What can we learn from Labor’s loss?

Tell stories

ALP loses election without telling a story

Once upon a time (last weekend in fact), there was a political party in Australia that had itself convinced it was going to win a Federal Election. It didn’t. Everyone who knows the story – apart from those who believe in miracles – wonders how.

I don’t want to be an ambulance chaser by heaping ridicule on the defeated. That’s not the purpose of this article. I’ve thought of one thing about the ALP’s campaign that every business owner can learn from.


I’m not what you could ever call a political expert. I’m not schooled in politics or government. I’m just a storyteller. That’s the context in which I’ve been nutting through the experience of the ALP, Bill Shorten and his shadow cabinet members; not to mention the campaign organisers.


The ALP admits it went to the voters with the wrong message. You might have voted for the ALP thinking it had a good message but they say they got it wrong. (That must be disturbing for those who thought it was right, but that thought will bend your head sideways.)


What they haven’t realised is that one of their mistakes was not telling us any stories. They assumed the entire population is above average at maths, finance and geography and would love to hear about new fiscal and climate policies because we are too sophisticated to take notice of simple stuff like stories.

Storytelling is lost on most business marketers, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the ALP didn’t catch on either.


A predictable number of boundary commentators will always say it was everyone else’s fault: about how unfair it was to have to fight preferences from other parties, about how greedy and selfish Australians have become, about how the opposition’s message was negative etc … Maybe they’re right. I’m only adding one item to their list.

I am laying out this view so you might learn from Labor’s mistake in your message – your portrayal of yourself and your business – and for that matter, your association, your church, your school, your charity or your sports club.


Everyone has a story. Everyone needs to tell their story, even political campaigners.

Nullah, the boy aboriginal character in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia, The Movie’, makes it clear when he says, ‘Now I know why you gotta havum story. So you know who you belong to.’

To whom does the ALP belong? It’s always belonged to the ordinary working bloke and blokess. It comes out of the union movement in 1899 but they forgot to mention it. They didn’t mention Honest John Curtin, good old Gough, the way they saved the shearers in 1899 and the miners and the diggers and the factory workers and won an eight hour week and bumped up women’s pay – and they left it too late to highlight Bob Hawke’s stories.
They plain straight-out neglected to tell us any stories – any memorable stories anyway. They were (possibly unwittingly) lazy. They hoped their talking points would make us arouse our own emotions and engage. By referring to the ‘big end of town’ all the time they must have thought we would get all fired up emotionally and vote ‘Boo to the big end of town.’ They didn’t tell us one story to convince us though.


The Labor Party has a pretty interesting ‘origin’ story and they didn’t tell it.
The Labor Party story is full of strong characters with ideal stories and they didn’t mention them.
The Labor Party has some powerful achievements and they didn’t allude to any of them.


Well Duh-uh!

    Stories connect. Facts and promises blow in one ear and out the other.
    Stories touch our hearts. Policies are like dust in our eyes.
    Stories embed your values. Ideas flit around like butterflies.
    Stories make us feel like we want to belong. Pledges make us yawn.
    Stories make us believe emotionally. Claims make us want to doubt.
    Stories spread the love. Belly-aching about the opposition only works on the faithful.


This is straight from the ALP web site about their Fair Go Action Plan See if you can spot the stories – any stories – even just one story. Not ideas, stories!
‘That’s why a Shorten Labor Government will:
Fix our schools and hospitals. Restore funding cut by the Liberals and Nationals, to ensure every community has quality public schools and hospitals.
Ease pressure on family budgets. End the Medicare freeze and give tax breaks to workers, not the top end of town.
Stand up for workers. Reverse cuts to penalty rates and crack down on abuse of labour hire and 457 visas.
Invest in cheaper, cleaner renewable energy. Deliver 50 per cent renewables by 2030.
Build a strong economy that works for us all. Make the top end of town pay their fair share, so we can build new infrastructure and give workers a fair go.


Nope? Neither did I. And neither did enough voters.

    It’s predictable, political ticker tape.
    So was the launch.
    So were the campaign speeches.
    So were the debate bits and pieces.
    So were (particularly) the deputy leader’s and the shadow treasurer’s inputs.


You could say the Liberal National Party Coalition didn’t tell any stories either! You’d be right to tell me to look at their web site and compare.

Let’s do that. I’ve highlighted the specks where only hints of stories were offered. Only hints I say.
While there are challenges ahead, Australia’s economy is strong.
A stronger economy means we can deliver on our plan to:
1. Create 1.25 million more jobs over the next five years.
2. Maintain budget surpluses and pay down Labor’s debt.
3. Deliver tax relief for small businesses and families.
4. Guarantee increased investments for schools, hospitals and roads.
5. Keep Australians safe and our borders secure.
There is more to do and now is not the time to turn back.
With your support, we will keep working to build our economy and secure your future.


They told an extra story, an undercurrent story if you like – actually a rip tide story. And it was a stronger tide than the ALP’s under-story.
What was LNP’s under-story?

LNP has made our economy stronger so you can trust us with your money whereas Labor’s story of getting us into debt and making people drown at sea shows you that a vote for them is too big a risk for you to take.

Those two stories have strong emotional connections.
What was Labor’s?

Cricket stridulations.

They were clicking their wings to themselves.
You might say they were clear about climate change, a big-enough issue, but they didn’t tell any stories. There was no storified appeal to the voter’s emotions; guilt, shame, hope, desire to stand and be counted arm-in-arm with Labor, marching forth to glory and saving the Greenland ice sheet and Tonga.
Get it?
‘You gotta havum story.’


When you want to win people over, give them a story not a pitch.
When you want to move people, show them a story not a platform.
When you want to convince people, tell them a story not a promise.
When you want people to follow you, engage them in a story, not a list of bullet points.

Anyway, in case you don’t understand my intent I will state it again. This article is a lesson for you, no matter what your political persuasion.
* Make sure you tell the story your audience wants to hear.
* Embed your claims in story.
* Get to know what story really is.
* Learn how to put your message across in a short sharp story that connects with your hearer’s emotions and brings about the change you want to effect.

I have a few opportunities for you in my diary this coming quarter so I’m available to coach you how do it. Email me

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic or comprise 'ambush marketing' and/or SPAM.

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