Back when I was in student politics one of the many dark clouds that
hung over us lefties, whether social democrats or Trotskyites, was the
knowledge that eventually quite a few of us would defect to the dark

Liberals baited us about how some of us would end up on their team, and
we’d joke (sometimes with an edge) guessing the potential traitors.
True, some people become more left-wing as they age, but everyone knows
the road from left to right has been beaten by many, many more feet
than the track in the other direction.

But the odd thing is that a few months ago I met a former Liberal
opponent, and he admitted that at the 2004 election he voted Green in
one house and Labor in the other. He was the fourth former Liberal with
whom I had direct contact who had abandoned the darkness, even if not
all have completely embraced the light.

Motivations are mixed – a former Christian fundamentalist and a
misogynist homophobe found their old politics didn’t quite fit with
their new identities as S&M lesbian and transvestite gay boy.
Another got very concerned about the environment, while the end of the
cold war shook another’s politics.

The even odder thing is that I can’t name four former lefties I knew
who have done the reverse. I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t some
huge break in the natural order of the universe.

Four ex-student pollies may not seem like much, but I’ll raise you a
former star Young Liberal, now organising for the Greens, and another
ex-student pollie who’s a little too old for my age bracket. Add three
former ALP right organisers once as close to the Liberals as the left,
who are now well and truly over with the lefties. Plus a lot of deeply
disillusioned individuals who vote Liberal only reluctantly.

And former comrades? Not a single confirmed case of one admitting to
voting Liberal, let alone campaigning for them. This isn’t to say their
politics haven’t changed. Anarchists have become socialists, socialists
become social democrats, and plenty have just got apathetic or
depressed. Many are now Greens.

Quite a few former left activists have ended up in jobs that force them
to act pretty right-wing nine-to-five, but they claim to be “working
for change from the inside” or just doing it until some more acceptable
source of income comes along. One individual seems to go above and
beyond the call of duty in how hard she’s willing to kick oppressed
minorities to satisfy her employers, but other than that the only case
I can muster from all the hundreds of lefties I knew of my age bracket
or younger is one former soft lefty. Someone with the same name keeps
popping up on blog sites making very right-wing comments, but I haven’t
confirmed it’s the same guy.

My sample is totally Victorian, skewed towards my campus. Maybe the
rest of the country is different. Or maybe the future Bolts, Ackermans
and McGuinnesses are just keeping their heads low until they hit 40.
But maybe there’s a real trend here.

This raises two questions: “Why”? And “Does it matter?” I’ve got
a few theories, but before I go sounding off I thought I would ask:
What is the Crikey army’s experience? How many people do they know
under 40 who have gone from being active campaigners for left or right
to at least half-hearted supporters of the other side? No names of
private citizens please, but I think those publicly active are fair

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey