New Page 1

 Monday, November 26, 2007

Australian Election: How Did Kevin Rudd Pull the Rug Under John Howard ?

  From Sydney Morning Herald : Read Here original article


Arthur Sinodinos

AUSTRALIA in 2007 is a paradox.

Most people believe the country is heading in the right direction. Economic times are good, the outgoing Government retained strong credentials on economic management and national security and was led by a prime minister who retained remarkably high ratings.

So why did the Coalition lose?

It was outflanked by a sophisticated campaign that drew on overseas techniques and the resources of a galvanised trade union movement. Recently, Stephen Denning, the author of The Secret Language Of Leadership, was in Sydney.

His thesis is that the art of successful leadership requires the ability to tell a story. The story is the vehicle for establishing a personal and emotional connection between the speaker and his audience. Rational argument will not win people over. The speaker must get their attention, stimulate the desire for change and then reinforce it with rational argument. His solutions must be plausible and involve a happy ending.

Kevin Rudd's campaign was successful in crafting such a narrative.

  1. First, he got the audience's attention because he was new. This allowed him to play the future card and frame the Coalition as backward-looking. He went on the front foot and used climate change and broadband to champion his future credentials.

  2. Second, he stimulated a desire for change. He knew he had to deflect attention from the booming economy. He sought to argue we were squandering the proceeds of growth while neglecting the strains on working families.

    His mantra was that he had a plan to deal with these issues: sign Kyoto, an education revolution, roll out broadband and abolish Work Choices. He promised a petrol commissioner and an inquiry into grocery prices. He framed his responses in the language of the kitchen table. He established a personal connection with the electorate. No amount of facts and figures was going to overcome the empathy factor.

  3. Rudd benefited from the clever ACTU advertising campaign mounted against Work Choices. It was emotional and pushed the buttons of working families under financial pressure and struggling with work-life balance.

Essential Media in Melbourne was responsible for the campaign, which drew on the work of Democrat pollsters in the United States. The Democrats have become adept at exploiting the insecurities of working-class voters in the US.

These pollsters acknowledge the superior macro-economic credentials of the Republicans but frame the economic question differently: who is best able to manage the economy in the interest of working families?

Translated to Australia, this campaign became the basis for promoting more intervention in the labour market and for a relentless focus on the mantra of working families when explaining Labor policy. Rudd was able to proclaim himself an economic conservative at the macro level and pro-family at the micro level.

Did the voters stop listening to the Coalition?

There were suggestions that voters picked up on individual Coalition issues but it was too late. Barring a last-minute Labor hiccup, the voters had established a connection with Rudd that was hard to shake.

The challenge for the Coalition is twofold.

  • The new government must be held accountable for its promises. While it comes into government with much goodwill, expectations have been raised sky-high in many areas. Peter Costello's comment yesterday that the new government would now be accountable for every public hospital in the country reflects this reality. It must meet many significant promises while cutting spending and keeping a lid on inflation. Governing the country is always much harder than winning a campaign.

  • Second, the Coalition must be ruthlessly honest about the reasons for its loss. This is not a witch-hunt but a plea to focus on how to re-establish its connection with the electorate. Promoting a broadly based party that is focused on reclaiming the great centre of Australian politics is a prerequisite. There must be a focus on listening to the concerns of electors rather than engagement in factional jockeying.

    It does not mean junking Liberal values. The challenge is how we apply those values to meet the changing concerns of Australians.

  •   Go to Latest Posting

    Comments 0