Bert Kelly, “Kiss every baby, lick every boot?” The Australian Financial Review, January 23, 1976, p. 3.
After each election Mavis gives me a lecture about how I should start to campaign for the next election the day the poll for this one is declared.
“You must be ceaselessly assiduous, dear,” she says.
“Till the electorate soil endlessly and tirelessly. You must be seen to be a dedicated servant of the people. Attend every function, open every fete, wipe every eye, smooth every brow, kiss every baby, lick every boot. By so doing you will surely be able to increase your majority at the next election. And think how proud that would make me, and perhaps they will even make you a minister at last.”
Of course Mavis is talking nonsense, though I didn’t dare tell her so.
The lesson of the last election is that members of Parliament are swept in and swept out on electoral tides.
If the tide is running our way new members appear in our party, but if the tide is running out most will disappear next time.
Many of the Labor members who lost their seats at the last election were tireless in the services of their constituents, were ceaseless in their attention to their electorate — more so indeed than many members who are still in Parliament.
Members of Parliament often delude themselves that they are well and favourably known in their electorates and so have a large personal following.
But it is seldom so.
One day, after I had been an MP for some years and was, I thought, cutting a wide swathe through my electorate, a friend met me in the street and said:
“Nice to see you, old boy. Can you tell me who succeeded Mr X?” (our previous member of Parliament).
I thought for a while and then told him that I didn’t know but if I found out I would advise him. I hope he has found out now and is properly embarrassed.
Some MPs may attract a personal vote of even up to 1 per cent, but few manage this unless they are famous footballers.
All the powerful people in our party are urging the new members who have suddenly appeared in our midst to really work their electorates all day and all night in the hope of holding all the seats that we have won.
But the sad truth is in most cases the newly won seats will be held, not by the dedication of the members, but by the performance of the Government.
And the performance of the Opposition won’t make much difference either, because Oppositions don’t win elections — Governments lose them.
The best advice we can give our fine batch of new members is not to pee in every pocket in their electorate, but to help us evolve and then explain policies that are right.
If the Government is doing the right thing, the position of the new member will be assured. If it does wrong things and is unpopular, nothing can save him.
I repeat, most members in swinging seats come in and go out on the tide of the Government’s popularity.
One of the problems will be to resist the temptation to try to protect the position of all our new members.
There will be great pressure, particularly from the members concerned, to take particular action to safeguard a particular seat, even if the action to be taken is clearly wrong.
But this often does the member more harm than good, because if a Government becomes unpopular in other electorates because it has taken such policies, the electoral prospects of the member will suffer from the original action.
But far more important is the damage done to a party’s morality and morale if the Government does something that it knows is wrong in order to safeguard a particular member’s position.
The member will know, the Government will know, and much more important, the party will know, that a principle has been sacrificed, a philosophy weakened.
Once a political party lets its standard slip, is false to its philosophy, it pays the price sooner or later, and generally much sooner than we expect.
Fast footwork is admirable if you are going in the right direction, but if it is just being used to hide what you are at because you are ashamed of it, then it is better just to plod along the straight and narrow path of rectitude.
Summing it all up, it is not going to be plain sailing to have such a large number of such good members.
But I guess it is a problem that the Labor Party would be happy to have just now.
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