From the moment LNP leader Campbell Newman announced he would contest the seat, Ashgrove became the key local contest of the 2012 Queensland State Election.
Ashgrove was swallowed up as part of Queensland Labor’s landslide defeat, but for most of the campaign we outperformed expectations and piled massive pressure on the LNP. Ashgrove was one of only two seats polled that Labor ever led in. As the Ashgrove campaign director, I believe there are lessons for future Labor campaigns from our experience.
An authentic local candidate
We had a lot to work with in Kate Jones. She had one of the highest positive ratings that our researchers had ever seen. Over the last two terms she built strong links with her community.
This helped us develop a strong message. It also meant that we had a strong base to build building our list of volunteers from. Many of our volunteers were mums and other activists from local churches, schools and community groups.
Our challenge was to elevate the local issues above state issues – a hard ask with a long-term government. Yet over many months we managed to elevate local issues and Kate was successful in building a very strong brand. Even in the last few days, Galaxy poll recorded that 52 percent of voters polled thought she would be the better local MP.
Grassroots campaign, direct voter contact
Local campaigns in Queensland have relied heavily on a strong central campaign with branch members limited in their activity. Only the candidates were generally expected to undertake doorknocking and one-on-one conversations with voters.
To win Ashgrove we had to challenge this culture. In July 2011, the ALP’s Queensland Branch enlisted Campaign Action to train hundreds of branch members in grassroots political campaigning. This focussed on base building, direct voter contact, and persuasive and genuine one-on-one engagement with voters.
With Kate closely involved, we spent the first six months building and training a solid list of skilled volunteers, many of whom had never worked on a political campaign.
Each month we would recruit more volunteers, increase the amount of voter contact and keep the momentum building with blitz weekends where we hit thousands of doors. Market researcher ReachTEL found a steady climb in Kate’s primary vote every month from September 2011 right up until March 2012.
Locals for Locals
The group Locals for Locals was established by local residents who, though not Party members, supported Kate. Many of them had met with Kate through the local chamber of commerce or school groups. Locals for Locals hosted BBQs, letterboxed their own newsletter, doorknocked, phoned, fundraised and went out to their friends and networks with their message to keep Kate.
The effective, autonomous campaign by this independent group was invaluable. Volunteers were more comfortable and eager than they might have been in a conventional political campaign.
The campaign material we used was grounded in third party voices and messages around community values. We worked hard to avoid the trap of talking about the issues in terms that the Party and Government were comfortable with.
Where to from here?
In the middle of a truly harrowing night for ALP members and supporters, I had five Keep Kate campaigners tell me they were going to join or re-join the ALP. The fact that such a high-energy, volunteer-driven campaign was possible during extremely tough election for Labor is evidence that branch members and community activists want to be part of engaged local campaigns. It’s a reason for optimism as we begin to rebuild.
Ashgrove activists reflect on the campaign
Paddy Keys-Macpherson, Volunteer Coordinator
‘This campaign encouraged volunteers to move outside their comfort zone and engage with voters. There was a snowball effect, the more people we convinced to play a role, more wanted to join in and be part of it.’
Miriam Aberdeen, Volunteer
‘My experience on Kate Jones’ campaign was very positive, despite her loss. Kate’s commitment inspired me and showed me that Labor’s ideas aligned with my own. During I want to be a part of in the future through joining the ALP.’
Elly Desmarchelier, Volunteer and first-time doorknocker
‘I loved every minute of the Ashgrove campaign - even the door-knocking! It was great to be part of such a huge group of volunteers with so much energy and enthusiasm. I learnt so much during my time on the campaign trail.’
Author: Shannon Fentiman
Shannon Fentiman is an organiser with the ALP Queensland Branch, and was Ashgrove campaign director.