The day we killed a political party

Stuart GregorStuart Gregor and Matt Jones had a vision for political change but the realities of running a political party led to their surrender. They explain what happened.

The idea for the23million came pretty suddenly into the heads of a few like-minded individuals in March this year – like so many things in life, it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.

Had we known once we registered as a political party and announced we would set sail for the Senate, that we would receive upwards of 100 phone calls and emails from every political party (save for the big two) offering to do deals for preferences we might have thought twice.

What started out as an ideal, an alternative to the status quo, quickly turned into exactly what we wanted fixed. Horse trading, compromising, back and forth-ing took place between a whole bunch of small parties trying their best but with no realistic chance of gaining representation in the People’s House. It was a punish.

So here is a potted history.

In March, the state of the political debate seemed to have descended to an all-time low and we felt Australia deserved better. We had, of course, just suffered through the ‘phantom challenge’ and we, like every right-thinking Australian, were fed up with what was passing as political ‘debate’.

It was a shamble, it was disingenuous, it was adversarial for the sake of it – it was a bloody embarrassment to our country. Stuart was overseas at the time and when you’re away, sometimes you see more clearly. It was just plain cringe-inducing.

With a couple of like-minded travellers, we had been talking for a year about how base things had become – we knew the last thing Australia needed was yet another political party, but we decided to give it a go regardless because we convinced ourselves there could be no other effective way.

So we tried to design something different… a pop-up party, a movement with one objective… to secure a review of the current system conducted entirely by regular citizens.

Within four weeks of having the idea, we had gained the support of dozens of like-minded people.

With their help, (we are hugely grateful for the time, ideas, and money they donated) we were able to meet the AEC requirements and get our pop-up party on the ballot for the Federal election. Thus the23million was born.

We had 1,000 party members and almost 1,000 Facebook followers – not bad for something just a month old. But now things were real, and this was when we started to struggle.

We quickly found that we didn’t have the resources, and quite possibly the political ‘smarts’ to develop the23million to the next level.

We needed to build our policy platform, but our voluntary, small group of organisers struggled to keep up with the demands of working through case studies, policy proposals, and meetings with academics and experts to create something of real substance and credibility.

We were defiantly ‘anti-slogan’ and anti-quick fix. We also passionately believe in a deliberative process – problem is, these things take time. Policy on the run? Well, you get plenty of that from the major parties and we think it is the problem, not the solution.

We needed to build our election campaign machine, but again that same small group struggled to deal with the endless demands for preference meetings with other parties, and that was before we had even started to think about candidate selection ballots, town hall meetings and a live campaign in multiple states. As an example: we received scores of contacts from small parties wanting to negotiate preference deals; we felt like Dr Seuss’s Push-me-Pull-you. What we were trying to do was propose a way out of all these cynical machinations and politicking and yet we were getting inexorably sucked into its vortex. We soon realised we could be becoming just one more problem rather than one simple, elegant solution.

We started this process naïve and unaffected by the traditional ways of doing politics. We tried to stay that way. But certain realities caught up with us… not least the need for a full-time party organisation. Rather than run a sloppy campaign that does our cause damage, we have decided to run no campaign at all at this election. We have thrown our hands in the air and surrendered. The big, beastly machine that is our current political landscape has defeated us. And we don’t hold out much hope for the little guys at this election, or the next one, unless there is serious reform. Politics by the people, for the people seems further away than ever – it’s for the party, not for the people.

So what now? We will continue to support thinking and proposals for a review of the political system and we counsel all our friends and followers to take a look at the New Democracy Foundation’s recently published proposal for a review.

We remain committed to launching and sustaining the23million discussion forum, where our community of supporters and friends can continue to explore ways to make our political system more inclusive, more accountable, more engaging, and more in keeping with the values of 21st century Australia.

We’re very proud of what the23million demonstrated – that so quickly so many people could be united around a bold commitment to improve our nation’s political system.

So thank you to everyone who has helped the23million. Onwards and upwards, and let us all hope that regardless of who wins power on September 7, that we begin to see just the slightest incremental improvement in the manner of politics in the next term and the one after that.

Here’s hoping. Don’t hold your breath.

Stuart Gregor is the party secretary for the23million as well as founder and creative director of Liquid Ideas. Matt Jones is the campaign director and the founder of Better Happy. This piece first appeared on stuartgregor.com


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