I’ve just finished All that’s left – What Labor should stand for, which is a reasonably interesting read looking at the future of the Australian (and in the process global) Labour momevements. It a philasophical look of where we on the left are, where we’ve come from, and where we have to go to ensure social justive and the future of social democracy. There was some interesting articles in there, but there is a gaping chasm that we on the left we seem never to fill and it is one of my greatest irks.
Where is the section about selling ideas to the public? There is plenty about how the labour movement needs to increase social engagement and that government should be out to help the people, but there is nothing so far as to how to sell it to the public. There is a section on getting trust back into politics, but that isn’t quite the same.
Kevin Rudd made a number of mistakes, some big, some small, but I still believe his biggest one and the err that ultimatly led to his downfall, was the cutting of department communications budgets. When I was looking for a job when I got back to Australia, a public affairs recruitment agent told me that when Rudd got into power departmental communications and marketing positions dried up. This got me thinking, how much did this have to do with his downfall and I figure a lot.
Put it this way. This was a time where a new Government with a relativly progressive agenda wanted to sell in grand new ideas and new ways of doing things. But there was no one to sell it. Communications budgets were cut, so the advertising was left to the Prime Ministers’ office and the cabinet members’ press officers and they couldn’t do it. Not because they weren’t talented enough, but there wasn’t enough time in the day to package it and get it out there. That made it look like they couldn’t engage with the public.
You could also probably guarantee that the communications teams weren’t included in concept planning from day one either. Its important for a comms plan to be included in planning right from day one, so pit falls and wins can be planned out right from the begining.
The CPRS and the Mining Super Profits Tax are two examples where poor comms planning completely blew up in the ALP’s faces. In the case of the CPRS, the Government was trumped by the Opposition having a) not being able to sell the concept to the public b) not being able to forsee the right wing views that took over in the Opposition and c) Abbott had a catchier line with “a great big new tax”, which is devilishly brilliant. The great big new tax is also an example of sometimes the left needs to get down and fight with conservatives in the dirt and throw some mud. That’s where they fight and to match them, we have to do. One person on the the left who did do this succesfully was Alastair Campbell (you know I had to chuck that in somewhere).
But still, despite all of this, the book doesn’t even list communications as an important issue. Reengaging with the community and the public is vital. Sometimes we talk to the public, not talk with and we wonder why they don’t hear us.