The ALP has come to its own fork in the road

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Tuesday, 29 March 2011 19:57 by HillbillySkeleton

And so it has come to pass...that the NSW State Labor Party was beaten about the head metaphorically with baseball bats by the electorate, and they lost the Unwinnable Election.

So, now that I am through my period of mourning, and with the 24/7 world, you can only take 24 big ones, and that's hours not days, to get over your grief about these things and then get on with it. I thus hereby declare that today, the Post-Election funk ends, and the period of Rebuilding, Renewal, Rebirth and Rebadging for the ALP begins.

Ergo, I, Professor Feral Skeleton, have come up with a Baker's Dozen of helpful tips and advice to get this party started again. A Baker's Dozen because I am a generous soul, and to have a generous soul should be a Core Principle of any Labor Party in Australia. We are the good guys who have EVERYONE'S backs and no one should be allowed to forget that fact. Most especially Labor MPs.

So to begin:

1. Tricky Dicky Nixon Political Tactics Should Be Binned
Copying and pasting political tactics from your Political Science 101 textbook and then believing they will work for you, will, well, no longer work for you. The electorate is too well-informed and sophisticated now for them ever to be successful any more. Main Street Media Management, PR and Ad Companies left behind such techniques for selling political parties, their brand, as in, 'What do they stand for?', and their policies, a long time ago. Time to realise that in the Post-Modern age of politics, now that the old Left/Right divide is dissolving, it is necessary to sell the concept of your political convictions to the electorate. Determine them yourself, and ditch the Focus Groups, except as they may add a bit of sugar on top of the political product you are trying to sell.

How about this for an idea? Try being straight up with the electorate about what you want to do for them and why, after listening to their valid concerns, not behind the closed doors and two-way mirrors of the Focus Groups, after which you trickily tailor your talking points and your policy according to the shifting sands of opinion they represent, but by regularly going out into the electorate and genuinely listening to anyone and everyone on the ground, and in the shopping centres, and their opinions and concerns. Then, take it back to the Party Room, and brainstorm solutions after assimilating it into clearly defined problems that require solutions by the electorate. You'll generally find most causes and concerns are pretty universal across the electorate, and if you come up with a solution people will appreciate that. Simple.

For example, the line that the NSW State ALP used in their campaign, 'Don't give Barry a Blank Cheque', was lame. As if the electors couldn't figure that out for themselves. Anyway, such a shallow point was hardly going to affect elector's votes when it finally, after 4 years, came time to put pencil to paper.

Which leads me to Point 1a.

1a. Sack Sam Dastyari, NSW ALP General Secretary
He couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, let alone an effective election campaign. He is also a potent symbol of the 'NSW Disease', and he, and it, should be excised from the ALP body politic like the cancer it is. What the NSW Right and 'Sussex Street' stands for is a microcosm of all that is wrong with the party and which needs to be fixed if the ALP is to have any decent future at all. And Pronto!

2. Candidate Selection
The ALP's base for candidate selection is narrower than the Liberal Party's. How can that throw up a wealth of talent from which to choose election winners? I have been banging on about this to anyone who would listen in the ALP since I joined over 10 years ago. Which I must say, is starting to feel like banging my head against a brick wall as I shout in an empty room, as they in the Upper Echelons of the party, who have expended all their energies in getting there and putting their own interests first, as opposed to the party's interests, think they know best - which they obviously don't, if the NSW Election result is anything to go by. However, again, I reiterate, stop choosing your factional colleague, Electorate Officer, or Chief of Staff, to succeed you in your seat, based upon the numbers which you and your cronies, both in the Unions and out, strictly control in your Electorate Council.

Expand your horizons and look into the electorate itself and the community it serves, and start identifying influential and inspiring community leaders and advocates in local special interest groups who espouse sentiments similar to those which the ALP broadly supports philosophically.

For example, Labor is the party that champions the causes of Carers, the Disabled and Pensioners. Can you name one ALP MP who has come out of this sector into parliament? I can't. In fact, just today Bob Brown of The Greens was giving the keynote speech at the ACOSS Conference. Yet it seems like such a natural fit for the ALP, a party of government as the Prime Minister said, who can actually make a difference to this constituency's lives. So why doesn't the ALP at least broaden its base to this sector? I don't know. One thing I do know is that John Howard saw fruit here ripe for the plucking. When he was in government he had the head of Carers Australia in his fold. He knew he had to broaden his base, not collapse it.

The Liberals have certainly broadened their base in a number of areas. And, in general, the Coalition make a point of currying favour with all groups in their communities, macro and micro, such as those Special Interest Groups such as I mentioned above, all the way to the local Rotary, Lions, the local Sporting Associations, Chamber of Commerce, and everything in between, all the way down to the local Bowling Club.

In other words, they have gone out into the community and co-opted all the good burghers to THEIR cause. It provides a wellspring of talent with a wealth of local name recognition in their electorates.

This is opposed to the ALP that just seems to keep going back to the Unis and trawling through the ranks of Political Science students and Labor Club members who have cut their teeth in student politics. Yes, they can provide valuable fodder for the parliamentary ranks, but the ALP needs real people who have led real lives, that the community can identify with, to represent. And for those who think that John Robertson, ETU and Unions NSW apparatchik since the age of 16 when he left school to start his Electrician's Apprenticeship, is as far afield into the real world as the ALP has to go to explore for new talent, then think again. At between 10 and 20% of the working population, Union members are no longer truly representative of our communities. They should thus no longer overwhelmingly represent the ALP in parliament, or as candidates for the party. Anyway, even Unions and unionists are defecting from the ALP and affiliating with other political parties. And not just The Greens. A Teacher was just elected into the NSW State Parliament for the Liberal Party!

The Liberal Party have become adept at targeting these 'Real People'. The new NSW State government has Dentists, Veterinarians, Teachers, as I said, and they almost got an ex-ABC journalist in. The ALP sort of gets it, as I spied one Public Hospital Doctor among the ranks of new MPs who had survived the bloodbath, but that seemed to be it. And he probably had to fight the factional warlords in the ALP tooth and nail in order to get over the top of one of their own people. My own local electorates had a couple of lawyers standing for the ALP, hardly inspiring choices but the only group within the community that still seem willing to stick their hand up for pre-selection.

Which brings me to:

3. Stop the internecine factional warfare
If there's one thing the electorate finds distasteful, it is the sight of the Right of the ALP fighting with the Left for the spoils of office, and for positions on tickets, etc.

I can guarantee you that the ALP lost, and loses, countless Upper House votes in elections because the ruthless political operators within the party, such as Eric Roozendaal and Eddie Obeid, and others like them in the Senate and Upper Houses of other State parliaments, arm-twist and intimidate until they are given the winnable spots on the ALP ticket at elections, even though it is obvious even to Blind Freddy, let alone the electorate, that they are the problem and the cause of the 'NSW Disease', not its cure.

People like that have to be sidelined in the party, as the NSW Liberals have successfully done with their equivalent numbers, by equally hard-headed individuals within the party who have the party's best interests at heart, whether Kristina Kenneally, or her like, threatens to walk, or not. The party in NSW was always going to lose this election anyway, ferchrissakes, and that whole scenario playing itself out in public, as some sort of watershed moment, may have even GAINED a few votes and some much-needed credibility for the ALP because it would have shown the electorate that the party still had some integrity left. And integrity certainly appears to be the coin of the realm in politics at this time.

Oh, and as I alluded to before, could the ALP get over its aversion to choosing journalists as candidates? The Liberals have pretty successfully spooked them on that front, Maxine McKew notwithstanding. Especially when the Coalition does it all the time these days. Just look at Dai Le, former ABC (yeah Their ABC) journalist and former Vietnamese Boat Person and candidate last weekend for the Liberal Party. They are nothing if not successful hypocrites, the Libs. Criticising Boat People up hill and down dale as 'Queue Jumpers' one day, saying they really only care about their safety on the 'Leaky Boats' the next, then selecting them as candidates for ethnically diverse electorates in the next breath.

Hence, the ALP has to stop being afraid of being identified too closely with specific demographics like this, and I acknowledge they have chosen well among the Middle Eastern and Muslim community, but where are our Asian candidates, or our Indian candidates, or South American Hispanic candidates? I know there are large communities of all these peoples in Australia. I know there are members of those communities in the ALP. The Liberals have thrown caution to the wind and adopted certain ethnic communities and are unashamedly tailoring their political product to their electoral market as they congregate in certain areas.

Which leads to the obverse:

4. The ALP can no longer count on any particular group in the community to automatically vote for them any more
Last weekend's NSW State election put paid to that idea and I saw it with my very own eyes. I saw a couple of washed-up former TV Soap actors sucking up to the Liberal Party booth workers at the polling place where I was working. That is, there's no more, 'the Arts Community always supports Labor' any more. Or Teachers. As I said, they've gone to The Greens and the Liberals too. Ditto Union members.

5. No more sinecures should be guaranteed
This is along the lines of the previous suggestion with respect to Factional Warlords, but it really is a waste of a good seat in parliament if the ALP guarantee a place for every former ACTU President and/or Secretary. A greater waste of space I have never seen than former ACTU President, Jenny George. She may have been a nice person with the ALP in her heart and soul, but as an effective politician she is useless. Unlike Greg Combet, who we have seen is the complete antithesis of Ms George. He's an extremely capable and effective Member of Parliament for the ALP.

I could almost guarantee there's someone in the rank and file of the ALP in Ms George's electorate, or in her community who self-identifies with ALP values, who would be a better candidate for the party and MP than she has been. Yes, the ALP must be respectful of their Union roots, but unionists should not be put into politics if they are not good politicians, or merely representing their patch of the Union turf in parliament. And, even though I am repeating myself again and may seem to be labouring the point, with only 20% of the workforce Unionised, the ALP by concentrating candidate selection in this area, are ceding the very large demographic of Contractors, the Self-Employed and the Non-Unionised workforce to the Liberal Party as candidate pools for them to fish in.

6. Ditch the Top End of Town
They'll come crawling to the ALP if they're in power and also drop it like a hot potato for the Liberal Party if they're not. They'll donate to the ALP anyway if they look like they're going to win an election. Trying to curry favour with them, therefore, is a zero sum game, especially when the electorate is repulsed by the sight of obsequious toadies from the so-called Party of the Workers, the ALP, licking the boots of, and hob-nobbing with the Bosses. Or using the parliament to enrich themselves and their friends and family.

Of course, hypocritically, it's OK for the Liberals to act similarly because they are perceived as coming from that millieu and thus are merely putting their 'talents' to work when they privatise and outsource government services and projects to their mates in private industry. As:

7. We're All 'Aspirational' Now
It's like the 'American Dream' that the Republicans in America have co-opted and like to wave as bait in front of the electorate in order to allow them to enact policies inimical to employees and favourable to the bosses, millionaires and billionaires who really get the most out of Republican policies. So it goes here also, and it was conclusively demonstrated in the NSW Election last weekend. People now vote Liberal because they identify with the ‘Aspirational' iconography which has been cultivated as being what the hopes and aspirations of us all should be, and thus, when we reach those goals we tick off 'Voting Liberal' to acknowledge we have 'Made It' - from the smallest Bakery Franchise Owner to the most successful Barrister.

In NSW we must even have had the Welfare-dependant and unemployed voting Liberal the other day. How Labor breaks the back of this conundrum and gets these people back into its voting fold I haven't quite figured out yet. The 'Aspirational Voter' has now become a generic brand for the Liberal Party and Labor needs their own new brand identification awareness campaign that everyone can identify with and support.

8. Campaign Non Stop
Get a truck. Dream up an outrageous claim with plausible deniability that resonates with a core theme you constantly advance, and then plaster it on billboards on both sides of the truck. Find a generous benefactor to fund the truck to drive around all day, every day, from Peak Hour traffic jam to Peak Hour traffic jam, and all points in between, and get out in the faces of people stuck in those interminable traffic jams. I mean, no way are families going to be $500/year worse off as a result of a Carbon Tax. Didn't stop Barry O'Farrell and the Libs mocking up a truck with a billboard on either side disingenuously claiming just that and driving it around during the NSW State election campaign. Politics is all about perception remember?

9. When attacked: 'Repudiate! Repudiate! Repudiate!...Obfuscate!'
One thing I have noticed when the Liberal Party are correctly attacked for something, they quick sticks brainstorm a repudiation of the attack and send the troops immediately back into the fray and the media to run the new line and muddy the waters around the issue. Then they keep it up, and follow it up with their own attack along a similar thematic line, against the ALP! Thus have they have turned the issue away from being about them and back onto the ALP.

For example, in the past week, Tony Abbott made a massive miscalculation addressing the, allegedly, 'No Carbon Tax Rally', organised by Political Wingnuts, Chauvinists and Bigots Inc., and standing four square in front of offensive, slimy and abusive signs. Yet you wouldn't know it from the way the Opposition reacted to their mistake. They quickly devised a plan to turn this negative into a positive for them and into a negative for the Prime Minister and the government. Hence the line: 'Julia Gillard is just being precious'. I don't know how well it went down with the electorate; the next poll may reflect that. However, as a general tactic Labor could do worse than adopt it for its own ends. It works.

10. Learn how to slip the political shiv into an opponent with a smile and a reasonable-sounding line of patter wrapped around it to disguise it effectively from the casual and untrained listener who might take offence at anything more strident, whilst at one and the same time effectively conveying your meta message. If you say it matter-of-factly, it must be a matter of fact, surely?
I was amazed at how Barry O'Farrell's, 'Campaign Communications Chief', Gladys Berejiklian, performed this task for BOFfa with consummate adroitness, both during the campaign and during the ABC's election telecast. No opportunity was too small or insignificant for her to take advantage of. She exploited every opportunity to either slip in a laudatory plug for her team, or a snide put-down of Labor. Labor could learn a lot from studying her style of attack.

Which leads me to:

11. Relentlessly negatively characterise your political opponent
If the Opposition can twist a scenario, push it through the Looking Glass and make it come out the other side as something that it is not but which casts their political opponents in the Labor Party (or The Greens), in a negative light, they will do it.

I admit, they have the weight of the Murdoch Press, Fairfax Radio and the John Singleton-owned Radio Stations such as 2GB, plus various old political pros from the Howard years, and Republican Party Message Masters such as Frank Luntz, helping them out and backing them up, but it behoves Labor to just keep trying to match them at it.

The prime question must always be:
What emotionally-charged language can be used to sensationally comment on this situation, so that it sticks in people's minds?

12. Smile until your face aches
It's been my observation that voters seem to respond positively to a negative message about your political opponents if you smile while you are delivering it. In fact, people respond positively to any message delivered with a smile.

12. There is no #13, because that would be bad luck and I just want to wish the ALP all the luck in the world. They'll need it if they are to survive and continue to prosper. Of course I hope so.

What do you think? Do you have any helpful suggestions?