One of the many reasons I like Mike and his blog is that he frequently shares a pearl of campaigning wisdom that, in real life, can take many years and many campaign dramas to learn. Mike was one of many fantastic presenters at the recent 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop which Stephen Mills and Jennifer Rayner organised at Sydney University in July (and which I am still yet to blog about properly – don’t worry, it’s still on my to-do list).
I remember former NSW General Secretary John Della Bosca explaining at a media event that, in real life, it actually takes about 10 years of on-the-job-training in many (both winning and losing) campaigns before a state or territory party branch can confidently say it has “trained up” a competent and professional “Campaign Organiser”. I believe he was correct, give or take a couple of years depending on the intelligence, aptitude and good humour of the trainee. The more experience you have, the less mistakes you will repeat, because some mistakes are inevitable in politics and public life.
Well here is a blog where ANYONE can read and learn some real-life campaigning truisms. And this one is a pearler: Always have a strategy or plan (before you act).
Briefly and wisely, Mike explains: “When candidates are frustrated, deadlines loom, issues are urgent or crises threaten, then it’s so easy to be stampeded into taking quick action – under-planned and under-evaluated action. There’s nearly always time to devise a strategy and plan its delivery. There’s nearly always time to check whether ideas are truly good or merely appear so, whether they can deliver optimal outcomes, or whether a more considered approach can do better.
You must resist the pressure to start doing things before you have a plan. When you haven’t got the time to plan, you either need a plan in the bottom drawer ready to pull out – because you’ve already prepared a crisis management plan – or you need to find a way to defer the frustration, deadline, urgency or threat – even if it is just for an hour or two.”
It reminded me of another pearl of wisdom that I have often used (most recently in a 125-page ACT Labor Report about the 2012 ACT Election Campaign) which I love to share during training sessions. It’s a friendly warning to future campaign directors and candidates of the harsh judgement that they may be subjected to within the Labor Party, even when they win an election campaign.
To the many “armchair experts” we offer this advice from Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. But for your own sake, at least base your decision on a rational strategy and plan!
And guess what? Occasionally a Campaign Director will make the wrong call! That’s the inevitable consequence of limited resources (time, money, people, information) and the inevitable chaos of a tough campaign. I’ve always quietly laughed at the CVs of professional “Campaign Consultants” (I understand there’s around 30,000 of them in the US) who proudly list all the “winning campaigns” they have worked on. Their CV’s and resumes rarely list “losing campaigns” or even “close calls where we were nipped in the final sprint to the finish”. Clearly they’re not choosing to fight many close or marginal contests. Science tells us if you regularly fight a close contest (i.e. polling around 50/50, give or take a margin of error) you will probably lose 50% of the time.
Anyway, never hang your head in shame if you lose or if you know you gave it your best shot and it still wasn’t enough to please the inevitable critics. Remember this: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
here’s the first Nationals TV ad for the 2014 NZ election
and here’s the first NZ Labour TV ad for the 2014 NZ election
More to come…
More “black ops” accusations hit NZ PM Key’s office (article via The Guardian)
The New Zealand Revolution – a look back at a critical series of event in recent NZ political history.
Ben Raue’s guide to NZ elections: http://www.tallyroom.com.au/21105
Twitter is a relatively recent communications tool and its affect on mass media and politics is still evolving in rapid and sometimes unpredictable ways.
There are already very lengthy and serious research papers being written on the subject and I don’t claim any particular research experience or expertise. However I have enjoyed watching the evolution of this new communications conduit and I’ve made a few mistakes myself along the way. Some funnier than others!
For the purposes of this short article my views and learnings (briefly) are:
1. Journos are learning how important Twitter is, but a few dinosaurs remain. The younger and hipper ones are clearly much better at it. The smart ones understand how to use lists and hashtags to monitor developments and also answer legitimate questions. They also aren’t afraid to block anonymous trolls.
2. Twitter now drives breaking news in mainstream media. The good journos get this. Many mainstream media stories are now peppered with pictures, videos and eyewitness accounts ripped straight from Twitter, often without any investigative or precautionary fact-checking.
3. Twitter is a good comms tool for insiders, sadly no soft or swinging voter’s minds will ever be changed on twitter,
4. The block key is great for anonymous trolls. Don’t feed the anonymous trolls.
The story below is an interesting yarn from the US via Campaigns and Elections magazine (a great resource for campaigners and journalists alike). I recommend subscribing to them for regular updates as well as following them on Facebook and Twitter.
Read the full article online here: http://www.campaignsandelections.com/magazine/us-edition/446907/is-twitter-ruining-young-press-operatives.thtml
It’s a great warning for young, enthusiastic (and sometimes inexperienced) digital campaigners (of which there are many in modern campaigning).
Key learnings from the article above include:
1. Here’s just one example: a snarky tweet from our opponent’s communications director ended up being retweeted a dozen times (I assume entirely by his friends and family), and this suddenly constituted a communications crisis for our campaign. It wasn’t. Not even close.
2. As all encompassing as Twitter seems in the Beltway Bubble, many voters, especially older voters who are your most reliable voting demographic, don’t use it. Some have no idea what Twitter is. And those who do are probably tweeting about the score of the latest baseball game, not the negative attack ad on TV.
3. Campaign communication plans need to be balanced with both traditional and new media, which means we need operatives who are balanced, and most importantly, know how to filter out the noise. Young operatives have come up in a world where everyone is on Twitter and everyone uses their Facebook accounts. In their world, much of public life is transacted online. The reality of life for most voters is far different. They’re reading news stories, in many cases online, but still a good portion in print. They’re also listening to talk radio and watching live broadcast television. A good hit in any of these mediums is far more likely to move voters than a tweet.
4. If Twitter is your only news source, which too often it is for many political reporters, some random malfeasance would appear to have seismic repercussions when survey research would show 80 percent of voters are unaware of the issue at all.
5. Now, this isn’t to say that social media sites like Twitter are useless to campaigns. They can be great ways to communicate with supporters, opinion makers, and drive action, but social media alone, or even primarily, does not move popular opinion or shape the discussion the way a print story in the major local daily does.
That said, Twitter does drive many mainstream stories, simply because of its speed and accessibility. Take for examples our (current) Federal Treasurer’s recent statements about poor people not owning cars or driving far. The explosion of memes and jokes on twitter (in which mainstream journalists shared and participated in the online furor) resulted in this joke even being carried the next day in conservative newspapers like the Herald Sun. It’s a good example of a story spreading initially through twitter and then the mainstream media. The MPs and candidates who were paying attention were able to participate in the conversation and in some cases help spread the wildfire which the conservatives are still trying to extinguish two days later.
There were some more hilarious tweets and memes the following day and then a further wave of very funny cartoons in the mainstream media after that (and online) .
here is a small sample found via google and twitter:
Anyway, don’t just take my word for it. Go to twitter and type “#auspol Hockey” into the search field …and enjoy the visual spectacle yourself.
If all this talk about Joe Hockey is a bit confusing (maybe you’re reading this via Pandora in a few years time) … this article by Lenore Taylor might help to make some sense out of it: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/14/dumb-ways-to-sell-a-budget-a-singalong-guide-for-joe-hockey?CMP=twt_gu
While I’m typing this up poor old Joe Hockey is getting an absolute shellacking on ABC PM radio in Australia. I’m listening to a Vox Pop where every person is describing him as arrogant and out of touch. Will try and find a transcript later and add it to this post.
Peter Brent (@Mumbletwits) casts a sceptical eye over opinion polls and the media’s obsession with them
I like Peter Brent (and so does Malcolm Mackerras) even though I disagree with his obsessive criticism of Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, both of whom I admire greatly. For those minor faults though Peter has a world of wisdom to share about politics and political science. Despite his reluctance to be labelled a psephologist he does have a very good grasp of election numbers, “the vibe” and “common sense” when it comes to interpreting polls and election results.
Me in Inside Story getting, um, meta on opinion polls. http://t.co/fwhiM9gqSM
— Peter Brent (@mumbletwits) August 7, 2014
As a party professional I have been privileged to have access and use of opinion polling and must admit that I have learnt to always treat it VERY carefully. Peter is correct in that it is often misinterpreted and misused, not just in the mainstream media. At a recent Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop at Sydney University one of the highlights was a presentation by Stephen Mills from UMR, in defence of opinion polls. I’ll share those insights in a future post!
Here are some highlights from Peter Brent’s latest work on opinion polls and pollsters (full text here at inside.org.au If-an-election-had-been-held-on-the-weekend) and if you haven’t subscribed to Inside.org.au yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?
“Within the political class, Newspoll is the most watched and most influential. Published every second Tuesday in the Australian, the poll results are interpreted for readers by the paper’s political writers. It’s that interpretation – captured in headlines and opening paragraphs – that’s repeated, largely unquestioned, on ABC radio news bulletins and in other media across the country. No one holds a gun to their heads to force them to follow the Australian line, but something about the news-creation process means that they do. It’s probably just the path of least resistance.”
“The routine preface to the media reporting of survey results – “If an election had been held on the weekend…” – is terribly misleading. No poll can tell us what result an election last weekend, preceded by a campaign, would have thrown up. A pollster contacts a person and asks him or her to imagine there is an election today – and how would you vote? It’s a preposterously hypothetical and artificial exercise: a silly question eliciting silly answers.”
“Even after an over-hyped Malaysia Airlines–induced “boost” in satisfaction ratings, the most recent Newspoll had Tony Abbott on just 36 per cent satisfaction and the government trailing in voting intentions after preferences 46 to 54. At the equivalent time in his prime ministership, Kevin Rudd enjoyed 65 per cent satisfaction and the government led 54 to 46. John Howard was on 52 per cent satisfaction and the Coalition was in front 53 to 47. But Rudd didn’t even make it to the next election. Howard did, and scraped back, and then comfortably won two more. The Abbott government might be performing “badly” in the opinion polls but today’s numbers mean almost nothing. At the same time they mean a lot, because political players can’t ignore the way they influence what the media sees as the “narrative.”
“Abbott would be aware that if the polls continue as they are, speculation will arise about his prime ministership. His actions will increasingly be interpreted through the polls. On the Labor side, new rules have provided institutional ballast to the leadership, but they can be easily reversed. One day the forty-fourth parliament will end, and we’ll be starting a new one, most likely with a re-elected Coalition government. The mid-2014 polls will be long forgotten, and probably, with hindsight, judged laughably unreliable.”
If you have time after reading that article above by Peter you might also want to read the one in the link below. As I said on twitter when I shared it – I don’t agree with all of it but I’m still quite keen to read part 2! 🙂
Me rating various MPs' political skills. Beginning with one Georgey Brandis: http://t.co/wnstxkKtlr
— Peter Brent (@mumbletwits) August 8, 2014
I was distracted during my lunchbreak today by the latest political scandal to hit the front pages. This one was the story of the now disendorsed Liberal candidate Jack Lyons from Bendigo.
The full story is here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bendigo-west-liberal-candidate-jack-lyons-quits-over-racist-sexist-offensive-jibes-including-bendigo-needing-an-enema/story-fni0fit3-1227013304657?nk=593763a54a2161a51d10420f90cc4ff0
It’s a real shocker.
Sometimes in politics leaders have to make tough, difficult decisions and this is one where you have to give the Victorian Liberals some credit… but also ask why it took so long? Why didn’t anyone ring an alarm bell earlier, or was it rung and ignored until the cost in advertising and marketing the deteriorating Liberal brand in Victoria become too high?
Maybe the answer lies in one of the latest books on political advertising and marketing (currently on my ridiculously long ‘to-read’ list) https://www.mup.com.au/items/144842 ?
It’s worth following the link just to see Dee Madigan’s amusing promotional trailer. http://youtu.be/nOfvD7MpAC0
In case you don’t subscribe to the Australian. Today there’s a short review and interview about Dee’s new book by Troy Bramston (which can be found and read via Google): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/labor-cant-blame-media-for-2013-election-loss/story-fn59niix-1227013342421
“LABOR’S election advertising strategist, Dee Madigan, says the party cannot blame the media for its defeat last year given its own communication failures and reveals she opposed a push from Kevin Rudd’s inner circle to target News Corp Australia over allegations of media bias.
“Certain forces within the PM’s office tried to push this as part of the (campaign) narrative,” Ms Madigan writes in The Hard Sell : The Tricks of Political Advertising.
“Media bias is just not something that resonated with the swinging voters.”
Ms Madigan’s book, to be launched today by former Queensland Labor premier Anna Bligh, exposes other divisions over campaign strategy, including the “A New Way” slogan and Kevin Rudd’s micromanagement of campaign operations.
While criticising The Daily Telegraph’s election coverage, Ms Madigan reveals the issue of media bias did not rate as an issue with voters in the party’s focus groups.
“I remember one focus group at which the facilitator tried over and over to see if there was any interest in media bias,” Ms Madigan writes. “One fellow finally piped up and said, ‘Well I do think the media in this country is biased … Collingwood always gets a bad rap’.”
Ms Madigan describes Labor’s “A New Way” slogan as “a terrible idea” and says it was imposed on the campaign by Mr Rudd, who “wanted it”.
“While ‘A New Way’ was a decent strategy for Rudd’s comeback, it should never have been the strapline of the positive ads,” Ms Madigan writes. “Because unless we were planning on staying totally positive … the entire press would rightly call us hypocrites.”
When asked if the slogan “A New Way” would appear with ads Ms Madigan was shooting, her response was blunt: “Only if we want every single f..king person to laugh at us.”
Mr Rudd’s strategist, Bruce Hawker, wrote in his campaign diary that the slogan was recommended by advertising leader Neil Lawrence, that it tested well, and it was agreed to at meetings attended by Ms Madigan.
The Hard Sell (MUP) examines advertising, particularly political advertising, in Australia. It couples extensive academic research with the author’s experience in corporate, community and political communications.
Ms Madigan says Labor stopped referring to “Gonski” as a label for its school reforms as “it had no emotional pull for parents” unlike the term “education funding”.
Although Ms Madigan strongly defends Labor’s economic management she says the party failed to communicate this effectively.
“We never did manage to sell the economy. As tempting as it would be to put all the blame at the feet of a largely unfriendly press, the reality was that much of the problem lay with Labor’s failure to sell its handling of the global financial crisis.”
— Troy Bramston (@TroyBramston) August 4, 2014
Updated 14/08/14 – Dee Madigan and Stephen Mills both appeared with Rob Sitch on ABC Melbourne to discuss the “tricks of political advertising and campaigning” (their words not mine!) listen here:
Highlights of the podcast include:
Jon Faine’s co-host is director, producer, screenwriter, actor and comedian, Rob Sitch whose latest ABC TV series Utopia, premiered last night at 8:30pm.
Their first guest is creative director, author and political commentator, Dee Madigan. Her book is called The Hard Sell: The tricks of political advertising.
“Negative ads work and the reason they work is because they hone in on the people who are disengaged,” she says.
“Disengaged voters are far more likely to vote against a party than for them.”
Then they are joined by Dr Stephen Mills, former speechwriter to Prime Minister Bob Hawke and political journalist, who now lectures at the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney.
When asked about the campaign directors that he interviewed for his latest book, The Professionals: Strategy, Money and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia, he says, “They’re intelligent, they’re focused, they are loyal party servants and they are doing their job which is to win the election.
“I think the real reason Rudd lost from a campaign point-of-view, is that he had no discipline in his campaign strategy.”
and no discussion about political advertising would be complete without the inclusion of this explanatory dissection of negative Liberal TV ads from 2007:
Oh dear, look what is being shared on facebook today: http://www.scribd.com/doc/235287519/2014-Michelle-Nunn-Campaign-Memo
Who I hear you ask is Michelle Nunn? Read this if you want to know more: http://www.michellenunn.com/
Or read this if you just want to know more about deciphering the leaked strategy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/07/28/how-to-read-the-leaked-michelle-nunn-campaign-plan/
A few days I ago I shared a paper on the 2012 ACT Assembly election written by local academic and historian Chris Monnox. Today I’m adding one from political writer and researcher Terry Geisecke as well as the analysis and summary of that election from the federal Parliamentary Library.
Terry’s paper is available online via Australian Policy Online website: http://apo.org.au/commentary/act-election-2012 and its contents helped during the writing of the official 2012 ACT Labor Campaign Report.
The Federal Parliamentary Library (in case you weren’t aware) is an absolute treasure trove of useful research material about politics, campaigning and Australia history and current issues. In December 2012 Research Brenton Holmes wrote a terrific paper explaining some of the highlights of the 2012 ACT Assembly election. The full paper, with extensive references) is available here: http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2012-2013/ACTElection2012 and I’ve also attached a pdf version below:
Norman Arbjorensen asks if Liberals have employed US Republican-style ‘strategic racism’ to win elections?
Norman writes: “The hardline stance by the Abbott government on asylum seekers – and let’s call it for what it is: a blatant appeal to racial prejudice thinly disguised as “border protection” – has served the Liberal Party well. But rather than racism driving the policy, as has been suggested, there might well be other agendas at play.
Consider the political advantages that the Liberals have won from the propagation and exploitation of fear. The 2013 election campaign is still fresh in memory with Tony Abbott’s repeated mantra of “stop the boats”, and the explicit linking of asylum seekers and their flimsy vessels with border protection and national security. We have now seen the deployment of the armed forces to turn them back.
To take his military analogy to the point of absurdity, in an interview in January Abbott likened the situation to a war – that is, a heavily armed, First-World nation mobilised against a sporadic and unorganised invasion of leaky boats. He declined to give details about the government’s strategies because that would be “giving out information that is of use to the enemy”.
That is highly charged rhetoric and a look at recent political history suggests a pattern that is more than just crass political opportunism.
The “stop the boats” mantra was trumpeted loudly in the 2013 campaign, but what did we hear about savage cuts to welfare, steep rises in student fees, the abolition of the discrimination commissioner’s job, the handing over of the Human Rights Commission to an avowed opponent of its existence, the free rein given to the Business Council of Australia via the Commission of Audit, or to the far-right Institute of Public Affairs in writing policy and setting the agenda? Such outcomes have little discernible benefit to anyone but the big corporates and the very rich, and contain distinct downsides for most who responded to the “stop the boats” siren song.
Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan pitched a shameless appeal to the “moral majority” with his folksy talk about the sanctity of the family and traditional values, not for their own sake but simply because supply-side economics, which we now know as neoliberalism, was as little understood as it was unpalatable to the average voter. Strategic racism is simply a reprise of that monumentally successful exercise.
After the 2004 election, the Liberal Party sought to play down the issue as a deliberate focus of its campaign, despite a poll showing 10 per cent of respondents nominated it as their reason to vote Liberal. I attended an industry briefing in the election’s aftermath in which a top Liberal Party campaign strategist was asked why the Labor Party kept losing elections (by then, four in a row). “It’s simple,” he said. “A message of fear beats a message of hope every time.”
The intake of breath in that auditorium was palpable.”
For many close watchers of conservative politics in Australia I have to admit there’s not much new to learn here. Many journalists have written similar words over recent years. Here’s a good example in the Guardian by David Marr: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/22/iillegals-refugees-immigration-australia
As mentioned previously, I’m not alone in thinking about how professional Australian politics has becomes over the past few decades. For several years since I started a thesis, which is now on a back-burner due to work, family, life, etc.
A couple of years ago I read the ad below and it got me thinking again …then I was distracted by the small matter of helping a government get re-elected and managing a party office…. Now I’m thinking again. If a 20-something Senator in the Greens can advertise such a well-defined professional campaign position why aren’t there more Australian books, blogs and forums on political campaigning and campaign techniques? Where does one go to get qualified for such a well-paid job?*
Then around October last year at a media conference in ANU I heard that Greg Jericho was heading up the new “Political Communications” degree training at UC – great stuff!
CAMPAIGNS & COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER – Position Description Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
Campaigns & Communications Manager SENATOR SARAH HANSON-YOUNG
26th July 2012 2:46 pm
The Campaigns & Communications Manager (CCM) would suit a highly motivated person with a strong history in managing large-scale campaigns in a political environment, and who possesses highly developed strategic and communications skills. As part of a small team the CCM will be responsible for the overall management of the Senator’s re-election campaign along with management of strategic communications and campaign priorities of the Senator’s various portfolios. The CCM will work closely with the Senator’s Chief of Staff and Media Advisor to ensure day-to-day communications are strategic and effective. The CCM will also work with the Senator’s Electorate Liaison officer on campaign priorities and election preparations.
Roles and Responsibilities
1. Primary responsibility for coordinating the Senator’s re-election campaign.
2. Develop and manage the Senator’s communication strategy.
3. Work with Media Advisor to ensure all communications are clear, effective and strategic.
4. Develop and maintain effective working relationships with relevant internal and external stakeholders;
5. Develop and support key campaigns on key portfolio priorities.
6. Work closely with internal and external stakeholders to ensure consistency and co-ordination of the Senator’s strategic direction, communications and campaign priorities.
7. Identify campaigning opportunities that support parliamentary work and parliamentary opportunities that will support ongoing campaigns.
8. Help manage and coordinate Senator’s media appearances and requests as required.
9. Manage the production of communication materials produced and authorised by the Senator’s office.
10. Represent the Senator on internal election campaign committees and working groups.
11. Represent the Senator at official events, party functions, community meetings and public engagements if required.
A salary within the range $60,827 -69,216pa will be determined commensurate with relevant skills and experience. In addition, an allowance in the range $14,319-$17,898 is payable in lieu of overtime.
Applications addressing the selection criteria and the names of two referees should be forwarded to: email@example.com by 8 August 2012. Position Description Senator Sarah Hanson-Young Campaigns & Communications Manager
Below is an article I co-wrote with a Canberra-based history academic Chris Monnox regarding last year’s federal Labor leadership ballot. it was published in the Canberra Times just before the result of the ballot was officially declared.
Labor leadership ballot a win/win By Elias Hallaj and Chris Monnox
Labor’s Federal Leadership ballot has been a valuable recruiting and organising opportunity for the ACT Branch of the Party, as it has for each state and territory branch. Eligibility to vote in this historic ballot was bestowed on everyone who was a member of the ACT Branch of the Australian Labor Party on 7 September. Around 1,000 people in the ACT joined 50,000 across Australia and had an opportunity to have a direct say in who would be the next Labor Leader.
Labor is the only party in Australia that gives its ordinary members this opportunity and it signals a new era of reform and participation within our party. As national secretary George Wright told Sky, there is a “big appetite” for participatory democracy.
The immediate benefits to the party have been obvious to all those who work in or near its offices and representatives both in Canberra and across Australia:
1. Membership has increased. More new members have joined and more existing members have renewed their membership. The enfranchisement of all members, regardless of length of membership and amount of meetings they have attended was a stroke of genius. It gave an immediate reward to all the new recruits who signed up on the battlefield of the 2013 campaign.
2. The ballot has been an opportunity to test real-life grassroots engagement and communication skills for many experienced and new hands. The ultimate test in genuine democracies is popular support. This ballot has been a test of messages, networks, campaign techniques, and in some cases relationships and loyalties. All this adds to the campaign capacity and skills base of the party and enables better outcomes in future public contests.
3. The candidates have led by example in ensuring mature and convivial competition and debate, without resorting to personal attacks, despite regular baiting from the mainstream media and the party’s numerous external (and sometimes internal) critics. This has been particularly cathartic following the end of the most recent Gillard-Rudd leadership contest.
4. The numerous leadership forums and seminars and debates have ensured a new pattern of regular interaction between the leadership of the parliamentary wing of the party and the membership of the party. The ACT Branch experience is that these interactions are normal, with relatively easy access to our elected representatives. The public display of this access and its reinforcement at all levels will make the party stronger in the future.
5. The federal leadership ballot has utilized a new acceptance (some say obsession) within modern politics of the latest communications tools. Not only did the candidates and their organised teams supporters use the latest communications techniques more effectively than ever before, the party membership and supporters also used new techniques to engage directly with each other and these new techniques complemented well more traditional town-hall style meetings and telephone conferences all over the country.
6. Not all the administrative and organising for this ballot has been conducted by the formal party administration. The loose networks which are a normal part of any human social activity, normally referred to as “factions” in politics, have also played an active role. And (surprisingly for some) the factions behaved very well. The previous PM might be alarmed to learn that one outcome of his innovative decree has been the evolution of the national factions to a point where they have, in a matter of weeks, demonstrated consistent sophisticated and diplomatic communication and organisational techniques and skills. Factions are an inevitable and normal part of democratic politics, but for too long in Australian politics the downside of factions dominated the public discourse. If they behave in a mature and intelligent manner, organised groups of adults (teams in sporting parlance) can achieve great things. When the major groups or factions in an organization can compete AND cooperate fairly, the whole organisation can benefit. After this ballot, we also now have a clearer line of leadership and authority within the two main factions that will make future cooperation, consultation and negotiation simpler and more efficient.
These have been the benefits. There have been costs as well, most obviously opportunity for the party’s regular critics to accuse it of “navel-gazing” and “in-fighting”, despite the obvious examples of policy debate and organisational success the ballot has brought. The ballot has also been hard work. When asked what her favorite part of the leadership ballot was, a young party members instinctively responded “it’s about end, thank god”. Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine that the future timing of these ballots will not inevitably coincide with the end of a hard-fought campaign, so the participants will inevitably be exhausted until both end.
This process of evolution for this ballot is continuing. From an ACT perspective the democracy has been superb and the opportunity for our local political activists to participate fully in such a historical initiative has been wholeheartedly welcomed. This sentiment has been shared in every city and town which has had an opportunity to host a candidate’s forum, or two (as was the fortunate case in Canberra).
Some of the less predictable aspects of the ballot (such as members sharing pictures of their votes on social media) were unpredictable but may become more normal practice in future public campaigns and elections. We have no doubt that the process has been an overwhelmingly positive one that has strengthened relationships and campaigning skills within the Party. Even Christopher Pyne agrees. In 2008 he penned his opinion on this issue, arguing the Liberal Party should adopt the same process. http://www.ipa.org.au/library/publication/1210898292_document_pyne.pdf
This article represents the personal views of the authors. Elias Hallaj has been the ACT Labor Secretary since 2009 and was previously an Assistant National Secretary of the ALP. Chris Monnox is a PhD Candidate in political history and recently wrote an extensive history of the ACT Branch of the Australian Labor Party as part of his research at ANU.
Photo by Andrew Meares sourced from the same article in the Canberra Times http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/everyones-a-winner-in-a-clean-fight-20131012-2vfaz.html