September’s NSW local government elections took place in a context where the state Labor government has been lurching from one crisis to another - notably (but not exclusively) a result of their persistence in pushing for privatisation of electricity against the wishes of 86% of the population.
The main feature of the poll, therefore, was a dramatic decrease in Labor's vote, which was picked up primarily by the Greens (who have increased by around 30 the number of elected Green councillors).
In this context, the Socialist Alliance did quite well — making modest advances in three very different election campaigns in NSW — but also reminding us that we still have a long way to go. But the advances are precious and should be studied and discussed to pave the way for and to improve our future efforts.
In Newcastle, a young team waged an inspiring campaign focusing on the idea of transforming the council into a “climate action council”, including ideas such as “taking Newcastle off the [electricity] grid” by powering Newcastle with renewable energy.
This campaign was picked up by the Newcastle Herald, which meant we gained valuable establishment media coverage and transformed our candidate and rapper Zane Alcorn into a mini local personality.
In Marrickville, Sydney Central branch built a campaign on the back of consistent political activity in the local area, where a number of members live and where progressive ideas have a lot of support (the Greens won 53% of the vote in ward we contested).
In Blacktown, Sydney West branch reached out into an area where Socialist Alliance has done some political work in the past but where it couldn't have advanced much were it not for our alliance with local Sudanese socialists who ran on the ticket.
In the end we got 2.1%, 3.7% and 4.8% in Blacktown, Newcastle and Marrickville respectively. We also won 1507 votes (2%) in the Newcastle contest for Lord Mayor. These results are all short of the results the Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Party achieved in previous council elections in Victoria but are all an advance on our results in the previous NSW elections.
The fact that these advances took place in a context where the Greens also dramatically increased their vote is notable (and should remind us that the Green advance is a reflection of a move to the left in society).
In Marrickville, the Socialist Alliance will get back its election deposit — $375 that would otherwise have gone to the state. This election also revealed that there is a connection between our organisational strength and the size of our vote. This probably is the main reason that we polled higher in Marrickville than Newcastle despite getting a lot more media coverage and notoriety in Newcastle.
But at this stage building up Socialist Alliance’s campaigning and organisational strength is more important than the number of votes we get. All three campaigns helped here.