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Electioneering made as simple as one, two, three

Candidate Jaymes Diaz struggled to remember the six-point plan of Tony Abbott’s in the 2013 federal election campaign. Photo: Network Ten

Political columnist ANDREW HUGHES has hit on a way for a candidate to get elected. Well, some of the way. He calls it the Hughes Rule of Three and thinks it’s a winner. 

Okay, so you want me to be a campaign manager. What would I do if I was running a campaign for a party right now here in the ACT? 

Dr Andrew Hughes.

The Hughes Rule of Three* is as good as any to start. (*Note: the author’s base attempt to claim copyright and fame one day.) 

The Rule of Three is what I call having three main key narratives for a large area, three policies for each electorate, and then three at suburb levels. The Rule of Three. 

Firstly to the three main key narratives. These are three key values that you better believe in yourself. Is it leadership? Ethics? Transparency? Hope? Aspiration? For mine, I would always have an aspirational value such as hope, then something connected to the government such as leadership, and finally, the third being Canberran. So let’s go for Hope, Leadership and Us. 

Why not be more specific, you say? One of the most famous political campaign videos on YouTube is also one of the most painful to watch. It’s that one of Jaymes Diaz, candidate for the federal seat of Greenway, struggling to remember the six-point plan of Tony Abbott’s in the 2013 federal election campaign. He got none right. Had it not been for Labor being at one of its lowest ebbs ever, this may have cost the Liberals far more than one seat and endless parodies. 

Contrast that to the campaign of David Pocock and the Teals. Three talking points: integrity, climate change and leadership. Simple, easy, and consistent with both candidate and brand. It allowed him the opportunity to easily campaign across the territory from Calwell to Charnwood without any fear of the narrative being lost in translation. 

So let’s go to the next three, the electorate-specific ones. This starts to narrow down the offering to more tangibles. Belconnen (Ginninderra) might focus on public transport, health and opportunities for youth. Tuggeranong (Brindabella) would be similar, but maybe something for the lake. You get the gist. 

What these three tangibles need to be based on is direct engagement with the community in the four years MLAs should have been active in the local community. Should have been. 

Three electorate-level policies allows leader and candidate to remain focused on what matters when engaging with the electorate, but helps keep the narrative focused; moving, but with enough room to allow for development of policy and ideas as a campaign progresses. 

A team divided can still unite around policies at the electorate level. It shows voters engagement, initiative and optimism. Essentially a clear link to the big three. 

Now, suburb level. Three should be easy. Over summer that was grass mowing. I mean I was sort of hoping that this would be the year the How Tall Can Grass Get in Canberra study would be allowed to run across summer but alas. 

But this is where candidate selection is so important. Resumes and captivating headshots are one thing, but when you get Colin’d it didn’t really matter. 

Colin’d? Colin “The Garbo” Garland (his own nickname, by the way) ran a fantastic local campaign in the 2024 Tasmanian election on a budget of $3000, most of it given to him. Same system as here essentially. He blew the majors off with their snazzy buzzwords and slick 4K HD campaign vids with just simple, local and connected policies filmed and communicated by phones years old. 

The three suburban-level policies show how local you really are. How connected you are to each suburb in your electorate. That you know how important soft-fall playgrounds are as much as you do a juicy salary number in your career post-politics. 

The buses, which run every two hours hurt the kid who comes from a single-parent home and can’t get to that part-time job on time. That there needs to be more protected and enforced disabled parking spaces at the local shopping centre. 

If a candidate can’t talk about these issues they belong in the bin along with the glossy resume-selection process that got them that gig in the first place. 

This is why candidate selection is so important in Canberra, get it wrong and the connection between all three – city, electorate and suburban – is peeled away faster than a Post-It note on a government development application. 

The Rule of Three allows for constant engagement by leader, candidate and party. Be that through events, media, policy or announcements and the new, evil trend in campaigns, the re-announcement cleverly reworded as something different. New. Shiny. On Special. 

It’s my belief that the party with the closest to this strategy will have a very good chance at doing well in October. 

Of course, there is risk with reward. Leaders can get obsessed with ego over reality. Candidates get side tracked. Party’s do wild stunts with cooking themes. But let’s all hope we never see a six-point plan with accompanying candidate comedy vid on YouTube ever again. 

Dr Andrew Hughes is a lecturer in marketing with the Research School of Management at ANU where he specialises in political marketing and advertising, and the use of emotions in marketing and tourism.

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