‘It’s a victory of hope over cynicism’

At the declaration of results, Victorian Socialists had gained more than 7 percent of the primary vote in the lower house seat of Broadmeadows.

This is a remarkable achievement. 

Steve Jolly’s healthy vote of 8.5 percent in the state seat of Richmond in 2014 was based on decades of community campaigns in the local area, and (at that stage) 10 years as a very active and well-respected local council member.

For Victorian Socialists to get anywhere close to this figure on election day in Broadmeadows – based on a month or so of campaigning and as a brand new political party with an unknown candidate – is simply extraordinary.

Doubly so, in my opinion, because of the hardened cynicism of many working class and poor people in Broadmeadows. Unemployment in some parts of the electorate is 25 percent. Much of the area gets poisoned by the recurrent fires at plastic recycling depots or tyre dumps, or former industrial sites. 

An area which votes 70 percent or more Labor is lumbered with Frank McGuire as a local MP. In a month or more of intensive campaigning, I’m yet to meet anyone with a good word to say about him. It’s easy to say “the ALP takes the people round here for granted”, but that doesn’t quite get across the obscenity of it.

In October, we doorknocked the area that was affected by last year’s plastics fire at the SKM recycling depot in Coolaroo. Everyone could tell us about the night when the air filled with a toxic blanket of smoke. About the evacuations. In some cases, about the hospital visits. About the clean-up. About the legal case that a law firm has launched.

No one mentioned the local member taking an interest. Plenty of people didn't even know his name. The working class can choke. The local Labor MP is busy, somewhere else.

To cut through the colossal and fully justified cynicism about politics that this set-up produces, to persuade one in 13 people on the day to vote for an unknown socialist candidate (a figure that rises to better than one in 10 voters in some booths) is a great achievement.

Congratulations to everyone who played a part, big or small, in this historic campaign.

A little after 9pm on election night, I gave the following speech at the Victorian Socialists’ election night celebration at the Yarra Hotel in Abbotsford. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity and accuracy.

I’m not usually stuck for words. But to be sitting on 7.4 percent is pretty incredible. 

We started with a candidate who had never lived in the area, who couldn’t find his way over Pascoe Vale Road – or rather, I could find my way too easily over Pascoe Vale Road: “Oh there it is again, what am I doing up here on the overpass?” 

From a standing start, with an unknown party, in an area where the far left has had no real implantation for a generation or more. For a squad of people to turn up, talk class politics and pay attention persistently, on tens of thousands of doorsteps across the electorate, at train stations, and of course on the polling booths today, to get more than 7 percent of the vote is an absolutely incredible result. 

And it’s testament to the fact that there are plenty of people out there who are hungry for a message that the working class deserves better. That the working class deserves better than to be poisoned, regularly, by plastics fires in the northern suburbs. That the working class deserves better than to be chucked on the scrapheap when Ford closes. 

We doorknocked the area south of that plastics fire. 

We doorknocked people like Joe, one of the guys who took a couple of corflutes (campaign signs) on Barry Road. Missing three quarters of a lung. Worked in heavy industry around the northern suburbs his whole life. He was straight to hospital on the night of the fire. Everyone could tell us a story about the night. Everyone could tell us about the other fires, about the legal case. No one mentioned the local member, and plenty didn’t know his name. 

So this is a kick in the pants for the Labor Party for taking the working class of the north for granted.

Results are still coming in. But it’s traditional on these occasions to thank the team. The team is rather large in this case, as you all well know, so I won’t thank them all. But I want to include the people like Joe, who took a corflute. 

People like our comrade over here somewhere tonight, who campaigned like a champion these last two weeks, while on suspension from his warehouse job for some bullshit. So thank you to his employer for giving us a full time campaigner to put a socialist in parliament.

The result’s also a credit to people like Angela. Angela whose dad was in the Ford Broadmeadows strike in 1973. Angela who translated the leaflets of that strike into three different languages. Angela who week after week joined us on the doorknocks, to once again bring radical politics to the working class of Broadmeadows. People like Angela powered this campaign. 

We had campaigners from every walk of life, but I especially want to talk about the students, trained in socialist politics and the skills of political combat on the campuses, who showed that it’s possible to come from that background and to talk on doorsteps, to fight for votes on polling booths and to bring a message of working class hope to the people of Broadmeadows that struck a chord.

And that’s not an easy thing to do. When you’re on a booth and people are charging through, when they have that look in their eye – they know the whole system is corrupt. They know the whole system is stacked against them. They’re looking at you like you’re part of that system, like you want to sell them something. To be able to stop people, to be able to cut through that cynicism, that “nothing ever changes in Broadmeadows”, “what’s the point of hoping”, to be able to cut through that, and to be able to get more than 7 percent of people to say “yes, we want a socialist in parliament”, is pretty bloody incredible. It’s a victory of hope over cynicism tonight.

And in particular: as I was making some notes before, the results came through from the biggest polling booth in Broadmeadows, the Meadow Heights booth. That’s where Anne and Laura, a couple of locals who know Steve Jolly, came up to tell people, “We grew up just down the road in Oak Park; you don’t know Steve Jolly but we do, he turns up, he gives a damn, let’s put him in the parliament”. People like Vashti, people like Ridah, people like Laura who just kept going, conversation after conversation, bringing that message of hope, that message of “yes, we can do better”, to the people of Meadow Heights. We got more than 10 percent on that booth, from a standing start. 

That’s it. I got nothing else.

The workers – united – will never be defeated!

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Jerome Small was the Victorian Socialists candidate in the lower house seat of Broadmeadows in the recent state election.