Incumbency: how working for constituents pays off
There’s been much written about the surprising Australian election results and how they potentially provide insights to politicians here in the UK. Numerous commentators have theorised the ‘magic bullet’ could have been seat-by-seat targeting, innovative digital strategies, policy differentiation or the charisma of the leader.
One factor that hasn’t got much airtime has been the role of incumbency and how a good local MP, who understands their constituency, can take a marginal seat and turn it into a much safer one.
To illustrate, David Coleman MP, an Australian Liberal (equivalent to a Conservative in the UK), in 2013 managed to scrape in and take the seat of Banks off Labor. Banks had been a Labor stronghold for the previous 64 years. Banks is a typical suburban seat. Demographics haven’t changed much. What did change was the MP. In the election this week, he managed to take his margin to over 10,000, a 7% swing.
Coleman has often been scoffed-at and called the ‘Minister for Roundabouts.’
Morris Iemma, a former Australian Labor Premier said, “while our transients guffawed at Coleman for attending to local traffic problems and getting them fixed with roundabouts, the locals were expressing their appreciation with a massive increase in vote.”
Since being elected, Coleman has tirelessly worked to improve the daily lives of his constituents. From his surgeries, he got the message traffic was something tangible Government could do to make things easier for his constituents.
He ran a strong political strategy – focusing on one issue that mattered, an issue where he could affect real change, and he could be remembered for.
Speeches in Parliament, newsletters, local campaigns, petitions. It’s not rocket science. His campaigning saw the Clarendon and Belmore Road roundabout project, a particularly dangerous intersection, receive $190,000 (£100,000).
“Installing a roundabout will improve the flow of traffic, improve safety, and I’m really pleased we’ve been able to achieve this outcome,” Coleman said at the time.
And once delivered, he used every medium and opportunity to remind people that their lives were better because of his work as an MP.
Incumbency, achieving small tangible things for your constituency, and then reminding everyone that it wouldn’t have happened without your efforts is so important, especially in marginal seats.
Yes, national issues, like Brexit matter. But being a good MP, being remembered for one or two things that actually matter to people – is the key to MPs staying MPs.
Josh Hatten is a Director of Westminster Professionals. This new organisation provides training, networking opportunities and support to MPs and their offices. To talk about your strategy and office you can reach Josh on 020 8058 1009.