JOHN MENADUE. Spare us the details!

May 24, 2019

In the last election campaign I agreed with almost all of the ALP program, but clearly not enough of the public did. There was just too much to explain and communicate. The ALP did not succeed in telling it’s story or a ‘narrative’ as it is often called. As a result the program was prone to exaggeration and exploitation by the Coalition , predatory vested interests  like the property spivs and many in the media who did not ask hard questions of the Government with its policy vacuum. With that policy vacuum Scott Morrison set about to scare the electorate about the ALP program. He succeeded.

Behavioural economists tell us that we are usually confused if we have too many choices. I must confess that I get confused by the range of products when I visit Coles or Woolworths. I also prefer a limited choice on my restaurant menu. I think the ALP offered too many choices, and disregarded the advice of behavioural economists to limit the range of choices and keep them simple.

It was even harder for Bill Shorten to tell the story when politicians generally are not trusted. This meant that Bill Shorten and the ALP were struggling because they were asking the community to trust them with large-scale change. The electorate was reluctant to buy their story. Even Paul Keating might not have been up to the task of explaining such a detailed and complicated program.

Jacinda Adern showed how trustworthiness and authenticity are critical. They are essential starting points. The ALP was found wanting on this.

The election data also point to some tentative and interesting correlations, if not causations. The following were more likely to vote for the Coalition:

  • Non-university educated voters. The ‘Howard battlers’. Trump had the same appeal.
  • Voters in electorates with a higher percentage of home renters.
  • Voters in outer metropolitan, provincial and rural areas but not in inner metropolitan areas
  • People with low weekly incomes
  • The unemployed as in parts of Queensland and Tasmania.
  • Christians

See link from The Guardian, 22.5.2019:

Most of those voters used to be locked on ALP voters. It is then no surprise that the ALP primary vote is now down to 34%, the lowest perhaps in a century.

The ALP primary vote in Queensland was down to 27%. Yet Queensland is the state where the ALP and the Labor movement was born,under the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine in 1891 and where there have been state Labor Governments for 25 of the last 30 years and with two female premiers.

In contrast the ALP vote increased in many safe and wealthier Liberal held seats.

The Adani caravan to central Queensland, although well intentioned, did not help. It must have humiliated working  people in Central Queensland. Apparently the people of the Hunter also did not appreciate what they probably saw as humiliation by urban elites who were rightly concerned about global warming regardless of local jobs.

The Adani caravan may not have called the locals ‘deplorables’ like Hilary Clinton, but many who were subject to the caravan campaign must have been very annoyed.  I saw little attempt by Bill Shorten and the ALP to explain  that there would be active programs based on renewables as an alternative to thermal coal with  investment and jobs to go with it.

I doubt if we will see any significant new coal  mines in the Galilee Basin. Thermal coal is in terminal decline.  The business returns will just not be there even if miners are allowed to freely pollute. In the best circumstances Australia does not get much long term employment or other benefits from foreign owned mining companies. And the heavy equipment is imported.

I think we also misunderstood how many voters were more attracted to a prime minister in a baseball cap than they were to a ‘silver tail’ like Malcolm Turnbull. In the ‘Super Saturday’ by-elections in July last year, voters of Longman and Braddon voted against the Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull. Perhaps the unpleasant Peter Dutton knew better than we did that Scott Morrison was more acceptable in parts of Queensland than Malcolm Turnbull. And perhaps also in Braddon which the ALP also lost in Tasmania last Saturday. So much for Super Saturday!

But what was most lacking in my view was an ALP narrative that was based on values and principles.

It is possible, as Bob Hawke showed in 1983, to convey a clear and persuasive message that cannot be dismissed with negatives, dishonest advertising and scare tactics. Bob Hawke had one over-riding theme. ‘Bringing Australians together’. The detail of what Hawke and Keating implemented came later. Major and necessary change is best pursued in government,not from opposition.

I contend that the ALP must espouse clear and easily understood values and principles. We need to start with these values and principles. They then lead on to policies and programs that cannot be so easily misrepresented and traduced.

If the public understands clearly the values and principles on which the ALP is based and is trustworthy in the pursuit of them, the public will be much more responsive. It will accept delay and mistakes, but not otherwise.

I will later discuss the importance of clear underpinning values and principles that resonate with the ALP as a social democratic party. In this way the ALP will not be weighed down by detail that can so easily be distorted. And it won’t be seduced into tracking to the right.

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