The Progressive Disconnect of Malcolm Turnbull

One thing about running a small target strategy in politics is that any relationship built between the personal brand of the leader and the voter market is also small. Tenuous at best.

Add to that an already high level of dislike and mistrust towards nearly all politicians, and an expectation that a Prime Minister needs to govern based around a simple yet shared vision and we have the perfect political storm that is currently engulfing the Turnbull Government.

This doesn’t feel like the first 100 days of a newly elected government. It feels like the last 100.

Conservative leaders have clearly ignored the most successful conservative leader of recent times, John Key, playbook when it comes to not just holding government but actially doing so each and every election based on a vision so fresh and clean that no amount of mud thrown at it by opponents dirties it.

John Key’s economic rationalism balanced out with his social investment policies have seen him in the same term increase the GST to 15% AND introduce marriage equality laws without so much as a whimper on his governments electoral standings. Just ask David Little. Or the 97% of CEO’s who think he is doing a great job.

And of course there is his nice Dad touch thanks to the social media uploads by his young family, namely son Max Key. It is brilliant comms because it is absolutely natural and nothing more than a son poking fun at his previous generational father. Right about now Malcolm Turnbull is trying to figure out a way of how to copy this entire strategy across the board. Perhaps John Key’s son included as grandson Jack is still a bit young to get grandpa on Snapchat.

For Malcolm Turnbull he seems like a man who is on the very brink of losing it all after having come this far. The brand policy pioneership is being owned by a very resurgent Bill Shorten, a deliberate and intentional strategy that adds to the narrative of this being a government too scared to act in case it loses a vote in either the Parliament or the party room, but also a narrative of that should this government fall there already is a Prime Minister in the wings who has been leading the policy discussion in the key areas that currently face Australia.

If anything it appears that Bill Shorten is the one who currently has the social investment balanced out with the economic leadership, although he still has miles to go on the charisma front.

Malcolm Turnbull may not have promised Hope a la Obama and Blair and even Cameron in his pre-Brexit days, but he did promise progression in social policy areas such as marriage equality, climate change and the environment and the Republic, and badly needed structural and economic reforms on the business front.

This expectation still built up a promise in the minds of those who believed and voted for the Turnbull Government. That promise, in these early days of governing, has hardly been fulfilled. Worse is that it seems unlikely that it will thanks to the work ably done in the House of Reps by a very smart Labor.

It is not too late by any stretch for the Turnbull Government. But they need to rebuild, rengage and reconnect and fast. They need to start being a big, bold target and start working on those relationships.

There needs to be movement on social and economic issues and fast. There will be no party room revolt if the polls are strong because the government is governing and doing the sort of things we want and need to see it do. In fact the party room revolt only comes because there is no governing.

Governing is about being decisive. The doing. The actions. The implementation. About being Frank Underwood. Sort of.

It is not about being lifeless and drifting as appears to be the case now.

But if there is more talk and less action in the remainder of 2016 then those polls will become a pattern and not a trend and that means that Bill Shorten has every right to lay claim to being the leader in waiting and the real progressive Prime Minister that Australia needs.

Leaders Debate: Lost Opportunities

After watching the leaders debate free pitch to camera tonight it was clear to see the lost opportunities by both leaders.

Let’s start with Bill Shorten. Whoever his media team is they are using the 1990’s playbook in 2016. The straight down the camera barrel dead pan face looked and felt fake and like a shot to the camera style ad. And a bad one at that. And one that at times was on high rotation over the next hour.

It lacked excitement, engagement, passion and zeal; attributes an alternative Prime Minister should really have.

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This candidate is authorised and written by the ALP. 

What we needed to see was the real Bill. A real experience. This is 2016 and experiential marketing IS IT right now. Although momentum is with him at this stage of the campaign, and whilst there is much water to flow beneath the bridge yet, this was a missed opportunity for the market to see him being relaxed, authentic and honest.

These attributes are hard to earn in politics so for them to be so easily let go for a glib “Comrade Leader” style address was hard to fathom. Perhaps his media team should trial these tactics out for themselves to see how bad they look.

Better still they should actually take a look at the “Big League” of the US where leaders are expected to be real, authentic and be human – just look at Obama, Bernie, Palin and Trump who all do that so well, but then the opposite with Clinton 1 & 2, Gore and Romney who looked they were more petrified of a media slip up than actually showing that as Americans they too cared about as much as what happened to the country as those who were voting for them.

Obama Style
Classic Obama here – sleeves rolled up, Presidential brand on the lectern, engaging style and even the charity armbands all work well here to say “I am one of you”

Charisma, or as the Skyhooks once said, ego, is not a dirty word in politics because it has such a strong connection to leadership and here again Bill and Malcolm would be wise to show a bit of that off because in tonight’s leadership debate there was a huge vacuum of it.

You are the leader. Yes you. Be proud of that. Take a leaf out of the Leon Cameron playbook on this one.

To Malcolm. I get it. You made a lot of money in business, from not the best start in life. Can we all move on from that.

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If only a tram or train could turn up right now and have some passengers who wanted selfie’s then you’d see the real me. 

Who are you actually now? Let’s go beyond the selfie. You. What do your family hear you get passionate about when it comes to this country? What makes you passionate? That Q&A gig he did before you became PM was great. Go back to that. But now you are the Prime Minister. You need to start having a clear, concise and simple vision that we all can engage in otherwise your Bill will be in the mail and heading for the Lodge.

A vision by the way is not Jobs and Growth. That’s a slogan. And a slogan should represent a vision. So what is your vision for this nation? If you are the king of progressive politics in Australia then perhaps it is time to start acting like it. Be the King. Be Progressive in ways Labor can’t because you had better start to as those polls are moving from a fad to a trend.

As for us. We lost the opportunity that such a long campaign can provide to allow us to see policy discussed in-depth. Instead we got spin. And we really needed more out of that debate and the leaders.

Actually we needed a debate. Not the spin cycle to camera we got for over an hour. We heard no simple, clear or concise language or vision from either leader.

As for a winner? Again a lost opportunity because I couldn’t see any. Bill. Malcolm. The network. The viewers. Not even the press. What a waste. That’ll make a great topic for another post in the days to come. Till then.


Malcolm of the Middle

Welcome to Budget night.

Yes that night. The one night of the year we all become economists, but also the one night of the year where we actually find out what our vote did or did not get. And therefore if we should stick with the Government or switch to the Opposition, or even someone else altogether.

The Budget has become in Australian politics not just about the state of our finances, but it also serves as a defacto state of our nation address. Even more so in 2016 with an election a mere 60 days after it is brought down. As Chris Bowen said it is a political document, no kidding there, but what he probably meant to say is that Budget’s are the single most important document of the political year as they also set the narrative.

Tony Abbott’s first in 2014 basically sealed his fate, a quagmire that he could not escape from and one that led to him being made to walk the short plank internally and in the polls. If there is one thing a Liberal Prime Minister should get right after all, it is the Budget. After all this is the one of the biggest strengths of the Coalition brand – economic management. And economic reform. But we’ll get to that later.

For Malcolm Turnbull his first Budget is about the narrative. This is about telling a story that connects, engages and rewards those in the key marginal seats (swings of 6% or less) that the Coalition see’s as their home ground. Howard called them his Battler’s until they turned on him in 2006. They were then swept up by the hope fuelled Ruddslide of 2007, disenchanted by the Game of Thrones saga of the preceding years, but are now ready to engage with the major brand that can really win them over. Enter Malcolm of the Middle.

And the 2014 Budget was a reminder to both the majors that the all important air time should be about the positives of the Budget, not the negatives. If this is done well enough, something Costello and Keating did superbly, initiatives in the Budget could stretch on for months and even into the lead in period of the next Budget. It really made the Opposition seem exactly that and not an alternative government. Brilliant politics it has to be said.

I wrote when Malcolm Turnbull first took office that he wanted to represent progression and not hope. That he steered away from those rocky shores after seeing many great leaders before him domestically and internationally get swept onto the rough barnacles of unfulfilled expectations in a market that had been told to expect lots. Lots.

This Budget is about keeping to that narrative. Progression. Slow and steady, bland even, but there. This is what the middle likes, slow and steady as that usually means stability, security and not a word of any recessions we have to have. It should also minimise Labor’s key strengths with the middle.

This will be done by giving directly to the middle via a tax cut and a reduction in company tax rates to keep their jobs safe in very uncertain global economic times, and some good ol’ fashioned far right policies that Labor always find hard to sound serious about in the areas of immigration, tax and welfare fraud, defence, and national security. This starts to differentiate Labor from the Coalition in the mind of the voter whilst sticking to that all important narrative.

And back to that narrative we’ll see an increase in the tobacco excise, a crackdown on evil multi nationals (good/Super Malcolm v bad/Evil Corporates is such a good sub plot in any election campaign), but increases in health and education spending, and infrastructure spending.

And for the reformers in the house, increased ASIC powers and resources, and I’m guessing some money allocated for work or committee’s in areas of social reforms such as suicide prevention, mental health, indigenous recognition in the Constitution, environmental initiatives and ideas, and digital transformations and ideas. A Cyber Ministery even. Woah, this really sounds like 2016 and not 1996.

Wait…aren’t some of these Labor policies? Of course! And they want you to think that. Points of parity that can then be seen to be areas where the Coalition does better in.

For Malcolm these just aren’t policies, they have to become actual tangible deliverables that soften the story for the middle, adding that nice social touch that reinforces that Malcolm is what we so badly need as a PM right now. And that slow, steady, safe path is exactly what the middle want. No nasty surprises or burden carrying here.

It really does take that good party, bad party, us and them narrative that Labor was starting to build and put it next to the recycling bin. Hence why Malcolm is still leading by a decent margin in the preferred PM stakes.

The narrative of the Coalition now has clout. Financial muscle. And a nice guy to sell it to those in the marginals who are required to give you the keys to the Lodge in this country.

Can Labor come back? After all aren’t they 50/50 in the polls? Yes they can but they can’t do it on fear. Bit hard to fear a bland budget or someone called Malcolm. Which is why there will be lots of negative ads about Tony Abbott. And negative gearing will be framed as the new rich tax. But even so, negative advertising does not work. Not in this campaign.

If you are getting positive, you need that replaced by positive. And there has been very little talk of that by Labor to the middle. And that is where Malcolm of the Middle may very well have just pulled off a very high risk strategy that may see him become the first Prime Minister in a decade to win an election fought on policy and not personality, and possibly also the first in that time to see out their full term.

Why Nick Xenophon is the Richard Branson of Australian Politics

There are many, many stories about Richard Branson, the visionary owner of the Virgin Group, such as his guerilla marketing strategy against British Airways. But all of these stories relate to his ability to use media and PR as his master brand strategy.                            
And his vision appeals to the dreamers – space flights that are sort of affordable, a new supersonic plane to cross the Atlantic in a time the Concord could only dream of, and of course the PR stunts to launch one of his myriad of brands that are designed to capture the maximum of attention by their out of the box nature, such as the rebranding of Virgin Blue to Virgin Australia.                                                                                                                                            
With a small budget, and up against category killers that have huge budgets but that have become complacent and lazy, Richard Branson has managed to successfully carve out niches that to this day help his brand thrive and survive long after the froth and bubble of the launches have settled.                                                                                                                              
It’s a brand strategy that many have tried to follow, some successfully, some not so. In Australian politics this strategy has been nicely cut and paste by Nick Xenophon. He is the Richard Branson of Australian politics, building a positive image of his brand, the David, or in this case the Nick, against the Goliaths – the old, complacent category killers of the two major political parties, through some smart marketing and political strategies. 
He is a master of gaining publicity from some very nice guerrilla marketing methods, from submarine cakes to demonstrate his support for the building of submarines in South Australia, where he remains confident of getting 3 Senators up at the expense of mainly Labor and the Greens, to pyjamas for the marathon sittings for the Senate voting reforms, and of course not forgetting dominating the media coverage for a weekend when he announced his candidate against Tony Abbott in Warringah long before Labor or the Greens had even thought about theirs. If there is an issue getting airtime in the media, and his brand aligns with it, then you’ll see and hear Nick Xenophon.
This is about getting and keeping your brand presence high in the minds of the voter consumer, always positive as the natural, and independent, contrast to the attacking spin from the majors. It’s a refreshing change and a strong point of differentiation between his brand and the others.
Whilst these stunts may not get much political mileage, they do allow for the voter consumer to dig a little deeper and see that there is much more substance to his brand than many give credit for.
Which is precisely why he is seen as such a big threat at this year’s election to the majors. For example, he has been a vocal advocate against poker machines for years, and for those who listened to him in the Senate when the Australian Consumer Law was being debated he certainly put up many, many amendments that consumer advocacy groups have long called for, such as ending over the counter transaction fees for cash payments on credit cards.  
However what his Parliamentary performance demonstrates, like his stunts, is that he can’t set the political agenda but he can influence it, and sometimes the direction in which it heads. His perception of influence is therefore amplified which reinforces to those who voted for him why they did – he seems to be having an impact and getting outcomes. 
The relaunch of his brand, changing it to Team NXT and adding the use of colour, orange, to aid in recall and brand resonance, are all about using that amplification of his brand to jump into the bigger markets on the eastern seaboard where he may not win any seats, but he may very well have a significant influence on the outcomes in enough lower and upper house seats to again amplify his influence well beyond his base in South Australia. And it’s working. 
And don’t decry this, or him. The majors have been complacent for far too long, starting to become too focused on data driven politics, and forgetting what it means to be an authentic brand, even with the lessons of the past.
Ah yes, those lessons. Kevin from Queensland was authentic there for a while, as was John Howard, not to forget Bob Brown, leader of the Greens for so long and so admirably, and of course Pauline Hanson who spoke straight to the far right, now replaced by Jacquie Lambie who may yet prove some pundits wrong by going close to winning re-election on July 2. 
Nick Xenophon has seen opportunity and taken it. Team NXT may very well by the close of counting at the next election hold balance of power in the Senate and the House of Reps. They may not either. But what is certain is that Nick Xenophon and Team NXT will have done enough to emerge as the most positive brand in 2016, one that is gaining strong resonance between it and a market thirsty for real in politics. 
With an increase in staff, funding, members and votes by the end of 2016 Team NXT will have the influence that will see them shape the direction of politics well into the next Parliament. Team NXT is well and truly here to stay, and have a say.