Guy Pearse is right to be enthusiastic about the growth in support for the Greens (‘A Green Balance?’, July) but he underestimates the contradictions involved in his suggestion that the party build a “broad church” of support that goes “beyond Right and Left”. Contrary to his implication that the Greens have grown steadily over four decades, outside Tasmania the party remained a fringe entity suffering numerous setbacks until the late 1990s. It was only when powerful new social movements – for global justice, peace and refugee rights – intersected with growing revulsion at Labor’s rightward drift that the Greens’ electoral fortunes changed. This was in no small part because the party positioned itself clearly to the left of Labor on defining issues.
The research on current and potential Greens voters shows them to identify towards the left of the political spectrum. These voters are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of Labor supporters. This stands in conflict with the growing number of Greens activists who, like Pearse, want the party to adapt itself to the mainstream, seeking engagement with the major parties he so aptly characterises as politically bankrupt.
In an era where economic and ecological crises increasingly drive political instability, any ‘flight to the centre’ risks alienating the party’s existing and closest potential voters to chase an illusory and unstable bloc of swing voters. It would be a tragedy if the Greens’ rush to electoral success merely delivered a vital left-wing constituency back into the arms of the ALP, from which they fled.