Having despatched the Red Queen and beheaded her guards, the Cheshire Cat grinned hideously, “No-one plays fair if they think they can get away with it. That’s a lesson you’ll have to learn.”
The bolt of adrenaline hit as the ABC unofficially announced that Kevin Rudd had the numbers.
I finished reworking the cover photo of my campaign page in seconds and started slashing the press release I had prepared earlier. The familiar flood of heat in my palms was unmistakeable. Adrenaline.
“We’re on”, I muttered.
The surreal high drama of the back-stabbing back of Julia Gillard merged seamlessly with the real-politik of running an election campaign. Rules become guidelines, your focus narrows, you move forward in a tunnel, one step at a time. Lists and practice are the only saviours for surviving extended periods high on adrenaline – and lots of nanna naps.
KRudd’s disdain for the rules of engagement had been brought home a month earlier during Brisbane’s Greek Festival Paniyiri in Musgrave Park, site of the Aboriginal Tent embassy, smack bang in the middle of West End, where the Green vote tops 30% and the gutted infrastructure of Labor’s union past is gradually replaced by apartments in what will be Australia’s most densely populated suburb.
Kevin ignored the invitation to address a special session at 10:30 and turned up late, personal media crew in tow, crashed the VIP formalities using a minder with an extra chair to secure his place and challenged Premier Newman to a Zorba dancing contest from the podium, displacing ALP member for Moreton and Gillard’s official representative at the function, Graeme Perret, in the process.
Down in the crowd, handing out my pamphlets one by one, the hero worship was palpable. The crowd lapped up Krudd’s well worn platitudes about the ethnic community’s love of family and music. They laughed as if they had never heard the joke before when he thanked them for saving Australia from the penury of English and Irish cuisine with fetta cheese, spinach and the olive.
Upstaged, outclassed and on the wrong side of the river, Premier Newman briefly withstood the boos, the sullen silence and the turned backs of the crowd as it moved onto other things. He cut short his speech. KRudd, campaign machine, had swept the field, again.
How do The Greens, earnestly trying to engage the public in a debate about energy descent and the end of unbridled affluence, meet populist, rock-star campaigning of this ilk?
KRudd smiles like the Cheshire Cat as he sets the executioner arguing with the King over how to behead a head without a body. The ALP has struggled to get a grip on this slithering tove for the last three years. Now it is my turn.
Of course, the answer lies somewhere in the rumbles and grumbles of discontent from within the ALP. The question is how to capture and synthesise that discontent into the three word quote that cuts through.
Within seconds of posting the Game of Thrones inspired quote “He burned his party to the ground so he might rule the ashes” over Rudd’s visage as the cover of my campaign page, I had responses from Games of Thrones fans, rusted on ALP friends, branch members in Melbourne for the Young Greens conference and an old school friend I had not spoken to in two decades.
“My sister is rapt that your are running against KRudd and wants to donate to your campaign. Send me the account details.”
It was still only one hour after he had been announced as leader of the ALP and was officially only the Prime-Minister elect.
That discontent, and the financial and physical support that flows from it, adds weight to the campaign. But it only builds it arithmetically – a couple of percent at a time. This is the way we have built The Greens over the last two decades: a percentage point here, two percentage points there, a sudden lift of five percent. In the seat of Griffith we now average 16 percent, ranging from 30% in the Green West, to 7% in the conservative north-east and south-eastern corners. We have doubled the vote in each election bar one over the last four federal elections but that is from a small base.
We need a real game-changer to wean the electorate from fossil fuels, from unfettered economic growth and the unnatural advantages of a tiny population harvesting the resources of an entire continent in an overcrowded world. They don’t want to vote for The Greens in case we have them all hold hands and sing whale songs.
I reread chapter 8 of Alice through the looking glass, pondering the metaphor of the Cheshire cat. The book ends with the cards blowing away in the wind, waking Alice, who finds herself batting away dry leaves in an Autumn breeze.
And it dawns on me.
In a twist worthy of the Cat himself, KRudd himself is my secret weapon in the battle against him. His insistence on style over substance, populism over principle and the quick grab encapsulate the hollowing out of the ALP that is the cause of the rumbles, grumbles and desertions.
The party faithful have endured the gradual decline over the last three decades believing that it was all for something, that this was a journey on the way to somewhere and that the destination had something to do with the party’s principled past. KRudd’s antics in the last three years have proven that this is not the case. It is simply about power and now everyone can see it. The emperor has no clothes.
The tearing down of the union headquarters along Peel St, West End to make way for 20 storey apartment blocks is the embodiment of this decay. From protecting workers’ rights, to supporting the aspirational middle class, to the naked embracing of economic growth to underwrite the social contract: the ALP has lost its soul.
It took decades to build the ALP from a shearer’s strike that encapsulated an emerging global movement into a political organisation that could govern to protect workers against the opportunistic pillaging by owners of capital. A century later, the organisation is all that is left.
It is now two decades since Bob Brown entered the Senate, and The Greens are steadily building a political organisation to take on the responsibility of nurturing those finite resources against the opportunistic pillaging of capital. This is the century of a resource constrained economy.
The challenge for The Greens has been to make the transition from the meaning of Labor obvious. KRudd has provided the necessary spotlight.
His behaviour starkly highlights the irrelevance of the principles he purports to espouse. The real problems of the day are to find dignity and social wellbeing in a stable economy. That means we have to stop chasing economic growth and start to build long term infrastructure that is going to last. We have to recognise that we are on the path of energy descent and if we don’t start taking this into account we are going to run out of petrol on the highway 1500 kilometres from home.
KRudd is the proof of what is currently wrong with Australian politics. He is the fruiting body of the fungus that has worked its roots into the core of the political process. The campaign for Griffith is the opportunity for the electorate to let the parties stuck in last century know that the status quo is not acceptable.
The future must be different. The future is Green.