Greens’ disastrous 2018 poll blamed on scandals, internal disputes, ‘cashed-up’ Labor

Updated March 29, 2019 10:39:20

The Greens’ disastrous result at the Victorian election has been blamed on relentless Labor “trolls” and negative mainstream media coverage, as well as a lack of party strategy and bitter internal conflicts that stopped many members from campaigning.

Key points:

  • The election review by Rohan Leppert said much of the campaign was spent reacting to crises about candidates
  • The campaign against the Greens in Northcote was “highly malicious” and personal, the report said
  • Leader Samantha Ratnam said the review captured what happened when when internal disputes met with a “cashed-up” Labor Party

The campaign review, written by Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert, sounds a warning on what not to do as the Greens aim to capitalise on growing discontent with the major parties ahead of the upcoming federal election, and increase their heft in the Federal Parliament.

The Greens had hoped to seize the balance of power in November’s Victorian election but lost half of their eight seats across the two houses.

Cultural problems across the branch have engulfed the party, with perennial federal Batman candidate Alex Bhathal quitting the party.

Earlier this month Samantha Dunn, who lost her Upper House seat last November, quit too.

In a speech to special party conference on Saturday, state leader Samantha Ratnam will say “there is no shying away from the very difficult and unsettling year we have had as the Victorian Greens”.

“The election review captures what happened when internal disputes met with an aggressive and cashed-up Labor Party intent on keeping us out of the balance of power in the Victorian Parliament,” she will say.

The Greens lost Northcote but gained Brunswick from Labor, a major success given the huge swings across Melbourne by Premier Daniel Andrews.

But overall the Greens’ vote shrank and failed to meet growth targets.

A distracted party

The party was left embarrassed by the scandal around several candidates, most notably the candidate for Footscray, Angus McAlpine, who was exposed for writing and performing vile and misogynistic lyrics.

The party controversially stood by the former rapper.

“Much of the formal election campaign was spent reacting to crises rather than proactively putting forward our vision for Victoria, despite best efforts on the latter,” the review said.

The Sandringham candidate was forced out after claims of sexual assault surfaced, another candidate quit over posts on Facebook and a staff member for Northcote MP Lidia Thorpe grabbed headlines for posts on Twitter.

“Our candidates and even staff have been scrutinised more closely by the Labor Party [and by extension, the Herald Sun] than ever before, with the publication of social media activity by candidates when they were as young as 13,” the review said.

Mr Leppert noted that Labor was effective at drawing together multiple scandals to highlight “the Greens’ women problem”, which “was amplified by the press gallery and damaged supporter morale”.

The report noted that while the party grew its social media reach, staff had to deal with “Labor trolls” and comments regarding candidate scandals.

The party is bolstering its probity process of candidates and improving internal dispute rules.

Constantly on the back foot

Membership has also declined in the state, which is the home base for federal party leader Richard Di Natale and high-profile MP Adam Bandt.

The campaign review also found that the policy platform was “unnecessarily large” and that it failed to gain any attention with not enough policy stories making the press.

“It is probably due more to the media’s attitude towards the Greens and the nature of the campaign where we were frequently on the back foot responding to attacks that our policy initiatives did not cut through in the media as we intended,” Mr Leppert said.

Other issues identified include a lack of effective campaign management team, senior communications strategists, collaboration between different electorates and internal processes.

“[The campaign team’s] propensity to lose perspective on the campaign as a whole due to daily crisis management subsuming other activities, were all symptoms of a weak centralised coordination function,” the review said.

The Greens also failed to meet fundraising targets.

‘Dirty’ Northcote campaign

The loss in Northcote was particularly tough for the Greens.

Ms Thorpe won the inner-city seat for the party at a byelection in 2017, ending more than a century of Labor control, but was defeated a year later by Kat Theophanous.

“That campaign was one of the most relentlessly negative campaigns we have ever been subjected to, with Kat Theophanous and her campaign team adopting highly malicious and personally targeted tactics,” Mr Leppert said.

“We certainly underestimated how difficult, and how dirty, Labor would fight to win back the seat.”

Labor assistant state secretary Kosmos Samaras said the Greens needed to look at themselves.

“The Greens’ problems in November were a product of their own mishandling of their own vetting process, which obviously did not adequately identify and deal with misogynistic tendencies in some of their candidates,” Mr Samaras said.

A federal byelection in the seat of Batman, in Melbourne’s inner north, took place in March 2018.

It was a disaster, with the party gripped by internal infighting in the Darebin branch.

The bitterness from the Batman campaign carried over into the Northcote state election campaign, with Greens members refusing to campaign, the report said.

Labor too strong

The Greens have enjoyed most success when Labor is under pressure over progressive issues such as asylum seekers and the environment.

The report noted that the Andrews brand was strong, and the Greens’ attacks failed to stick.

Attempts to paint the Liberals and Labor as peas in a pod also failed because the argument lacked nuance.

“We did not present compelling enough reasons for why one would vote Greens when one could vote for a progressive Labor government, even despite our strong policy platform,” he said.

The party failed to secure good preference deals in the Upper House, especially in competition with a slew of micro-parties who did deals with so-called preference whisperer Glenn Druery.

Mr Leppert’s review said that contributed to the loss of four spots, as well as a declining vote.

Topics: greens, political-parties, government-and-politics, states-and-territories, state-parliament, parliament, elections, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted March 29, 2019 00:04:12

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