Advice for The Opposition

 On Friday last Possum Comitatus on his Crikey site Pollytics in a piece titled Unleash Your Inner Liberal Strategist asked readers to devise a Liberal Party strategy to become electorally competitive again.  So far 38 have commented.  Here was my contribution, minimally modified, [more]

First, what an awful self-defeating label ‘The Opposition’ is.  It points towards much of the problem.  So here’s my advice:

Don’t oppose everything.  Agree with and support the Government whenever possible, particularly over matters of critical national importance, and in crises.  Kevin Rudd scored lots of Brownie points doing this pre-election.

In particular, don’t add carping inconsequential riders to your support.  That irritates.  Don’t on any account use ‘too little too late’.  Nobody’s listening.

If you must oppose, exhibit some sense of collaboration by offering attractive, plausible alternatives.  Don’t just knock, be constructive.

Avoid scaremongering; people are sick and tired of those who seek to make bad situations sound worse.

Don’t come on too heavily with the clichés.  Words like ‘reckless’, ‘knee jerk’, ‘panic’, ‘too far, too fast’, ‘spending like drunken sailors’ or worse still ‘they’re giving drunken sailors a bad name’, go right over the heads of all but rusted on Coalition supporters.  Joe Hockey please note.

Don’t shout.  Joe, a loud voice is no substitute for calm reasonableness. Take a cue from Lindsay Tanner.

A sarcastic, albeit jocular manner, as per Q&A on Thursday night, does not cut the mustard Joe.  It might get a few laughs at the beginning, but soon you’ll be copping some yourself

Don’t contradict your colleagues in public.  Tony Abbott please note.  Try to get a consistent story, if that’s possible among the conservatives and the moderates, the pro-Turnbull and the pro-Costello groups, the Sydney clique and the Melbourne lot, the Liberals and the Nationals, Barnaby Joyce and Warren Truss.

Don’t stab your colleagues in the back via secret phone calls, by leaking, or writing stuff on your blog, and don’t react indignantly if you feel blood trickling down your back.  That’s making it a spectator sport for the media and the Government.

Try a little external unity, even if you claw at each other in the privacy of the party room.

Try really getting behind a leader if you can find one.  With help from the media you killed off Brendan pretty quickly, now Malcolm has Peter continually looking over his shoulder repeating like a mantra that he’s ‘not interested in leadership’.  The one saving grace for you Malcolm is that at present no one looks any better.

A leader looks stronger if his troops take some notice of him and do what he asks.  So Barnaby and Nick, try not to repeat last session’s shemozzle. But is Malcolm really a leader, who by definition is one who people will follow? 

If you can’t sound convincing, don’t speak.  No one believed you Malcolm when you said Julie had your full confidence and was doing a great job, all the time you were trying to enlist Peter of Higgins for her job.  And when you said you and Peter ‘had agreed on a form of words’ - what political naivety to make such an agreement public!

If you’re not a natural or smart politician, don’t play political tricks in your own party.  Malcolm, your Julie Bishop efforts and your attempts to replace Alan Stockdale, whether real or imagined by the media, did not look like smart politics.

Trying to mould a party in a leader’s own image is hazardous, even if it might be appropriate.  It takes sincere liaison, time, patience, and perseverance.  Is there enough of that for success?

Try not to sound arrogant when making pronouncements.  Be authoritative Malcolm, but not so self-important as to give the impression that your superior understanding renders all other opinions obsolete, useless or ignorant.  Avoid such phrases as ‘but you don’t understand’ or ‘but Kerry/Fran/Libby/Neil’ when talking to TV or radio interviewers.  It sounds condescending, it is, and it goes down poorly.

If it’s at all possible to avoid these political traps and misdemeanours, try getting rid of some of the deadwood in the party.  There’s no need to name them, everyone knows who they are.  Wait until the next election to avoid the danger of a by-election, but announce retirements now, as bid Brendan.

Then select some real talent, not party apparatchiks who believe ‘the party owes them’.  Labor saw the need to abandon that approach.

That done, do something positive.

Get Julie Bishop’s policy committee working and produce some genuine well thought-through policies on important issues, instead of seemingly throwing out off-the-cuff ad hoc utterances that seem to be opportunistic and lack genuineness.

Base policies on a consistent vision of what you have in mind for the country.  Stand for something which appeals to the Australian people. Stick to it consistently.  Don’t vacillate.

Communicate that vision consistently, persistently and often.

Get some sound pollsters to tell you what the people really think and what they really want, and listen to them.  Try to find out why ‘Howard’s battlers’ have gone cold on you particularly in marginal electorates.  Then try to focus on creating good policies rather than just winning back your rightful place at the seat of power.

Use a little ingenuity and intelligence in fashioning policy.  Get the best information you can.  When you’ve decided on policy you believe to be sound, stick to it, all of you, consistently.

Try some party discipline – it works wonders.  Ask Kevin Rudd

Agree with sound Government policies but add to or modify them with strong well-argued amendments.  Make sure your reasons are clear, free of jargon and smart-alec comments, and lucidly communicated.

Ask sensible probing questions at Question Time, avoid sarcasm and jibes, and listen attentively to the answers instead of loudly interjecting.  Try not to treat it as a primitive form of joust.  You may think ribaldry is enjoyable sport; the public don’t.  Avoid futile ‘points of order’ that waste time, gain nothing, and irritate viewers.

Finally, try to finally accept that you’re no longer in Government, and will stay that way until your performance improves.

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