Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Electoral Strategy

The return of the rank and file

Two significant developments in Australian politics this week may point to a hopeful re-emergence of the rank and file within the ALP, and potentially the Coalition as well. Last night in the ACT, the rank and file voters (572 voted) over-ruled a deal between the factions and chose their own excellent candidates:

Economics professor Andrew Leigh and businesswoman Gai Brodtmann have taken the spoils in two hotly contested Labor preselection battles in the ACT. Labor holds the seats of Canberra and Fraser by comfortable margins, ensuring a hard fought battle for preselection on Saturday.
Canberra was the closest call, with Ms Brodtmann securing just four more primary votes than government adviser Mary Wood before the final distribution gave her a 123 to 109 advantage. In Fraser, Mr Leigh, a professor at Canberra’s Australian National University, had barely more than half the primary votes Nick Martin had accrued….But in an eight-horse race, the independents gave Mr Leigh a winning boost by sending their preferences his way, securing the 37-year-old’s win by 144 votes to 96. Mr Leigh said he felt extraordinarily lucky and humbled by the support.
He paid tribute to his fellow candidates, saying it was terrific battle, fought on “a discussion of big ideas about the future of Australia and what we want to achieve for the country”. His research lies in poverty and disadvantage.
Ms Brodtmann, who runs a communications consultancy business in Canberra with her husband, ABC political journalist Chris Uhlmann, was equally humbled by the victory

Personally I couldn’t be happier about the victory of Andrew Leigh. He is a very hard working, but original thinker and from my limited interactions with him, a great down to earth guy, but I’ll write more on that in a future post. What has national significance is that there had been a factional deal, with the left getting Canberra (and their candidate of Mary Wood) and the Right getting Fraser (Nick Martin). To add further pressure, pre-selectors were expected to vote two at a time and show their vote to the other, a rather outrageous breech of the Australian-pioneered secret ballot. While most party members will object to such factional control, it was particularly the case in the ACT which (remains!) the only area in the country where the rank and file control 100% of the selection. Hence the possibility of an upset like this. Let us hope this will encourage other rank and files around the country to also try and buck the factional heavies. Given that Rudd is not a factional man, and has decided to appoint his cabinet without reference to them, the last few years have seen a few setbacks for the factions and the slight (very slight) chance of a shift in their power.

The other significant news, and one that has significance for both parties is the successful running of the Kilsyth primary in Victoria. Encouraged by Premier John Brumby and for a seat where a 1% swing would cause it to change hands, this could represent a major shift in the way Australian politics operates. Because of the role of the Prime Minister we will never see US style primaries for the leaders of our parties, but a move to primaries to select the local candidates within seats offers both parties a way to re-energise their memberships (which have fallen from involving nearly half the population in the 40′s to just hundreds per seat today). I’ve blogged about this before, but from all accounts the primary seems to have been a success both in encouraging people to vote & energising ALP supporters. If the ALP wins the seat in November’s victorian election, then we may see both major parties starting to move to adopt such an approach. It will be resisted by many especially the factions and groupings which dominate both parties, but it, like the election of Leigh and Brodtmann in the ACT represent a good step forward in ensuring an open and competitive political system in Australia’s major parties.

Update: Some figures from Kilsyth: The branch has boomed from 50 to 300 members, and 170 voted on the day.

The openly cynical conviction politician

One thing to like about Tony Abbott is that he has a clear set of beliefs and is in politics because he wants to be the engine that implements these views. His numerous “gaffes” (in the eyes of the media) are generally just cases of him saying what he believes when it’s impolitic rather than actual mistakes. Therefore, with his advisors surely very keen to play up this image of a straight shooting man, it was odd to see two significant counter-examples on Four Corners last night
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A Servant of Two Masters

It’s always interesting watching politicians advocate for those who they don’t agree with or in some cases even like. It’s a necessary evil in politics, but still revealing. As a budding student journalist I twice interviewed Bob McMullan, once as Shadow Treasurer under Crean, where he pushed that Crean was a good centrist leader, and once when he was a backbencher with Mark Latham his boss, where again I was told that Latham was a good centrist leader. The Latham Diaries later revealed that by this point Latham had fallen out with most of his colleagues, especially McMullan.

It’s interesting therefore to read George Brandis’ excellent piece on Tony Abbott in todays Oz. Brandis was one of the last supporters of Turnbull, and advocated last year for the Liberal Party to go in a very different direction to Abbott’s ideal, but he puts up a good defence of his new boss (Much like in 2003 when Brandis was about the only Liberal I heard mount a decent argument in parliament in defence of the soon to be ex-Governor General Peter Hollingsworth).
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Primaries in Australia: The ALP takes a shot

Some very encouraging news out of the Victorian ALP:

In what is believed to be a first for a major Australian political party, the Australian Labor Party will trial a new primary system to select their candidate to take on sitting Liberal MP and former Yarra Ranges mayor David Hodgett in the knife-edge seat. The candidates are ALP electorate officer Victoria Setches, Casey councillor Daniel Mulino and State Government political adviser Jamie Byron.
A primary will allow anyone who identifies as an ALP supporter in the Kilsyth electorate to register to vote for a candidate to represent the ALP at November’s state election.ALP state secretary Nick Reece, who grew up in Ringwood, said the seat of Kilsyth had been chosen for the trial because it would be “a key seat for Labor in the November State election”.
“It’s an area which is important to Labor because if it’s a good campaign that is run, Labor could win. “The ALP would need a 0.35 per cent swing to win the seat.

For those in the area, there’s a website up with details on participating, and they’ve set up a twitter account for the rest of us to follow. Not only is it great to see the ALP trying such an approach, but also doing so in a contestable seat, showing that it isn’t just a gimmick or indulgence.

It’s no surprise the ALP is the one to try this, for the membership has always had a significantly greater influence on leadership and policy than for the conservatives. Labors first government was formed by the “Federal Parliamentary Labor Party”, indicating from the get go, that they were the parliamentary arm. Real power lay not with the elected legislators, but the branches, and party itself. The ALP’s much derided caucus unity, whilst partly introduced to ensure the then minority party had influence, was also significantly due to the demand by members of the party that their representatives voted in parliament as they wished, and could not be bought off in the “upholstered gas works” of parliament (in the words of a young John Curtin)

Fast forward to 1963 and the fading Robert Menzies still scored a huge hit on Labor describing the “36 faceless men” of the National Conference who set policy, while the parliamentary leaders, Calwell and Whitlam stood outside waiting. Parliamentary members didn’t get a voice or vote, as it was up to the members to decide what the party stood for. Yes unions were significant (and still are), but the entire system was designed to have the votes of ordinary australians percolate up to and control their representatives. A very significant difference to the Leaders almost unchallenged authority within the Liberal Party (which is also why Liberal leadership spats are so much more vicious, for not just is the office on offer but total authority over the party & policy)

None of this is to claim the ALP has a perfect or even at times a good record of internal democracy. It’s branches are rife with stacks, and elected officials all too easily set themselves up as warlords, not representatives at the middle & upper levels. Likewise, the national conference whilst having some say has been relegated to be a side show, highlighting the leader rather than a true democratic forum. Change is needed to return the party to its roots.

So good on the Victorian ALP for trying out such a measure, lets hope that many Victorians do decide to get involved (signing a pledge to “vote for the party” sounds a bit onerous, surely a simple registration as a supporter would suffice), and that the ALP across the country pays attention. The ACT ALP is the last bastion of entirely branch voted nomination of representatives, something put at risk with the turmoil of the local party, why not use a primary system here federally? Surely there is time to run & it would bring thousands if not tens of thousands of ALP supporters into contact with the nominees and the party several times before the election is due.

Of new media and new politics

In an otherwise interesting article on the role of new media and the Rudd Government, George Megalogenis (is there a better journalist working today?) writes:

To paraphrase Keating, when the media changes, so does the government. The wireless age marked the transition from Ben Chifley to Robert Menzies at the end of the 1940s. The colour TV age covered the shift to Gough Whitlam in the early 70s and, more tellingly, from Malcolm Fraser to Hawke in the 80s. The talkback radio age saw Howard eclipse Keating in the 90s. Now we are in the digital age, which began in 2007 when the young nerd, Rudd, trumped the old nerd, Howard.

That’s right, but precisely backwards. It is the leaders ability to utilise media that shapes its importance and their own dominance. Menzies was an undisputed king of TV when it first came in, just as FDR was able to make radio broadcasts his personal domain. Talk Radio wasn’t a new technology for the 1990′s, Howard simply returned to it as a medium in which his natural skills worked best, and that drove attention to it. Contra Megalogenis I don’t think that Rudd has made great use of twitter/blogs/websites, however he has at least done a damn sight better than the conservatives, and that matters (Obama’s advisors on the other hand made his website a key element of their electoral strategy).

There has always been a very strong link between journalists and politicians. Not in a biased way, but as a shared interest in the media and medium. Our second PM Alfred Deakin was a journalist & correspondent his whole life, as was Henry Parkes, Chris Watson, John Curtin, Malcolm Turnbull and his successor Tony Abbott. Our current PM wasn’t a journalist, but he spent his years in opposition being available for (if not inviting) media interviews at any time day or night. Just as you can’t be a good carpenter if you can’t handle a saw, or a good surgeon if you can’t weild a knife, a strength in using emerging media forms is critical to political success. I don’t see anyone in the current parliament who has a great handle on the new technology (here I think blogs have more potential than twitter), but Turnbull and Rudd both show at least a keen awareness. (As does Kate Lundy & Joe Hockey) Whoever does, is likely to become the dominant figure of the next 20 years. Let’s hope Abbott has some good new media advisors, but given his twitter account has only 7 (utterly boring) entries since becoming leader, it doesn’t seem likely.

Can Nerds deliver wedgies?

Our Prime Minister is by nature a conservative man. Nothing wrong with that, in fact it by and large contributed to his victory over John Howard where others before him such as Latham had tried and failed. Yet Rudd now faces an opponent who is seen as not just a common sense conservatie, ie a pragmatic cautious man (as Howard managed to claim for himself), but as a capital C Conservative, nay regressive who wants social change towards a long past (if ever existing) ideal.

Labor spent much of the 1990′s seeing Howard as a reactionary, while the public didn’t, but it might work with Tony Abbott. To be fair to Abbott, he isn’t anything like the theocons in the USA, and he is resigned to being in a minority and seeks mainly to argue for, rather than legislate his views on social morality and conservatism. However his election to the liberal party leadership represents a substantial opportunity for progressives.

The Labor party has already set about calling Abbott and crew ‘extremists’ (esp on climate change) but this is a ham-fisted way of making their point given the low level of public and media attention. It’s not that these groups arn’t paying attention, its just that this kind of language has been done to death and generally passes the ears unheard.

The future for Tony Abbott ?

Instead Rudd needs a policy challenge, to force Abbott to show his real views. An issue where he either says what he believes, alienating a public majority, or he goes along with Rudd’s policy, disenfranchising some of his core base. In short, it’s now the perfect time for Rudd to return the favour of 2001 and deliver a rather liberal wedgie to the Coalition, of the sort that wasn’t too viable against Howard, Nelson or Turnbull.

Issues that might play well include: Abortion funding and access (bringing it into federal control as a pre-cursor to full takeovers), relaxation of some drug laws, such as decriminalizing marijuana (as occurring in the US, and somewhat in the ACT), increased flexibility for euthanasia, granting civil unions nation wide (having already agreed to accept it in the ACT), or further opening up the country for foreign investment. The latter would alienate labor from some rural electorates, but could help divest a lot of economic liberal voters/few remaining city voters from the Coalition to Labors waiting hands. (I’d be keen to hear any readers suggestions of other issues that fit)

None of these are critical pressing issues, but each represents good policy and good politics. Too much was made of Howard’s wedge efforts against Labor, and they came to be seen as a dirty tactic (or at least a smelly one). But if Labor is implementing good policy that simply forces the opposition to choose between it’s core ideology and being in line with the mainstream, then there is nothing wrong with the approach.

More than that, it also offers progressives a way to shape an influential role within the Rudd government. This is a very cautious, poll driven government. So any policy proposed to it for implementation needs to be able to deliver strong electoral benefits. If progressives can offer policy that delivers votes for the government now, then it will create goodwill and credibility for advocating more significant and controversial reform in the future.

Choosing the specific issue and nature of the legislation will need careful polling and focus grouping, but it’s worth a trial now, early in the year before the defenses are re-erected for the years political combat. With luck, Labor might well get Abbott to simply respond at a door stop to a spreading rumor of new labor policy, without carefully organising his response. At worst, the effort will let Labor see how Abbott responds to new issues (does he wait, or will he just go ahead with his own response, and how will his independence play to his divided party room). At best, it gives Labor the chance to directly define Abbott as well outside the mainstream, and implement some good progressive policy.

Abbott’s misplaced book update

If you’ve had the chance to peruse the bookstores over the holiday period, whether buying christmas gifts or just finding some holiday reading, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Tony Abbott has a new version of his book out. A word of advice: Don’t buy it. Abbott like Costello seems to think he is a blogger, able to release new versions at will (I think Costello is now up to his 4th edition!). Yet not only does the new version of Abbott’s Battlelines (review here) have no new value, it actively contradicts and damages the rest of the book.

The new 6 page addition to Abbott’s book (found nestled near the end) lets him try to explain the contradiction of having spent most of 2009 (including in his book) arguing the governments CPRS legislation ought to be passed, before suddenly switching to calling climate change ‘crap’ and leading the denialists to overthrow Turnbull.

Abbott’s not an intellectual by any means, but he has a history of laying out a clear set of beliefs. They may sometimes contradict, and he has certainly shifted on issues (especially his v.slow embrace of the free market) but they have always marked him out as a passionate public servant. Abbott’s strength as an attack dog comes because not in spite of his passionate beliefs. Yet his time as opposition leader can be summed up by the motto : Opposition for Oppositions sake. It is this, more than anything else that has been for me, the most dissapointing thing about Abbotts leadership. I wouldn’t vote for him, but I do like his approach and passion for public life and political combat for supremacy of ideas.

Nothing represents the new reactionary mold he has taken on than his approach to the CPRS. Abbott in his book writes that:

If the opposition is convinced that the governments legislation is wrong and almost the entire country is clamouring for a bill’s defeat, it would make sense to vote against it in the senate. What more often happens, though, is that the opposition votes against bills reflecting the policies on which voters usually wonder whether the opposition has learned the lessons of defeat; and the governments always demand to know, chapter and verse, the oppositions alternative…There’s much to be said for adopting the view that the government is generally entitled to get its legislation through, because that’s what the people voted for.

While Abbott rightly acknowledges that oppositions are usually damned either way, none of the benefits (such as joining strong community opposition) are apparent, and all of the negatives (seen as not learning from election/govt demanding detailed alternatives) exist in this case. Of course, Abbott came to power on the basis of leading the anti-CPRS mob within the coalition, but that simply proves the still missing wisdom of his choice to lead that particular charge. In July when his book came out, Abbott was perfectly content to say he was not seeking the leadership and expected it to run to the election. This was the only wise move given the almost guaranteed loss awaiting the liberals, and only vanity or cracking under peer pressure explain his changed situation.

When I put out a quick run through of what an Abbott opposition would look like, I failed to bring in one key point from my review: Abbott’s utter loathing of Rudd. It is that, far more than anything else which seems to be driving the coalitions policy. What you see in the CPRS, you see in other areas such as taxation (where the liberals have amazingly signaled an opposition to cutting the company tax rate) and immigration (what on earth does ‘turn the boats back’ mean ?). The only policy issue bucking the trend is that of health, where Abbott may end up leading the government to wholesale reform and away from its usual timid approach, (something I’m keenly hoping for) though still following the pattern of being as negative as possible from the outset.

The formula is simply oppose, oppose, oppose, and along old conservative faithful lines of attack ‘bureaucratic, tax, deficit, handouts,’ etc, language which voters have heard too often to really bother paying attention. I’m not asking for clear policy options, but oppositions have to at least look like they’ve thought about what the govt is proposing, and can offer a more common sense alternative, instead of simply looking for cheap shots. It’s a perception the much more respected and policy heavywight Beazley ran into in the late 1990s, and an image Rudd will have no difficulty countering. What’s more, while it energises the base, such a reactionary approach is unbecoming of Tony Abbott, and the public will twig to it.

At some point Tony Abbott will have to confront the exact same calculation as Malcolm Turnbull did. Guaranteed to lose the election, he can either go down fighting on things he believed in (as his hero Howard & former boss Hewson did in the late 80′s/early 90s) and hope for future public/histories redemption, or take the path of political expediency and go down as Mark Latham did, a dissapointing loser.

Just the other day Abbott responded to a journalists question on who he was and what he stood for, by referring them to his book.

If only that were true.

Battlelines: Where the election will be fought

boxing_largeWhile Tony Abbott began his first press conference saying he wasn’t afraid to fight an election on Climate change, it seems likely from early indicates he won’t have to. It will lurk in the background but, cold war style, it’s going to be fought through proxy wars in Economics and Foreign Policy.

Economics: As is obvious from Abbott’s early media appearences, he’s not running to deny climate change, rather the economic costs of acting:


7:30 Report Transcript

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, I was doing my best to support the then leader. And that’s what frontbenchers have to do. But the Liberal Party is liberated as of today to follow our natural instinct, which is to oppose the Government. Now, this isn’t about climate change, it’s about the mechanism for dealing with it. This isn’t about climate change denial, it’s about stopping a great, big new tax.
….
TONY ABBOTT: Well I’m not sure that anyone is that happy about being out of pocket. But let’s look at the Rudd Government’s ETS. It looks, at this point in time, to be a great big tax to provide a great big slush fund to produce great big handouts administered by an enormous bureaucracy. It looks like a mechanism for a political slush fund more than it does as a mechanism to help the environment.

This kind of rhetoric didn’t take on when Barnaby Joyce was sprouting it, but Abbott is a far more effective comunicator, and the press is already starting to question labor using some of his language. But the more important reason why the politicians will shift from talking climate change to economics is that it is unfertile ground for winning votes. For both groups. As Possum Pollytics helpfully notes views on climate change are effectively locked in. The deniers are stuck fast, and whilst the pro-efforts could ebb some support, those who see the environment as a primary issue already voted Labor in 2007 (or Greens though after their no vote on the CPRS I don’t know why). Instead the fulcrum of the argument is two issues: Timing and Cost. The timing issue is labors to own next year.

Most voters support an ETS despite recognising there will be an economic cost. Abbott can’t shift those voters into denying the environmental need for an ets, but he can make them think the cost imposed by Rudd is too high. Rudd likewise will whack Abbott occasionally on the issue, but he probably can’t shift too many votes on it from 2007. It’s easy to vote for someone pledging action, its much harder to vote for someone who is making your bills higher. If he doesn’t have some big policy on Climate, or looks like he is slipping into denialism he could still (unintentionally) make it the issue again, but I think the moderates will prevail in getting some kind of a policy there.

The other reason I think economics will be the major issue of the election is because 2010 offers Labor a historical chance to fundamentally re-shift voters allegiances. John Howard, just like Reagan governed a coalition of economic liberals and social conservatives. But that has broken asunder. Facing a proudly self-identifying conservative candidate, Labor has the chance to peel those economic liberal voters to it long term. It would become the socially and economically liberal party, though keep control of the mainstream & its working class base thanks to its historical support for ensuring fair working conditions. This is what Keating envisioned, what Beazley abandoned, and what Rudd has the chance to complete.

Rudd came to government pledging to be an economic conservative, a term that was widely ridiculed when he launched his stimulus package. This spending allowed Turnbull perhaps his only effective attacks on debt, a theme Abbott will be sure to run on. But Rudd can claim those were extraordinary circumstances, and with a good faith effort on debt, some wise reform in the area of tax, and a couple of symbolic acts (revisiting parallel imports would be an example) he could convince the economic liberals that he shares their values. (His articles here on neo-liberalism havn’t helped, but can be ignored)

Along with the campaign to entice them, Labor is going to try and put the fear in those who have liberal views on both economic and social fronts. Socially Labor will argue that Abbott unlike Howard is not just conservative, but regressive. They’ll raise the concern he may restrict access to abortions, re-introduce no-fault divorce, punish the gays etc. It’s going to be ugly, but could be effective. Economically, note that while Abbott is going to run on tax, debt and ‘freedom’, he isn’t an economic liberal like Costello or Howard. It’s a late adopted faith for him, and his books and speeches are full of reticence about such reforms. Abbott is very much in the mould of a big-government conservative as more perceptive economic liberals like Andrew Norton have noticed. Carefully appealed to we could see those who consider themselves liberals seeing Labor as the only viable party.

Foreign Policy: No PM has come to the job as aware of foreign policy issues as Rudd since Whitlam, but Rudd hasn’t yet had a chance to use that strength to his electoral advantage. It’s like the six shooter strapped to his ankle as backup. But with Abbott having thwarted Rudd’s chance to go to Copenhagen with a deal, it may be pulled out early. Rudd will charge that Abbott wont be in line with international governments, and won’t be able to do advantageous deals with international governments across the ideological spectrum because of his position on climate change. Along a similar line over at The Interpreter there is the intriguing suggestion that the deniers problem with the CPRS is less about the environment than multilateral institutions, hence their revulsion to needing passage by the time of Copenhagen. Rudd can’t gain too much mileage from his multilateral credentials, but it can all fit a narrative of an Abbott government being uncomfortable with issues beyond the shores.
This will be even more potent attack in the context of SE-Asia given Rudd’s steady development of links and influence. Thanks to his strong popularity, and activism on the Asia-Pacific Community (which is starting to get support), Rudd will be able to argue that Abbott will be a foreign policy disaster in the region. He won’t exactly repeat Keating’s line on keating that Asian governments wont work with him, but he could come close.

Rudd also has the natural advantage of incumbency. When Labor won the election in 2007, the liberals were seen as the better party on national security by a 49-26 margin. By Feb 2009, that had essentially levelled. I havn’t seen a more recent poll, but expect the government to now be well ahead. There was always the faint air under Turnbull that the Liberals weren’t comfortable on foreign policy, from his slip of the tounge labeling of China as a friend, to Julie Bishop’s suggestion we should bow to china’s demand and not let in Rebiya Kadeer. Indeed staying just on China, there are also some odd claims in Abbott’s book Battlelines. In his very short section on foreign policy, he claims that in the case of conflict between China and Taiwan, Australia ought to side with Taiwan, “In Australia’s case this would not be choosing America over China, but democracy over dictatorship” (p 160). It may sound good to supporters to base your foreign policy on such ideological choices, but it would raise up the worst of the Bush/Neo-Con incompetent idealism. Remember Latham was very very careful to avoid talking about national security, but still lost badly on this score. Abbott’s lack of desire to talk about this issue is going to be noticed by the public who will interpret it as a sign of lacking competence. If Rudd is able to set the agenda, expect a lot of discussion about foreign policy come election time.

Things could easily change, but while Labor’s new adds are already reticent of 2007, i think the campaign this will mirror more will be 1996. Rudd will present an image of Labor as a party bold and open and willing to engage the world. An Australia on the make regionally and internationally, in a pair of hands whose already passed their first big test (gfc). Abbott may gain some early traction on taxes and welfare, but could easily scare voters with too much policy purity and it’s not likely to swing too many given slowly improving conditions (Rudd will be praying that was the last interest rate rise before the election). Instead he will be seen more to represent a cultural howl against Labor that, inverse to 1996 can only work to Labors advantage, entrenching them as the mainstream party against a rump conservative party. Abbott could be a very attractive leader, but it’s hard to see how he gets that 35% core support to go much higher.

Memo to Turnbull: Politics has its own skill set.

As I type, Malcolm Turnbull is probably sinking back into his office chair after just about the worst day of his leadership. Todays meeting was supposed to go for 4 hours, and sources expected he would get 2/3rds support. Instead it went on for about 10 hours, and he has gotten just half, if not having a majority oppose him in the party room. He has emerged battered and bruised, but at least has a deal. As he was at pains to remind everyone he is still the leader, but does he actually know how to practice politics?

Despite the fact that Turnbull has held the superior hand (the science, the polls, even Govt support) he has been consistently out maneuvered on this issue. He is being out played, if he does escape beyond this week it will have more to do with others lack of interest in his job(for the time being), than a sign of capability. (Word is that Tuckey and Jensen have written to ask for a leadership spill on Thursday morning) So why is it that a man who could outwit the intelligence services before the High Court, take on the Packers and Fairfaxes in the Business world, has crumbled before former real estate agents like Barnaby Joyce and cardigan wearing mofos like Minchin? Indeed only his decision to simply declare the discussion over tonight around 8pm has left him with any credibility, and seems his best move of the entire day.

The press like to think leadership is a beauty contest, with them able to define beauty, and the polls just the public endorsing their narrative. But it’s also about brains and using the system. To lead you need not be older, wealthier, more capable, more sucessful or even better looking, you only need to be able to consistently out politik your opponents.

Howard was a great politician not just because he could be populist and give the media/people what they want, but he also used the rules and settings to his advantage. In the republican convention he set up a fight between direct and indirect electionists to ensure the referendum failed. In 2007 whilst on the nose with the polls, media and colleague, having set up Downer to see if he should quit (the infamous APEC hotel meeting) he then turned and demanded that if he was to go they would have to force him. Though a majority were against him, he knew this would be too hard and he kept his job.

Obama is another one you see who understands the need for rat cunning as the basis of leadership. He won his first Illinois legislature seat by having voting registrations for his opponents tossed out, allowing him to be elected unopposed. It might jar with his rhetoric of hope, but his skills are the best hope progressives have for real change.

The ethics of this form of hardball are always of course debatable though hardball politics needn’t be wrong. More importantly however is that to do it you first need to be able to see it, imagine it. To be able to read the lay of the land, the personalities and circumstances and politik your way into a superior position.

What does this have to do with Turnbull ? Well, constantly we have seen him be out thought and out manouvered by his own party members, who are in many ways still playing soft on him. He faces an opponent in Rudd who knows very well how to play such politics, and there is no way he should be allowed to represent Australia to the world, facing the elite of the Chinese, Americans, or Indonesians if he can’t out think those around him in far easier domestic circumstances. We know he branch stacked like crazy to win his seat in Wentworth, but it must now be doubted how much of that was his own effort.

All this points to the fact that while we decry the lack of plumber/teacher/cafe owner turned politician, politics itself is a profession. It needs to be learnt, it needs to be experienced, it has its own norms, skill sets and oddities that have to become second nature if you are to obtain and weild power. If you cant, then you are just wasting everyones time.

This is why I’m not that concerned about the number of politicians who have never done anything else, and why though I like Turnbull, he has seemed headed for a humiliating defeat ever since thinking about running for the leadership. When Costello baulked on election night Turnbull began challenging for the job, finally rolling Nelson, all for the thankless task of being leader during a first term opposition. Since then, despite numerous government mistakes (groceries, nbn, school stimulus, debt, asylum seekers, utegate, cprs) Turnbull has failed to land a solid punch. All the pain for Rudd has been either self or media inflicted.

Politics is a skill that needs to be learnt, and Turnbull is proving the classic case of a man who didn’t respect this. Like many, esp from the business world he simply presumed that skill in other areas directly translates, or that sheer force of personality will get you through. He is clearly a brilliant man, but political skill has never been about just sheer intelligence, but out thinking those around you and using the circumstances to leverage the best outcome for yourself/your position. Turnbull’s learnt a lot very quickly, but it is not quick enough if he wants to remain.

That could mean he has only 36 hours to find a new way to control his party. It saddens me to say it, but I think it would be best he lost the vote (if it occurs). If he sticks around he could take some time to lick his wounds and re-run in 2012 for the leadership. If not, then best to go out now rather than leading to an election debacle. Its not a fun club to have been leader without ever going to an election (think Crean, Downer), but right now, Nelson seems the smarter (and happier) politician than Turnbull.

Twitter’s growing pains

I’ve blogged about twitter before, yet I still find it a valuable service to keep updated of the news, and give me a peak at what journalists & politicians are saying. Only it may not actually be them at the keyboard:

Turnbull sometimes does his own tweets

Turnbull sometimes does his own tweets

It took Barack Obama only 25 characters to shock most of his 2,677, 720 followers to the core. “I have never used Twitter” confessed the leader of the Free World, when pressed on new technology by Chinese students in Shanghai. But, hang on a minute. Wasn’t this the first Social Media Presidency? One of the very first Twitter accounts to be verified? And if Barack says he really is all thumbs, just who is it who is doing all his tweeting?

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull appeared at ease during the Sydney Media 140 conference in discussion with broadcaster Fran Kelly, leaning comfortably back in his chair. But little did he know that only a few days later, he would looking for a new social media advisor, after his chief on-line strategist, Thomas Tudehope, was revealed to be linked to a version of the popular spoof Hitler “Downfall” video lampooning besieged Liberal politician, Alex Hawke.

The admission that “Tommy Tudehope helps with a lot of it” [Turnbull's tweeting] during the Media140 interview may well have contributed to the startling resignation. But I believe that what these events may reveal is a key danger of the burgeoning use of social media: politicians leaping on the bandwagon and the consequent use of new media tools for more complex political tricks.

To the twitterati, these revalations are a real outrage, and a slightly heartbreaking one at that. Social media has been seen as a way for direct, personal, unhindered contact between the elites and the masses. To find out it’s instead a staff member who is writing up the information seems to them to break the fundamental trust that they invest in the system. Yet whilst it’s unfortunate, it certainly isn’t surprising, at least no more than the use of speech writers or even media spokespeople. Politicians are immensely busy, their job is to both understand, decide and communicate on the issues of the day, and if they outsource the communication part occasionally, that’s not the worst sin in the world.

As a wanna-be speech writer, this has always been an issue that has interested me. Whilst the best remembered and usually most sucessful politicians are the best communicators (such as Lincoln, Churchill, Reagan, Obama), all used some assistance to cover the sheer workload and variety and forms of communications which they are expected to produce. This isn’t too different from sending out supporters or influential figures to help advocate for your case as happened in the ancient greek agora. Everyone would rather be personally visited by the politician and asked for their support, or hear their arguments and have a chance to respond in person, but it was impossible in a city of 30’000 active citizens, and simply laughable in a country of 21 million or 300 million or 1.6 billion.

We are thankfully emerging from the era of one to mass communication, with the decline of TV & Radio as the main communication sources. But we should not expect that the requirements of politicians are any less, even if we want no more than 140 characters out of them from time to time. To the good politician, such resources are simply another media outlet to be used in so far as they advance their cause. I know some federal politicians read this blog, along with their staffers, and taking a quick pulse check on what’s happening online may give them a heads up on issues the media may be looking at, or the way it is generally trending. But all this means more work, and more time spent hearing talk about themselves, and from competitors for the audiences attention.

The Twitterati are a smart bunch and will soon recover from this (in their hearts they probably knew it from the start). They may have lost the dream of reforming politics through their particular technology, but this happens every time a new technology is created. With its acceptance as a mundane addition the discussion can move to the truly important debates such as the social norms of it’s use, and the right and wrong ways to utilise it. Finaly it allows us to begin to measure its actual impact in real data, rather than against idealistic dreams of a new public sphere, dreams that have been floating around under the label of of E-Politics since at least the mid 1990′s if not in similar form for 2500 years.

The Importance of Atmosphere

Under the Bush Administration Fox News had a charmed position, under Obama, not only is it in opposition, the White House has gone after its credibility as a news organisation. Conventional wisdom is that it is a mistake to beat up on the media, but here’s perhaps why Obama is really going after them:

I think some people are under the impression that the White House wants Fox News to disappear. Nothing, I suspect, could be further from the truth. The White House is in fact delighted that Fox News and its merry cast of commentators exists. Nor is the White House vexed that its every pronouncement concerning Fox News solidifies Fox’s core audience; that’s actually the plan. The point is not to moderate Fox News by accusing it of being biased/not a real news organization/running or being the propoganda arm of the GOP; if anything, the point is to make it more extreme in the views it airs….
At the end of the day, Fox News’ nightly audience in the third quarter of this year was 2.25 million viewers in primetime (source). For perspective this means that it has roughly the same audience as your average Dollhouse episode, which was just yanked by Fox (the broadcast network, not the cable news network), so that its ratings wouldn’t stink up November Sweeps. Even with Fox News’ ratings going through the roof because of its little war with Obama, the actual number of viewers is minuscule. Or to put it otherwise, 2.5 million Americans watch Fox News, which means that 297.5 million Americans don’t.
Which makes it a low-risk ideological foil for the White House.

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All politicians would love to have unchallenged power, whatever their motive or ideology. But given that is thankfully impossible (well most of the time), sometimes the next best option is not to have a meek opposition, but a crazy one. The more Obama seems to stoke Fox News’s extremism, the better he looks by comparison to lukewarm supporters, and the more he seems the only option for true independents. If Obama is facing a consistent backlash of 30% of the country whatever he does, then there is no way for his opponents to use that as evidence Obama is on the wrong track. If any single policy gets the same angry response as any other, then who can say if his healthcare is radical or just opposed on spite. Who can say if the 30% have a better understanding of warfare in opposing his afghanistan policy, or they just want him to fail.

You see this regularlly around the world, where canny politicians seem to benefit from the over the top reactions they inspire, despite their outwardly moderate nature. One who isn’t a moderate but still benefits is Hugo Chavez. Chavez may be slowly draining Venezlela of its democracy, but he is also making significant moves to combat poverty and illiteracy. Yet his opponents, from his first election win in 1998 have seen him as an entirely illegitimate leader, and so sponsored coup after coup against him. The extreme nature of their media opposition (Fox looks mild in comparison!) makes him seem a much more centrist and nationally focused leader. After a while people tend to see such consistent opposition to any one politician as due to the desires for power of those who attack them, and reflection on their character, than a actual response to the leaders actions. So Chavez can monumentally screw up (and has) but since the opposition already wen’t nuclear there is no way to tell from the reactions what is bad policy and what is just run of the mill.

Likewise during the Howard era in Australia there was a core group of opposition to John Howard. I think this opposition gets somewhat overplayed, as there was a strong effort by Howard and conservatives to try and delegitimise any criticism as proof you were a ‘howard hater’, but with Howard’s removal, the times and his policies also look a fair bit more moderate from this vantage point. Yet this is something which I think no author has yet truly managed to capture. One of the big let down’s of Paul Kelly’s book ‘March of Patriots’ was its absence of discussion on the atmosphere that pervaded during the time. Capturing that is a opportunity only immediate first and second drafters of history can, and to properly understand it, it is extremely necessary. On the left there was a palpable sense of anger about what was happening to our country. Events such as Tampa, Cronulla, Iraq and the debasing of institutions such as Parliament and the ABC left many feeling adrift and deeply distrustful of the core motives of this government. And yet Kelly (who set out to write a more policy focused book) not only ignores this, but calls it ‘March of Patriots’ as if Howard was warmly embraced by the community, or even upheld as a hero. Howard was popular at some times, at other times deeply unpopular late 1997 to early 2001 and early 2006 to his final loss in late 2007. He was also very popular during other times, or with certain segments of the population (he was excellent during a catastrophe ala Port Arthur, Bali). To miss or worse dismiss the opposition to Howard as simply crazy means you present an incomplete image of the period. And yet like Obama and Chavez, Howard also immensely benefited from the nature of his opponents and their consistent rejection of all his actions.

Obama is somewhat playing with fire by being seen to go after his opponents, and after a specific media outlet. But come the 2010 elections, Glenn Beck et all are likely to drive far more votes to the democrats (or away from Republicans) than they are likely to harm him. So its a net win, all for being hated. I first endorsed Obama because in 2006 I was sick of the Center-left losing elections and he was clearly the best political strategist I had ever seen. He makes some mistakes, I think he’s still slightly too cautious in acting (such as repealing Dont Ask, Dont Tell and not prosecuting on torture) but he is clearly still leagues ahead of anyone else in the country in reading the politics. It’s why health care will pass, why the democrats will keep the House and Senate in 2010 (they will lose some seats though not enough) and why he should coast to re-election in 2012).

Obama’s hidden healthcare weapon

While we’re all still waiting for the definitive campaign strategy books on the Obama 2008 campaign to be written (I’m looking at you David Plouffe), one thing is patently clear: Obama won because he mobilised people to assist his campaign in a way never before seen in America. Instead of just asking volunteers to grab a phone call and begin calling, he had a motto of ‘Respect, Empower, Include’. Volunteers were instead asked to go find 5 more people who would also join. Those who managed this were made team leaders, with similar opportunities for advancement for those new members in a similar fashion. People were given increasingly harder tasks to see if they could deliver, and then were rewarded with being team leaders. Neighbourhood teams were set up across the country, each invited to build their own networks. This process continued for months and months, before any phone calls were made, emails sent or doors knocked. That could come later, and did, delivering perfectly on election day.
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Why am I recounting this history? Because, a lot of the self-obsessed media have forgotten about Obama’s Organizing For America organisation. The media like to imagine that their shows as the only forum for real political discussion(far more real in their eyes than even the legislative chambers), with polls simply rating how the people react to various lines or positions. But Obama’s still organising, even with the power of the Presidency in his hands.

On the 20th of October, Organising for America set out to make 100’000 calls to members of congress to encourage them to support health care reform. That was passed easily. So they set it for 200’000. Again too easy. From Obamas facebook this morning:

obama_facebook_small Barack Obama Yesterday’s numbers are in. The final tally was not just 200,000 calls placed or pledged — it was 315,023. You’ve taken America one giant, irreversible step closer to passing health reform. Thank you.

Just imagine trying to field all that as a staffer in some Republican Senators office! (or wavering Democrat) While many Republican’s took comfort in the anger expressed at the town halls in August, it’s clear those events, (including members of the public bringing guns to public meetings, and numerous comparisons of Obama to Hitler), along with the Presidents speech to Congress, began to turn people towards supporting healthcare.

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While Republicans raged, Obama’s network kept organising, holding functions, parties, door knocking, and continually organizing and seeking to expand. To Respect, Empower and Include their neighbors, friends and colleagues in the wider movement. Obama has already gotten closer than FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter & Clinton to delivering Universal healthcare reform in the US. The Democrats policy has many flaws that would make it almost unacceptable to many in other western first world countries, but for America it’s still a big and important step. His big speech was important, as was his deliberate outreach to Congress, and decision to let it choose its path (rather than draw up the policy in private inside the White House as Hillary did in 1994). But when Health Care reform passes, a large part of the credit will have to go to the 2 million active volunteers (& 13 million supporters) who signed up to help elect Obama’s, and now are invested in his success.

It’s not just about having a flashy website, its about getting people involved any way possible. The internet just helps break the hold talking heads have on politics. As I discussed a few weeks ago, if people feel invested in your success, they will work harder and longer, than any bribe or pork barrel could possibly compel. And if Republicans think this network will have dissipated by 2012, or let them waltz into the White House on the back of public anger over SOCIALISM! they have a great big surprise coming. It’s going to be fun to watch, and a very important lesson for all future political strategists, not just in the USA and countries with voluntary voting, but also Australia.

The real deficit is the one between their ears…

As mentioned below, the Liberals had a press conference this morning on debt reduction, and released a shiny new policy document. Naturally the media ignored the policy for the horse race issue, so your dutiful blogger went through and read the proposal. One problem: It doesn’t actually say anything. Here is the sum total of the Liberals policy for debt reduction 6-12 months before an election:

This morning's conference, from Turnbull's twitter feed

This morning's conference, from Turnbull's twitter feed

1)The Coalition will do more with less by reducing waste and duplication throughout the Australian Government, and between the federal and state governments.
2)The Coalition will immediately upon coming into government establish a Commission for Sustainable Finances to report within three months on waste and duplication in every agency and program of the government.
3) The Coalition will not repeat Labor’s cash splashes. Handing out $23 billion in cash may be popular, but it recklessly adds to debt.
4) The Coalition will pursue a vigorous reform, infrastructure and innovation agenda to lift productivity and increase economic growth.
5) The Coalition will support small businesses, the engine room of the economy, through our Small Business Action Plan.
6) The Coalition commits to a responsible long term objective of returning government’s share of the economy to the level achieved by the previous Coalition Government…. The last five Coalition Budgets had spending of less than 25% of GDP. Only the Coalition can be trusted to return the government’s share of the economy to this level.
7)The Coalition is committed to addressing all of these problems (Complexity, time-cost,reduced incentives etc) in a comprehensive and principled program of tax reform.
8)The Coalition will establish a Parliamentary Budget Office, which will be independent of both the government and the opposition, to ensure the public and Parliament receive honest and timely analysis of the budget, financial results and specific programs.
9) Further, the public will be able to track government debt at a real-time website detailing the size and composition of borrowings, interest paid and projections into the future.

Putting it into a list makes it look far more substantial, but have a look again at that list. Only #8 & 9 deal with specifics (both are good ideas, though the website is more about advertising, as such figures are already on budget.gov.au) Numbers 1,4,7 have been promised by every single opposition since the beginning of time but dont matter at all without specifics. (Here is just one of dozens of press releases labor put out on the issue prior to the 2007 election). Number 5 is just a statement of support, and 3 is utterly redundant (of course they won’t repeat the stimulus given its already in place and the crisis is passed!). Only 6 seems new, though as I’ve mentioned before there is no logical reason why 25% is the ideal figure (indeed in early September Hockey was saying it must be “no more than 24%, but I guess round numbers rule).

Given the bad position the Liberals are in today, only a comprehensive, detailed policy will get them any attention. If Rule #1 of Federal oppositions is don’t repeat the Fightback mistake of 93 (with Turnbull eerily imitating Hewson), Rule #2 is don’t do invisibly small target’s (ala Beazley 98) either. There is a happy balance in the middle. Howard and Rudd both won by proposing a number of key, detailed area’s of policy in ground they wanted to fight on, and then obscuring the differences on everything else. Turnbull can’t win, but he can at least fight a respectable campaign for principles he believes in by being bold. Far better to be remembered for going out fighting for your ideas (that may one day become accepted wisdom as Hewson’s GST now is), than as a front man without the courage of his convictions. (Jason Soon on Crikey makes a similar point about Turnbull’s failure to live up to his hoped-for-liberal creed)

If the brain’s trust in Liberal HQ want some ideas, how about reducing the churn of taxes/welfare as John Humphreys advocates:

The Australian welfare system—including health, education and handouts—costs more than $250 billion per year. Some of this is redistribution from the relatively rich to the relatively poor. However, about half of the welfare is pointless ‘churn,’ where the same person both pays taxes and receives welfare benefits.
Some of this churn is ‘cash churn’ where people both pay tax and receive cash from the government. But the bigger problem is ‘services churn’ where middle- and high-income earners pay tax and receive government-subsidised health and schooling services.

By removing middle-class welfare in exchange for income tax cuts, the government could reduce tax and welfare by about $80 billion without leaving anybody worse off.

Such reform would be bold, enticing (everyone, esp the press would focus on the massive tax cuts this would mean), rally the base (cutting welfare/bureaucracy) and give a radical plan to pay down the debt in their first term, not to mention long term benefits to pay for healthcare (as Humphreys’ advocates). Hell I’d vote for it…

The idea’s are out there, the Government has massive targets that can and should be hit, but so long as the Liberal Party is serving up this shallow pap, the equivalent of a warm towel to fix a gunshot, they will be rightly ignored.

The Entitlement train is in

Peter Dutton is the Liberal Party federal member for Dickson, and Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. His seat was re-jigged by the AEC recently and made nominally Labor (as it was Dutton only won it in 2007 by 217 votes). He then ran for pre-selection for the nearby seat of McPherson, and lost to a local candidate. And now he has officially spat the dummy:

LIBERAL frontbencher Peter Dutton is asking the Queensland Liberal National Party to deliver him a seat for which he doesn’t have to fight other preselection candidates.peter-dutton-200x0
This is likely to put heavy pressure on long-term sitting members, Alex Somlyay, the chief Opposition whip, and Peter Slipper, who hold Liberal seats. Both have said they want to stand again and under the Liberal-National merger arrangements, they are guaranteed the right to do so.Mr Dutton, defeated on Saturday for the safe Liberal seat of McPherson, said yesterday he had only ”one shot in the locker for a contested preselection”. His ultimatum puts the party organisation in a bind. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has said Mr Dutton, who won’t run in his electorate of Dickson again because it is notionally Labor, must have a seat in the House of Representatives.

Mr Dutton, who had stayed silent since his loss, told reporters yesterday he had never intended to ”seek preselection elsewhere in that sort of an arrangement”. He would not run for the new seat of Wright – there already are strong candidates for preselection there. He also ruled out the Senate. Mr Dutton, who reaffirmed he would not stand again in Dickson, which he won from high-profile Labor member Cheryl Kernot in 2001, said the LNP ”has some thinking to do”. He said he would continue to work not just with Mr Turnbull but also with the executive in Queensland. ”I believe I have something to offer the Liberal Party into the future,” he said.

Dutton here is betraying his lineage as part of the Peter Costello school of entitlement politics. The Liberal Party is seen to owe him a seat. Not even a good chance at one (he has the backing of Costello and Turnbull afterall) but an entirely uncontested run in a safe seat. Forget that to be in parliament is supposed to be an honour and an opportunity to serve the Australian public, Dutton feels entitled to be there by virtue of… well something. He won’t even stay and fight in his own seat which he has held for 8 years (meaning far greater name recognition than any other possible candidate-) and which without him guarantees the loss of at least one Liberal seat next election (Fran Bailey’s retirement in McEwan means the same thing). Dutton is seen by some (such as Costello in his memoirs) as being a future leader of the party, a line many in the media have run with. Honestly however, I just don’t see it.

Sure, Dutton is one of the more capable members of the Young turks who came in under Howard, but that isn’t saying much. I got a chance to see up close most of these new Liberals during my time working at Parliament recording the chambers and committees (I’ve since left). MP’s such as Ciobo, Johnson, Laming, Markus, Mirabella, and Smith. Mostly elected in the heady atmosphere of the 2001 election, they reek of a ‘born to rule’ attitude. None appear interested in actual debate. Their speeches, even when delivered to an empty House of Reps spill over chamber (the Committee of the Whole) were simply lists of slogans to attack the Labor party, repetitive figures mirroring the leaders recent talking points, and utter arrogance about their superiority. It bores to watch, and compared to Howard, Abbott or Costello they looked adolescent at best. Howard could be devastating with a good one liner (’5 minutes of sunshine’, ‘doesn’t have the ticker’ etc), but his speeches were always a guilty pleasure of mine because he actually believed in public debate. He would lay out his views, the reasons for them, and why the other side had the wrong take. He would reason and marshal facts to serve his cause. But far too many of our modern politicians (and I’m including Labor here) see reasoned argument as almost an admission of weakness. Better to just bluster and abuse and hope to get on TV they seem to reason.

Not all of the 2001/04 class are a loss, Greg Hunt has started to impress me, not least with his clear knowledge and interest in Foreign Affairs, but in its period of utter domination during the 2001 & 2004 elections, the Liberal Party abjectly failed to bring in the best possible new candidates (save Malcolm Turnbull who had to fight a unholy branch stacking war in 2004 to get in). Turnbull, now leader, is having to deal with their lack of overall talent, inability to seriously contribute to new policy or political strategies, and now the stink they are beginning to kick up as it dawns that many will not make it through the next election. Expect more stories like Dutton’s in coming months, as many Liberal MP’s begin to decide their best chance of holding on is to publicly abandon their party, whilst still taking its advertising dollars and volunteers. It is not a strategy that usually works (unless you go all the way to become independent), but the media will lap it up. Labor meanwhile should take heed. Given the greater control head office has in the parties’ less-than-democratic selection process, Rudd needs to be ruthless to bring in the very best people, not just ones who are loyal and willing to kick the tories. As JFK said, the time to fix the roof is when it is sunny, not when the rain is already poring in.

Update As if to prove my point that some in the Liberal Party have an entitlement mentality, Costello is going to cost tax payers $500’000 so he can skip out early on his electorate. After having claimed he honours serving in parliament, he has clearly decided that even the 5-12 months till the next election is simply too much. Once more Costello shows his greatest gift is getting media attention, without doing anything worthwhile with it. Though interestingly enough, his former boss John Howard is much more gracious this time around. Incidentally Howard’s also in the news as a rumored NRL chief (could work, though remember the boos he got at the 2007 Grand Final) and as a target of Bob Brown’s (disorientated?) media team on more troops for Afghanistan – It’s 2009 guys, Howard’s no longer in power….) No wonder Labor has gone to ground recently, the rest of parliament is in full circus mode.

Making the audience work for it

Some years back there was a politician doing the rounds of his local suburbs. He had been in parliament a long time, was well liked, and brought many rewards back to the electorate, including a big new bridge making it easier to get into the city. He knocked on one of the doors to find an old lady he counted as a supporter and after some pleasant banter asked if she was going to vote for him again this year. ‘No’ came her surprising reply. ‘Why not’ he asked. ‘I’ve served the district well, I’ve brought many benefits to the area, I even brought in the bridge which I knew you wanted’. Her reply ? ‘Thats what you did last term, what do we get this time?’

Its an old truism of politics, though one rarely endorsed in our overly professionalised political class, that if you want someones help or attention, don’t give them what they want, but make them work to support you instead. That is the best way to truly lock in support. In the 2008 Democratic Primaries, Hillary Clinton quickly out raised Obama by getting her key supporters to all donate the maximum $2300 amount possible. Obama on the other hand went for a significantly greater pool of people all sending in $10 or $25 dollars. And whenever he was struggling he would go to them and ask for more. Now these people often couldn’t afford much, but having already invested in him they were not going to see their investment wasted with his loss. The same logic applied in the full election when he went up against McCain. His supporters not only were far more tied to his cause because they had helped him out, many went from just financial support to actively door knocking to help. His star was tied to theirs, and they worked far harder and longer for him because of this, than if he had tried to simply buy their votes with any lavish election spending promises.
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I was reminded of this lesson recently by a great friend of mine who posts over at The Refined Geek. The lucky man is just about to go on his honeymoon, but rather than tell us all, he gave little clues and wrote up a short story that he said claimed all the details needed to find out where they were going. If he had simply told his mates where he was going we would have stopped talking about it weeks ago. But for the last few weeks, and especially last 2 days since the wedding the most consistent topic of conversation has been speculation about where they are going. Because we the audience had to work for the information, we were significantly more involved and ready to dedicate time and effort than had we merely been told what we wanted to know at the start.

And as I write this post, I am just finishing a piece of Toast with Vegemite iSnack 2.0. I rarely ate vegemite as a kid, but the lure of a new type, and one without a name got me interested, and even though I absolutely hate the new name, I’ve had perhaps a half-dozen discussions on it with people in the last few days. And consequently found myself when getting out breakfast supplies, reaching for the Vegemite jar.

So never just give your audience what they want. Make them work for it just a little bit, and they will be significantly more invested in your success and towards the result you want to achieve. People like to be involved more than they want to be rewarded.