Did you know ballot order, a familiar first name, and genetic fortune can have a significant impact on who is elected? A little luck in politics can go a long way.
Last week I launched my new book, The Luck of Politics in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. You can podcast the Sydney launch (in conversation with David Marr) and the ANU launch (just my speech) at Podbean and on iTunes.
Katy Gallagher's wonderful introduction at the ANU launch is below:
Katy Gallagher, Launch Speech, The Luck of Politics
My job tonight is to introduce Andrew – but not before I say a few words about luck. So in putting some words together for tonight;
I asked my 7 year old what luck meant to her: she replied “when good things happen”
I then asked my 9 year old son: I don’t think he was actually listening to me as he replied “what she said” but did confirm he thought it was about “good things”
I then turned to my 18 year old (via SMS of course)
I sent her a message saying “What does luck mean to you?” she replied “What ?????????????????????”
Closely followed by a series of emoji indicating that she thought I was going crazy.
I sent her another SMS saying that I was saying a few words about luck tonight and I wanted to know what she thought”
She replied “like that time I found $20 on the ground in Garema Place”.
Clearly, I needed to raise the level of my research and so I consulted a dictionary:
Definition: the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person's life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities
Or as Andrew defines it in his book– events that the individual concerned does not control or predict
Luck is something that each of us experiences. Good luck is something we long for and bad luck something we tend to try to avoid.
Luck certainly shapes our life – from the very beginning and remains with us throughout our lives – right until the end. And even then sometimes our own luck can even outlive us.
When reading Andrew’s book the luck of politics it caused me to reflect on the role luck has played in my life in politics
Bad luck actually got me started in politics back in the late 90’s
Good luck got me elected in that first term (I hope many of you know a little about the vagaries of the Hare Clark system) in 2001, 78,528 formal votes were made across 41 candidates vying for 1 of 7 seats. As an unknown candidate I polled 3443 votes 4.38% of the vote a quota which gets you elected in your own right was 9817 votes. So to win my seat I had to hope that I kept my neck in front of the other candidates whilst preferences were distributed.
My closest rival was another Labor candidate who polled 3202 votes just 241 less votes than I got. Pretty close – but to understand how lucky I was I need to tell you about something that happened in the final week of the campaign –
The candidate who ultimately lost to me by just over 200 votes had, in the last week been unable to do a media interview and so generously handed the interview over to me. It was a humourous, non political puff piece in the end which was broadcast in the final week – including on the night before the polls opened- I’m sure that one interview helped me to get extra votes in the crucial last week of the campaign. It literally was publicity that I couldn’t afford to buy!!
(200 votes was too close for comfort so for the next 3 election campaigns I decided never to let my own electoral success be determined by luck again and to always get a quota in my own right)
Over the next 13 years luck (good and bad) has played an ongoing role in my political career – and it’s difficult to acknowledge this – as politicians, we tend to prefer to identify our own success (not our failures) as a product of our own capability and skills – and sure some of it is because of that but as Andrew clearly outlines in this week – luck is all around us – shaping those chances, events and of course ever important in politics – the opportunities ahead.
So after reading this book I know that I am very lucky to be one of the .006% of the population who serve in the national parliament – particularly as my gender, name, height all were weighted against me – and if you don’t follow that logic you will need to read the book.
Whether it’s the weather (hot cold drought floods), international events, national economy, global economy, slip ups, leaks, close votes, death, ill-health, plane crashes, surnames, ethnicity, and the order with which your babies were born….. And so on – this book takes the reader gently, clinically and rationally through the impact that these variables, these events, these circumstances have on the world in which we live.
Now, a warning for the control freaks among us – and I know there will be a few in this room- C’mon we are among friends here – who will find the contents of this book quite disconcerting.
Over 150 pages of facts and figures which, when presented with the often amusing historical anecdotes – demonstrate very clearly just how little we actually control in our own lives and life events.
The Politics of Luck is part historical record, part pop-culture journal, part political science text – As a whole (and we expect nothing less from Andrew) – it’s a very entertaining but educating read.
The book looks at how luck affects the careers of particular politicians, shapes whether governments stand or fall, examines the role of the media in political life and then moves beyond the political world and looks at how this has shaped the world we live in today.
For example just how did the assassination of US presidents eight days before the 1963 Australian election affect the country we are today? Well, to find out you will have to read the book.
A more recent example of how a single event changed a nation–would be to ask the questions of what would have happened if the Australian Greens had supported Labor’s original ETS back in 2009? I for one – still blame that decision and the fallout from it – for giving us Tony Abbott as PM.
Whilst the politics of luck can be used to explain a lot – it can’t be used to explain everything and one thing we do know – and this book makes the case even clearer - is that the challenge ahead for those of us from the progressive side of politics – is just as the politics seems to get faster and harder and meaner – the opportunities for serious reform become more challenging too. But this does not or should not put us off our work or weaken our resolve – rather the opposite is true – this book makes the case for serious reform and serious reformers even more urgent.
And with that in mind it gives me great pleasure to hand over to one of Federal Labors serious reformers – a man with an exciting future ahead in politics, he’s a man with an incredible work ethic (remember this is the guy who has voluntarily studied 200 national elections just to test the effect of global economic cycles on elections results!!!) a guy with a huge brain and just as importantly a kind heart.
Over to you Dr Andrew Leigh.