Whilst it has been reported that the ALP has had the metaphorical Duct Tape placed over its mouth when it comes to comment and analysis of the election campaign and the fallout from it that may lead to a Minority ALP Government this term or maybe even a One-Term Labor Government, no such strictures apply to those of us in the Fifth Estate, who may also be members of the ALP. Such as moi!
Thus I intend to get the forensic ball rolling because the last thing I want to see is the fallout and ramifications from approximately the last eight months of the Rudd/Gillard government being smoothed over by those people in the party who want to just sweep it all under the carpet and get back to business as usual ASAP, which basically involves them advancing their political 'career'.
So let me just start this analysis with an anecdote. And before I go any further let me just say that what follows is an ethnographic depiction, not a racially based slur.
Recently I had cause to journey to my local mega mall in order to purchase a couple of new mobile phones. I duly checked out the wares of every appropriate outlet in the place. Some were paeans to corporate swagger, with lots of chrome and glass and expensive staff uniforms. Others were of the 'cheap and cheerful' variety, with more plastic about the place than chrome, and polyester polo shirts for the staff. In each of these places you could easily figure out where they were coming from and what they were about, and set up your BS filter accordingly. It was all out there for the world to see and comprehend.
And then there was one other store. Where one end of the mobile phone store spectrum had expensive down lighting, and the other, cheap fluoros, this one had dark mood lighting. Where one end of the spectrum had on message 'consultants' selling plans and the other had diffident young people behind a desk casting desultory glances in your general direction, this other one had what looked like a nightclub entrepreneur behind a tiny desk in his mobile phone grotto blasting out chillax music from his giant Mac Air. Talk about feeling like a 'Stranger in a Strange Land', I felt like I should have dressed up for the occasion of going in there! But go in there I did because I was determined to do the full 'compare and contrast' before I bought my phones.
Well, before I knew it, Mr. Smooth from behind the counter had me signing up for a Mobile plan, when all I originally intended was to purchase a cheap Pre-Paid! Just as well I didn't have a Driver’s License or any other Photo ID (I don't drive, yet, and hate having my photo taken), or else I may have been experiencing ‘buyers remorse’ today. However what I did take away from there was the undeniable fact that I was sweet-talked into a move I shouldn't have been making by one of the best salesmen I have ever come across, and that's coming from someone who has been told that they could sell ice to Eskimos!
What has this got to do with the federal ALP, the election campaign and the machinations within the ALP over the last little while I hear you asking? Well, Mr. Smooth the Super Salesman was Middle Eastern. As are Karl Bitar, Mark Arbib and Sam Dastyari, who is the new NSW ALP State Secretary. Now I don't want anyone for even a nanosecond to think that I am trying to cast racial aspersions towards these men; as I said previously. I'm not. As they say in the classics, some of my best friends are Australians of Middle Eastern origin, and my son's best friend is one of them. They are kind, warm, generous and funny people who would give you the shirt off their back. However, they are also amongst the best salesmen I have ever come across in my life. It is that almost smoke-like way that they can get past your best defences that continues to amaze me, but which I believe has not served the ALP's interests well in the court of current Australian opinion. Too subtle, as it appears the electorate prefers to be hit over the head with slogans, if the latest election campaign is anything to go by.
It's true that they are shrewd operators, the best of them, and they can move very quickly on their feet when they need to as capable strategic thinkers. But always with one eye on their own best interests!
And this is where the problems have started for the ALP. It has been captured by not so much 'The Hollowmen', but by the sylph-like 'Smoke and Mirrors Men’, and it feels like the party's soul has disappeared into the maze-like labyrinth that exemplifies the way they operate the party. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the Liberal Party has its own Byzantine modus operandi of an equally clandestine nature, in fact I know it to be true as we keep hearing about the Opus Dei-backed Religious Right faction which is presently battling the less arcane forces of the Liberal Religious Right led by Alex Hawke; not to mention the increasingly small rump of small 'l' Liberal moderates, who, interestingly, I have heard are defecting to the Labor Party!
No, what distresses me, and what I think is also upsetting the electorate about the party, is that those people who are determining the direction of the ALP at this point in time, make them feel uncomfortable as they give them the feeling, as I felt in the Mobile Phone shop, that they are being sold a pup. Which is not necessarily true, it's just a feeling you get, and impressions are so important in politics. So while these men may well have the ALP's best interests at heart, and be Labor men to their bootstraps, one gets the impression that they may not have the electorate's interests front and centre in their calculations over and above how their political 'career' is progressing as a result of an ALP success which they have crafted. This is analogous to the feeling I got that, while the smooth-talking salesman in the Mobile Phone grotto was keen to sell me a phone that he knew I would like, his main motivation was increasing his profit to the extent that he could continue to expand his Mobile Phone Store empire.
Which is the first bit of advice I'd like to offer the Labor Party so that they might 'Move Forward with Confidence Into the Future'.
That is, as the Australian electorate, especially in the exurban marginal seats which are crucial to any victory, is still predominantly made up of straight-talking types who like to call a spade a bloody shovel, it might be time to pivot away from the 'Mr. Smooth' types who are determining the direction that the party is taking at the moment, and who seem to think that a Masters in Political Science is the only way to victory. Thus they need to be replaced by people with the ability to craft a plain-speaking message that exemplifies ALP values succinctly to the electorate, in the same way that the Coalition's messages in the recent election campaign left no one in doubt about where they were coming from, or where they wanted to go to. Finding someone with the ability to cut through like Paul Keating used to would be nice.
As far as the election campaigns that these men have run go, being those in NSW over the last decade and the last two federal polls, it seems to me that whilst they have been successful in getting the ALP into government (well almost, as far as the second federal poll goes), the victories have been hollow and have instigated the slow-motion train wreck that we see before us today in NSW, and which, as the Coalition delights in saying, may finally fatally infect the federal ALP with 'the NSW disease'.
Therefore the ALP needs to look around for new people to run it administratively and to be in charge of the election campaigns. Might I suggest an Ocker? Definitely not a Bob Carr-like urban sophisticate but an intelligent, articulate, earthy individual in the mould of our most successful ALP Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. It worked a treat for Tony Abbott – Rhodes Scholar, Boxing Blue, Lifesaver, Rural Fire fighter and M.A.M.I.L.(Middle Aged Man In Lycra); just as it did for Bob Hawke. It speaks to the Little and Large nature of our national psyche and how we like to project ourselves to the world. That is, for our leaders to be just like us, but just those few rungs above the average Aussie Battler.
The Smoke and Mirror Men can never understand that, nor exemplify it well, not until the collective nature of the country becomes truly cosmopolitan, and even then I think people will still be yearning for Chesty Bond and looking to hark back to our old 'Wild Colonial Boy' roots (or should that be 'The Loaded Dog' if we are to talk about Mr. Abbott?).
Which leads me to my next suggestion.
Ditch the Inner City Trendy Advertising Agency. They just don't seem to get what appeals to the majority of exurban and swinging voters. Piss-taking appeals to them, knocking the stuffing out of the opposing party and taking the wind out of their sails appeals to them, plus a few easily understood slogans. It worked for Tony Abbott and the Coalition and it would've worked for the ALP too if they had have tried it.
I can come up with half a dozen putative ads that would have been just as good as the 'Lemon' ads and the 'Train Wreck' ads of the Coalition, but it seems as though the 'Mr. Smooth’s' wanted to go with the Inner City sophisticates' 'Kinder, Gentler', more subtle campaign, which went in one ear and out the other of most people and had no discernible effect. Or with anti-Abbott ads that told us all the things everyone already knew about the man, without adding any new discernments that could have sharpened the 'Known known’s' about him or the Coalition. The only ads which were cut-through enough were the 'Razor through the Programs' ad, which wasn't shown nearly enough, and the 'Get Up' ads, which weren't even ALP ads, which is probably why they were so good.
No, what the ALP needs for the next campaign is to employ Todd Sampson or Russell Howcroft from Gruen Transfer fame, or an Ad Agency with smarts like theirs, or John Singleton who the ALP used to use but who now seems to exclusively work for the Coalition, and let them develop the most crass, cheesy ads possible, because anything else just seems to disappear like smoke into the ether.
The ALP also needs to massively improve its candidate selection.
As you know, I have just finished working on a campaign for the ALP in Robertson, which was one of the most successful in the last election for the party. Also, strangely, it was in a seat in which we were expected to do badly and to be one of the first dominoes to fall over for the Coalition, and if it had have gone to plan Tony Abbott would now have that one extra seat which probably would have seen him packing his bags for Kirribilli House (because we all know he wouldn't really consider living in the Lodge and would most likely use the Howard excuse of still having a daughter at school in Sydney to justify his presence there).
So, how did we do it against the odds?
Because our candidate was superior. Also because she was a good-looking Aussie 'shiela' and an exact ALP reflection of Tony Abbott himself. That is, highly intelligent, telegenic, physically active with her family in the community, and with an equally telegenic family (don't scoff, in this age of the uber visualisation of society it makes a quantifiable difference, just look at the trend with respect to high profile Liberal candidates in marginal seats). Now, I might also add here that the ALP chose to put up Australia's first Muslim candidate, and he too fits the above criteria, so I'm saying that a candidate's religion should not be relevant. So a truly 'authentic' and honest bedrock upon which the community could place their hopes and aspirations and in whom they could place their trust was chosen for Robertson. Also she had no previous connection to the Union movement, but she openly supported the right of the Union movement to exist in our society. Plus we had a well-organised campaign that tapped successfully into a number of important local concerns (and, no, not just CCTV cameras). In other words the electorate picked up our authenticity on their radar.
We also shut out the 'Smoke and Mirror Men' from Sussex Street, just as we had done in the lead-up to the pre-selection campaign, when we fought for the right to select our own locally-based candidate and not have one thrust upon us from Sussex Street, like Belinda Neal was.
So, let me just summarise what I think the ALP needs to do to extract itself from the electoral quicksand in which it seems to have become stuck:
1. Replace the current slippery Head Office administrators on a career path trajectory with people who are savvy enough to make a reality an ALP which is more 'True Blue' in its electoral appeal, able to lead and not be led by Focus Groups, and no longer prone to anodyne messaging, such as the sort which those in charge recently have come to prefer. And which proved so disastrous to the early part of the ALP campaign. We are a straight-talking nation and we need in our leaders people who can look us in the eye and tell us the truth, and not be controlled by the 'Mr. Smooth Salesman' set. Our BS detectors are the best in the world.
2. Find a new Ad Agency, which does not exist solely in the Inner City of one of the South Eastern States and task them to come up with populist, punchy and clear and concise messages and ads.
3. Make candidate selection a function of each electorate's Rank and File choice of a person whom they believe best reflects their local community, and who is not obviously on a career path with the party, or sourced directly from the Union movement, as a first resort. In other words, real people who have real jobs in the local community. To sew it all up they would hopefully be attractive - a sad but true reflection of society in the 21st century.
Finally, I'd just like to add a suggestion which goes to the subject of election campaigning in general, non party specific, which I came across in Crikey the other day, and which I thought was so good I have reproduced it for you here, as everything should be on the table after this momentous election which we have just been through and as the time seems ripe for big changes to the way we do elections in general:
“Roger Davenport writes: Re. Yesterday's Editorial. Both the major parties are actively seeking the support of the three country independents. The three have presented a list of issues to both party leaders including items for parliamentary reform. I would like to see them add one more issue to their list, and so avoid the farce of this past election.
“Policies were being released after the electoral commission had started sending out postal votes and accepting pre poll votes. The practice of the incumbent government choosing the timing of the election needs to stop. We need fixed term electoral cycles, preferably for four years.
“Fully costed manifestos outlining all core promises by the major parties and all independent candidates to be released six weeks before the election date, any announcements after this date would not be binding and should be subject to a conscience vote during the term of The Parliament.
“Were this reform adopted, it would allow the electorate time to review the policies and make an informed vote. Currently people participating in early voting are unaware of what the participants are standing for.”
What do you think? Please feel free to put your own suggestions into the mix.