Beware The Exits and Refocus
Mar 07, 2019
You’d be forgiven if you thought the departure of a number of Coalition ministers meant a likely defeat at the May poll.
We’ve heard angry words from Julie Bishop in the last few days, coupled with the exit of senior Liberal stalwart Christopher Pyne. It has a bad smell about it, doesn’t it?
While the public is getting regular predictions from Newspoll, Ipsos and Essential, don’t fool yourself, both major parties are polling multiples of that each and every week, and they’re reading the results. If you unpack that reality, the decision of Pyne, Bishop et al probably reflects the reality they’re seeing in the Coalition party’s private polling.
I’ve worked in the dying days of a number of governments and there isn’t a lot of fun to be had. Most of the time you just know. A combination of polling, feedback from voters when you’re door-knocking, a sense of disengagement when you meet people at campaign events, or just when you eyeball ministers there’s a sense of absence, like they’ve given up. They know.
The key thing for oppositions at a moment like this is to not display hubris, not to act like they are already governing, not to be cocksure, to listen, to “lean in”, to stay grounded.
I worked for the British Labour Party when Neil Kinnock was the leader of the party. Labour was way ahead in the polls. They were a sure thing. Then they got arrogant and it went to their heads.
Campaign launches were pitched as if they were already in Number 10 and had control of Whitehall. The public got a whiff and they walked away. After the election, Neil Kinnock talked about punters failing to eyeball him in marginal Conservative seats in the final days of the campaign. And he just knew. A lot of the time politicians can just feel it in their bones, despite the science.
So, faced with all the news on high-profile exits what should we do just a few months out?
These are my tips:
- Just because we may, just may, have a new government come May doesn’t mean it will be utopia. As we all know, every dollar won or policy proposal supported is hard fought no matter who is in government.
- If there is a change of government Labor has flagged that they intend to apply tight fiscal restraints on new funding and intend to bring the budget back to surplus. So you will need to compete for financial support.
- If they are elected Labor will want to appear fiscally responsible to minimise negative media so while you will certainly get an audience you may not get ministers doing happy dances at meetings.
- Use this time before polling day wisely. A clearly articulated case for a post-election campaign or engagement provides a compelling rationale for how support or funds will meet the needs of an organisation or policy ask.
- A strong case needs to always include data, visuals, and testimonials. Use this time to prepare. Most importantly, it is never too early to begin identifying your strengths and honing your message.
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