Typically the media describe Labor’s loss as a drubbing, which it wasn’t. Leaving Qld aside, Labor won 62 of 121 seats, the LNP 54, and the crossbench 5. Qld was the shocker, losing 4.34% TPP to land on 58-42 to the LNP, which is nearly wipe-out territory.
So there was a story about what happened in Queensland, yet as Anthony Albanese told Katharine Murphy in a podcast, Labor’s primary vote was an all time low. Labor now has to convince about 1.2 million people to change their vote. So he for one understands that Labor needs to appeal to a wide variety of people.
Yet the result in the end was close, so like the last American presidential election, all narratives of how Labor lost and how Scott Morrison won are true.
The weight of advertising in favour of the LNP was astonishing. When we get to know who donated what next year, we will be more than interested.
My favourite narrative is that a significant slice of the electorate who don’t pay attention to politics, policy, the usual media carry-on. However, they could not escape being aware of the torrents of negative attack advertisements, focussing on Shorten personally, and often containing messages that were wrong or misleading.
Rebecca Huntley says that a three-second exposure to such an image could determine a vote.
Here to remind you are two of the common ones, first from Palmer and second the LNP using Labor’s colours and insignia:
These appeared on electronic billboards, in print, online and in letter box drops. They were all over the approaches to polling booths. My brother relates that one night while driving along the Inner City Bypass in Brisbane, he could see two large electronic billboards simultaneously displaying the negative “THE BILL AUSTRALIA CAN’T AFFORD etc” attack ad.
Peter Lewis, who runs Essential Media said their last poll showed 47 for Labor, 45 for the LNP and 8 undecided. They allocated the 8 to get Labor over the line. In retrospect if they reported their actual results they may have been right. It is possible that fear of the negative advertising campaign by itself drove the doubtful apoliticals heavily to the LNP. We will never know.
Mike Steketee has a good article in Inside Story – The slippery slope of officially sanctioned lying:
- It’s time to act before deceptive campaigning gets completely out of control
SA and NT already have such laws, Prof Graeme Orr and Zali Steggall want them for federal elections too.
My main criticism of Steketee’s article is that he seems to say that both sides (the two major parties) are equally guilty, and that it all started with Mediscare. I believe that Mediscare was unethical. Without it the LNP would have won handsomely, Bill Shorten would have been replaced by Albo, and…
Steketee seems to have no memory of Turnbull shouting at us all that house prices would be smashed by Labor’s negative gearing policies, or Howard with Tampa in 2001, or in 2004 when Howard told us repeatedly that interest rates would always be lower under the LNP (followed by seven consecutive rate rises in the subsequent three years), and all the rest.
Labor should get together with the Greens and the crossbench to initiate laws to stop the rot. Albo did say that he wanted to raise the standard of political discourse. I do recall Malcolm Turnbull saying similar.
However, the truth is that Labor made no attempt to defend itself. Pamela Williams published a three part investigation in the AFR (pay-walled) on how Labor lost the election. The short story is that Labor’s campaign management and strategy was excruciatingly awful. For the record, here are the links:
From that I’ve extracted five main points:
First, she also comments on Shorten’s confidence as being “worse than shaky”, a big point made be Erik Jensen in his Quarterly Essay The Prosperity Gospel: How Scott Morrison won and Bill Shorten lost where he says that people see need in Shorten rather than seeing him as a leader. Certainly he was not seen favourably in Queensland, to the extent that showing up here so often may have made his chances worse.
Secondly, Noah Carroll came from Shorten’s right-wing base in Victoria. Victorians are perhaps not the best at discerning what goes down elsewhere, especially in NSW and Queensland.
Third, I had in my mind a team of 15 or so in campaign headquarters. Williams says it was 140 occupying two floors of the Gough Whitlam Plaza in Parramatta:
- He gathered his teams together – top party officials, his ad men, his research people, the marginal seats experts, the tactics set, the policy group, the media strategists, the digital groups, and the intel people who would spend their days trying to detect what was happening on the other side – all the campaign brains that fit together to run the motor.
It would take someone of rare administrative skill to run an outfit like that. In her third piece we get this:
- Halfway through the campaign, Carroll’s empire gave the impression of a fast-running river, battened to its mission. But by the end of the campaign, stories had started to filter out that suggested rocks in the water. It was certainly dishing dirt in defeat but many started pointing fingers at dysfunction in headquarters. There were claims that Carroll rarely if ever met with John Utting. There were questions later, after it was all over, about why Carroll had kept Sebastian Zwalk, the director of research and advertising and one of two assistant national secretaries, on the outer.
Labor needs to select its next campaign leader with care.
Fourth, Williams then says this:
- Carroll had been heavily reliant on a consultant, David Nelson, sent as an emissary from the Queensland ALP. Nelson became involved with him in key decision-making at CHQ and he was frequently in Carroll’s office, steadily becoming central in the campaign. But he was a mystery figure to most.
I’m wondering who this person is and whether he has been asked to explain himself.
Fifth, we get this:
- There were concerns, too, about whether CHQ had failed to establish a framework narrative for Shorten himself – to work out “which” Shorten was at the heart of the campaign. There were many ways to project his identity.
Morrison, by contrast, had established in a very short time a powerful identity to project to voters. Everyone laughed about Morrison’s daggy-dad routine, but it felt authentic and it held. Morrison was an ad man and they pilloried him for this, but he had rapidly revealed since October an identity as easy-going, but a protector of his family. He then bolted this onto a Liberal narrative that he was there to protect voters from Labor raiding their wealth.
When the campaign team have to work out who the leader really is, then they are in trouble. Remember the “real” Julia? Albo, I think, is authentically himself, and won’t need teams of people to invent zingers for him to fire off.
Labor put out over 150 policies, the very existence of many ignored by the media and so-called expert commentators. Yet those policies provided multiple attack points for a ruthless opposition.
Shorten had a reasonable grasp of the ginormous policy detail, but not enough to sell or defend it. And he should have been more active in shaping policies so that they could be defended. Even Pauline Hanson could see that a limit of say three investment houses eligible for favourable tax treatment would have made the negative gearing policy more acceptable and defendable. As it was, Qld Labor senator Chris Ketter knew he was in trouble when on polling day a couple of teachers told him what they thought about being called “the big end of town”.
And so we ask ourselves, what is the way back?
ScoMo has effectively told us that it is good to be rich, and if you have a go, you’ll get a go. The rest are the authors of their own condition, and don’t deserve our empathy. His version of the Bible perhaps doesn’t have this verse:
- Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Tim Costello told Phillip Adams that Jesus today would be a communist for sure.
From the many ‘vox pops’ done by the ABC during the campaign I see that the hip pocket nerve rules in voter land. Only for their children will people make sacrifices.
James Hansen once said that people will recognise the need to do something about climate change when they see it from their window.
That time is now, so whatever else is happening, I suspect that the climate emergency will be front and centre. Acting on that must be cast as essential for the future, because it is true, and also politically saleable.