Move around in political circles long enough and eventually you’ll hear a famous saying popularised by former US House Speaker Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local”. The Tipster’s famous insight has been repeated so many time it’s assumed something like the status of a truism. But there’s evidence its wisdom may be beginning to wear thin. Increasingly, as the growth of mass media has put the parliamentary leader and national or statewide issues into ever-closer contact with voters, the importance of the local member as a medium of exchange has been diminished.
Evidence of this could be seen in the recent WA state election in which a swathe of popular, hardworking local Liberal members were unable to withstand the statewide swing and lost their seats. So as voter attention migrates upwards it’s easy to wonder just much of a difference you’re making with old fashioned pendant and streamer electioneering.
But so far signs have been encouraging. We’ve been on the ground now for a week in the division of Whitsunday, which takes in the famous powder beaches and turquoise waters but in terms of its electorship is a mixture of suburban and the coal, cattle & cane country which defines north and central Queensland. Usually the seat is won and lost in the northern beaches of Mackay which is where we’ve been spending most of our time.
We’ve been aided by an extremely energetic local member in former sports broadcaster and staffer Jason Costigan, who’s travelled from one end of the electorate to the other winning the corflute war and making sure voters know what the LNP is doing for them. Although voters may have a hard time delineating local, state, and federal issues they notice the strong presence of the LNP campaign.
So much unrecognised work goes into an election without which there simply wouldn’t be a campaign to speak of. We’ve been staying with the Newitt’s, Jason and Tracie, local LNP organisers of almost superhuman organisational capacity and dedication who reflect great credit on themselves and the party. They’ve been aided by a stalwart network of volunteers some of whom have been pitching in for decades.
Our work has been fairly routine campaign activity, large helpings of sign waving and prepoll, but in a close seat in a close election it can make the difference. In recent contests, most notably with the infamous ‘Mediscare’ unions have made half-truths and falsehoods into the coin of the realm, and a large semi-autonomous union campaign with the tag “It’ll be grim under Tim” [Nicholls, the LNP opposition leader] has gained significant traction.
In addition to ensuring we continue to work hard, dig in, and campaign energetically we also need better approaches to answering our critics, always ensuring our opponents live up to their own set of rules, and answering fire with fire when faced with a union scare. Participation in the EDO has contributed extensively to our experience in campaign logistics and has lent us ideas to go forward so we can win our battles, beat the unions, and elect good local members.Thanks to everyone who made it possible!
Tom Russell & Christian Mclaughlan are members of the NSW Young Liberals