JOHN MENADUE. Spare us the details!

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

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

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

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

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

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

See link from The Guardian, 22.5.2019:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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14 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Spare us the details!

  1. Michael Flynn says:

    Thanks for the article and comments. The worst lie was ALP death taxes are coming. A response could be for no news from the ALP for three years on inheritance taxes. If elected the next progressive Government could legislate for an inheritance tax on estates over ten million dollars with exceptions for one family home and one family farm and one small family business. I do not want my country to have a super rich 1% and many poor with an aspiring middle class losing hope. We have to address some big issues together as a diverse nation that is united for the common wealth and health of all of us.

  2. Michael D. Breen says:

    Current pain needs some deep searching, as John Menadue’s article points out. The emphasis on ‘principles and values’ seems paramount. Negotiation researchers tell us that that kind of values based, superordinate negotiation is the most productive way forward and most inclusive of those affected by the results. So my question is, what can the rest of us do to get Labor and the Greens to recognize their common values? The conservatives are remarkably united around greed and fear;no problems. So why are those on the other side such destructive rivals? It may require serious leadership to manage around past egoism and competition, but uniting or collaborating would be so good for so many.

  3. Tim says:

    A lot of people believed in the fake death taxes that Labor was supposedly going to bring in. The LNP won the social media race. It wasnt just the Murdoch papers.

  4. John Ley says:

    An excellent article, John, and some very insightful comments, too.

    Another key point is that Labor failed to challenge the Liberal myth that the Coalition are always better economic managers. No mention by them of the successful Hawke Keating years, or of the Rudd/Gillard governments’ success in avoiding a recession when the GFC occurred.

  5. Malcolm Crout says:

    Personally, I think the voters who returned the LNP are just plain stupid, and I’m being polite.
    The silver lining is that we won’t have to watch Shorten flopping around the pavement on his morning runs, similar to the ridiculous brisk walks of Howard.
    It’s easy to blame Shorten or the campaign, but how about the outright lies of the LNP. “Retiree Tax” anyone?

    • In the week before the election, my article on #TruthInMedia, including #TaxLies, was published here. https://johnmenadue.com/stephanie-dowrick-selling-a-pm-or-just-trashing-the-alternative/ The LNP’s choice to run on mis- and disinformation – lies – was also canvassed comprehensively on social media (many observers use Twitter most intelligently), but your frustration is understandable as it was not until the morning after the election that Barrie Cassidy on Insiders quizzed Frydenberg, who again denied that removing a subsidy (on Franking Credits benefitting 4% of the population) is not a tax. On Frydenberg’s website there are still claims up that the ALP were considering death taxes. The Treasurer (!) knows this to be utterly untrue. What can we do? Apparently, there are no laws equivalent to the Trade Practices Act when it comes to breaches of honesty in politics. And if one more person compares this latest farcical campaign to ALP’s “Mediscare” – which had a foundation in FACT – I really will emigrate to Greenland.

  6. Evan Hadkins says:

    Labor doesn’t currently have any values or principles so far as I can see.

    They are continuing to torture innocents including children for the ‘crime’ of fleeing for their lives.

    They are opposed to the interests of the poor – they don’t even advocate raising the dole.

    They hope that saying inconsistent things on coal mining will somehow be ignored.

    I think you are right John, this is what is needed.

  7. Paul Montgomery says:

    A very good article, Mr Menadue. And although you touched on many valid points including about leadership as demonstrated by Hawke and Keating, it was in my opinion, the lack of this very commodity that brought Labor down. I cannot disagree with any of the criticisms that you made about Labor’s campaign but I feel you have carefully stepped around the elephant in the room. Shorten was never leadership material and the public confirmed this years ago. Their assessment never changed. A good leader takes difficult but important issues and guides public sentiment and builds momentum for change. Yes, a narrative is essential also, but surely that is a natural outcome of good leadership. Adern has that quality, Shorten did not.

  8. michael lacey says:

    Good comments!

  9. Ken Dyer says:

    You failed to mention the Murdoch media monopoly in Queensland. Three papers are carried in most places, The Australia, The Courier Mail, and the local rag, such as The Sunshine Coast Daily. All feed off each other for “news”, and the attacks on both State and Federal Labor are unrelenting.

    The cohort that reads newsprint tend to be computer illiterate, older and less educated or blue collar.

    The weaponisation of Adani by the LNP as code for jobs played out in North Queensland.

    One wonders what the result would be if people were not brainwashed by the media, bombarded by a tsunami of yellow ads, and subjected to chicanery and the weaponisation of issues.

  10. Chris Mills says:

    I agree with the analysis.

    Having watched election results for about 60 years, this one is different.

    In the past, the usual reaction was: ‘Oh! well – our team did not win, but we are looking forward to the next match’.

    This time I find a broad spectrum of people, including me, are traumatised by the result.

    This was my attempt to sell the message:

    http://johnmenadue.com/chris-mills-australians-choice-a-wasted-hourglass-or-golden-egg-economy/

    We will now experience the deprivations of the ‘wasted hourglass’ economy and not enjoy the benefits of ‘the golden egg’ society.

    This is worth a close look:

    https://tallyroom.aec.gov.au/HouseStateFirstPrefsByParty-24310-NAT.htm

    The result on 24 May 2019: Coalition 5,307, 348, Labor 4,226,936, Green 1,253,359.

    If Labor and the Greens had avoided cannibalising each other and formed a ‘common interest’ alliance, then their combined first preferences would have been 5,480,295 or more if three-cornered contests were avoided by a Labor-Green alliance.

    The probable result is that most Australian’s would then have been basking in the warmth of the clear benefits of a ‘Golden Egg’ society and economy.

    • Thank you John and Chris, I agree that many, many are feeling utterly dismayed about what this result tells us about the ubiquitous power of the RW media to support what was a blatant “wealth-interests” con-job – defying the common good – and the starkly noticeable lack of genuine interrogation in supposedly “impartial” media including the ABC where mediocrity rules (with some few exceptions) and in the once-Fairfax media where Channel 9 has had a startlingly swift effect in what they will and will not publish in the way of informed commentary. Also agree how vital it is that ALP and the Greens cease “cannibalising” and form an authentically progressive, environment and integrity-saving alliance. Meanwhile, the opportunity this blog offers for thoughtful comment grows ever more essential – as is active support/participation by readers.

    • Charles Lowe says:

      A brilliant introductory summary that – despite your inevitable (and widely shared) fury – just anchors your consummate ability to detach and clarify.

      Thank you so much, John.

      We can wait for the AEC to finalise its figures (around mid to end June) and then use a re-energised and riveting laser-like analytic focus on what precisely went wrong and how Labor (and the Greens) might fix it – despite the apparent odds.

  11. Bill Legge says:

    I think in this election people were offered a choice between product with poor marketing and marketing with NO product. Not unsurprisingly a well conditioned consumer base chose the latter – very little nutritional value and will probably break down into toxic by-products in six months.

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