Cr Ali Cupper of Mildura City council, first became involved in politics as an ALP candidate in the 2010 State election. She says “although I was easily beaten by the incumbent MP, I discovered a passion for local politics and was inspired to pursue other opportunities in the field”. In 2012 Ali was successfully elected as an independent on Mildura Council, and was re-elected in 2016.
Electoral success is only possible with a solid base of support and I never take this for granted…..
I am a progressive politician in a traditionally conservative region and trying to convert campaign aspirations into tangible outcomes can be tough when your colleagues have an entirely different world-view. But along the way I’ve learnt that winning a vote in the chamber isn’t the only way to advance an issue and many of my supporters understand that. Provided I do what is within my control, which is to give a consistent and authentic voice to the issues they care about, supporters tend to appreciate my efforts and continue their support.
People often assume the time for consultation is before a decision is made, but it’s equally important to engage with people afterwards. If a decision is controversial (and most are to some degree) you can expect some negative feedback. Regardless of whether the criticism comes from a reliable supporter or a regular opponent, don’t ignore it, engage with it. I have a policy to never block anyone or delete a comment from social media. Supporters value a leader who is accessible and who has the courage to hear and respond to criticism. I believe this has helped me to sustain my support base over the course of the last 7 years.
Loyalty to core values and consistency over time are also important in maintaining support.
This is especially important when working with vulnerable groups that have previously not had a strong platform in Council. In order to represent these groups effectively, you need to build trust and rapport, and this takes time. Some groups are used to being let down by politicians and you want to reward their faith, not reinforce their cynicism.
At the same time, politics is the art of the possible and sometimes compromises are necessary for the sake of the long game. Deviating from an established position can test your relationship with your base. My advice in this situation is to get on the front foot and explain yourself. Resist the temptation to make a controversial decision quietly and hope no-one notices. Own your decisions and be accountable. Supporters are more likely to forgive a compromise if it happens rarely and you are transparent about your motives.