good for the Democrats in 2010. With a strengthening conservative base in the United States and a growing rejection of this base, Democrats are looking stronger than ever in the United States and in my opinion will continue to grow in 2010. What this will do to the Republicans and conservative movement in the United States I am not sure about, but it will definitely create even more turmoil than that we are seeing at the moment.   



April 26, 2009 Posted by | Monitering the Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Where is the Left At? – Australia

As part of this blog I am aiming to provide some analysis of the left wing movement and some monitoring on how the left is progressing as a movement. Although I undoubtedly will be unable to cover all aspects of the left around the world, I think this will provide some information as well as topics for debate about the left. In order to start this discussion I will be providing some brief overviews of where the left is situated in different parts of the world (starting with Australia, the US and Europe and then moving to other parts as I read and learn more). I will aim to discuss both the left as legislators as well as the left as ‘movers’ in societies and will discuss what I consider to be the main areas of movement in each place. I will this discussion by looking at Australia.

Legislative

After the election of the Kevin Rudd lead Labor Government in 2007 the left is finding itself in a difficult position. Although the policies of the Labor Party are better than those of the previous government, the party is certainly living up to its standards of being more right wing in government than in opposition and are simply not providing many of the sweeping changes demanded by the left in the country. This is leaving the left movement in a difficult situation where it must decide whether it continues to fight for a left wing agenda within the Labor Party or to turn to a different alternative. At the present time those who are arguing for a shift to a new alternative are pointing to the Greens as the possible answer. The arguments behind these two different movements are relatively simple:

Sticking with Labor: Those who advocate sticking with Labor argue that at the current time we are not likely to see any other party become strong enough to win government in Australia and we therefore must place all out efforts into turning the Labor Party into a true left party. Advocates of this movement argue for left wingers to join the party and fight within it to shift it away from the right.

Shifting to the Greens: Those who advocate for a shift towards the Greens argue that the fight to turn Labor into a real left wing party has been going on for a long time with no results. We therefore, it is argued, must look towards a different alternative. With a growing base the Greens are gaining influence all around the country (sitting in every legislature except QLD and NT) and seem like they will continue to grow in the future. It is argued therefore that the Greens do provide a real alternative for the left that could easily gain much more influence with more support, eliminating the need for the left to deal with the Labor Party.

A Middle Ground?

Although I am a member of the Greens I actually advocate somewhat of a middle ground on this issue at the moment. Although I believe we are never going to see the Labor Party turn into a proper left wing party based around the Labor movement and therefore see the need for an alternative, I also believe we need to continue to fight for more left wing policies within the Labor Party, especially given that it is in Government at the moment. It is here that I see the importance of movements such as GetUp in exercising their ability to influence both public thought and the Government to at least rethink some of their right wing policies. Ensuring this pressure continues also helps the growth of the left in general as well as the Greens as it adds to the general acceptance of the left by the public, who then become more inclined to vote for left candidates.

Outside the Parliament

Of course the left wing movement isn’t just based around parliament house and there is a huge amount of other areas where the left is having an important influence. Whether it be through student politics, unions or local climate groups people on the left are actively participating in the political world to affect the change we need. I think we can see the left do this through two different ways:

1.       Broad Umbrella Groups: The biggest of these is obviously GetUp, who is fighting in my opinion on a broad left wing agenda on a range of different issues. GetUp is doing this mostly and very skilfully through the internet, which is creating great opportunities for the left movement.

2.       Issue Based Groups: Whether it be the environment movement, the union movement, the women’s movement or a large number of other movements around Australia a large percentage of those involved in the left are active in particular issue based groups (this obviously happens on the right as well). Many of these groups are growing in Australia (we are now seeing positive growth in unions, growth in climate movements etc.) and are continuing to greatly influence public debate on particular issues.

Bringing the movements together

As with other left movements around the world I think one of the biggest challenges the left faces in Australia is how to bring everyone together. Whether it be bringing those who argue for the Labor Party or the Greens or those who are focused on one of the many campaigns around the country, the left needs to continue to work to come together to solidify as one movement (obviously with many aims that people can focus on). I think this is occurring in the country (with the growth of such organisations as GetUp), but will continue to argue that more needs to be done. I cannot provide the answers for this at the moment but will rather leave it as a thinking point for future discussion.

This has been a very brief discussion on my perspective of the left wing movement in Australia and one that I hope to add to in future posts. I would be interested to hear what other people think about this and the ideas of where the left sits at the moment. Whilst it is hard to pin down where a movement is at I think it is useful so we can see where it needs to go.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Monitering the Left | , | Leave a comment

Vermont Legalises Gay Marriage and Sets a Great Precedent

Yesterday, the House of Representatives and the Senate in the American state of Vermont voted to legalise gay marriage within the state. After the vote was passed, the legislation was vetoed by the Republican Governed, which was swiftly overridden by the state House of Senate chambers (both requiring a 2/3 vote to do so). After the veto was overridden the President pro-tem of the Vermont Senate said: 

“The struggle for equal rights is never easy. I was proud to be president of the Senate nine years ago when Vermont created civil unions. Today we have overridden the governor’s veto. I have never felt more proud of Vermont as we become the first state in the country to enact marriage equality, not as the result of a court order, but because it is the right thing to do.” 

This makes Vermont the 4th state in the United States to legalise gay marriage (taking out California, which has recently repealed its legalisation), after Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa (which only legalised the act last Friday in a court ruling).

This action in Vermont however, is somewhat more important that those is the other three states as it now becomes the first state in the country to legalise gay marriage through legislative procedures rather than through court actions. This provides a great boost for the gay rights movement in the United States as it shows that winning the right to marry doesn’t just have to come through court actions, which I believe can somewhat hurt the gay rights movement, but can also come through legislative procedures. It is now predicted that in the coming months New Hampshire will pass gay rights legislation (the legislation has already passed the House and is now waiting for Senate approval) and legislation is now on the table in Maine and New Jersey. It is expected that these three states will pass the legislation, ensuring that almost all of the New England area as well as one large state (by population) would have legalised gay marriage. This will provide a great push on the rest of the states in the United States, especially more left leaning (i.e. New York, California, Washington), to start legalising gay marriage.

The Next Hurdle

After proving that they can jump over two large hurdles (the courts and a legislature), the gay rights movement in the United States now has one last hurdle to overcome to prove they can achieve full equality; a popular vote. So far the gay rights movement has only been able to achieve one success when the issue of gay marriage has appeared at a popular ballot (in Arizona 2006, which was then defeated in 2008). With so many popular votes having occurred in the states it is now essential that the movement begins to pro-actively fight the issue at the ballot box. In my mind it is inevitable that the next fight will occur again in the state of California. The issue in California is pretty complex. Proposition 8, passed in 2008, made gay marriage illegal in the state. There is now a court challenge on the proposition, stating that a change of constitution is required for this proposition to be legal. This leaves the gay rights movement with two foreseeable futures:

  1. The court throws out the case forcing the movement to head back to the ballot box.
  2. The court throws out the proposition, forcing the anti rights movement to the ballot box in an effort to change the constitution.

In either case it is likely that the people of California will be voting on the issue again either in 2010 or in 2012. I believe this is a good thing as I believe with strong campaigning the gay rights movement can win California back and in turn prove to the world and to themselves that they can win a majority of the population when it comes to gay marriage rights. This for me will lead to a rapid shift in the United States where more and more states allow gay marriage, in turn forcing other states to do the same.

What Does this Mean for the Rest of the World?

An interesting and final question about all of this is what does this mean for the rest of the world, especially those states that still don’t have legal gay marriage? Let’s look at Australia as an example (noting that legislation introduced by the Greens in 2008 to make gay marriage legal was voted down 71-5 in the Senate). I think having a United States that is rapidly legalising gay marriage will have two effects:

  1.  It will make the United States look more progressive than Australia (and other states), a position many in Australia to not want to see the country be in.
  2. It will give a boost to the gay rights movement in Australia who see that if this can occur in the United States it can occur there.

I think these two things will be important in the future. Whilst, I don’t believe that the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd really cares if Australia is seen as conservative (as he is a conservative), I think many within his party and within the country do. This, for me will create a greater push to see gay marriage legalised.

Second, I believe that the gay rights movement in Australia has been floundering in recent times with very little strength. I think seeing how effective and strong the movement is now in the United States will give a good booster to the Australian movement, who can now see that achieving universal gay marriage rights is even more possible.

Given the conservative nature of our federal parliament however, it will be interesting to watch how the gay rights movement will aim to achieve this goal. It is clear that gay marriage is not on the table of the Labor Party at the moment and I therefore think that the movement needs to start by creating an actual discussion in the nation about why it should be on the table. This for me could occur through two methods:

  1. Adding to a national pressure campaign, enlisting such organisations as GetUp
  2. Making it an election issue, especially in high density ‘gay seats’, such as Wentworth, Sydney, Grayndler, Melbourne, Fremantle and Melbourne Ports (apart from Wentworth these are all seats where the Greens are getting closer to challenging the incumbent Labor politicians, both at a federal and state level).

Due to the length of this blog I will leave going into these two strategies for another time, but for the moment would like to hear what people think about how the movement can grow in Australia and other states!

 

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | 1 Comment

Improvements Coming and McGinty Quitting

Hi all,

Sorry for the lack of action over the past week or so; I have been away in Edinburgh for the weekend visiting a friend. But, I am back and ready to write some more and really get this blog going. Over the next little while you can all expect a couple of things:

  1. A discussion on creating actual democracy
  2. Hopefully some discussion on the G20 summit and the problem of capitalism (depending on whether I can get my brain to work)
  3. Some improvements in the format of the blog, with some better categorisation allowing for easier searching of topics and hopefully some better formatting.

Lastly, for anyone interested in Australian politics you may like to note that former West Australian Attorney General Jim McGinty has announced that he will be retiring from politics. Although this is not really that interesting or surprising it will provide an interesting election battle in a month or so time. For those of you who don’t know, Jim holds the seat of Fremantle, which at the last election the Greens almost took (losing out by less than 1% as they got less primary vote than the Liberals). With there being a very good chance that the Liberals won’t run in this seat we could see the Greens take their first lower house seat in WA; one that they would have a very good chance of holding on to. One to watch!

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Monitering the Left | Leave a comment