22 November 2011

The Zazzy Substitution, political version #nlpoli

There’s the American presidential way:

President Josiah Bartlet:  You got a best friend?
Agriculture Secretary: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: Is he smarter than you?
AS: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: Would you trust him with your life?
AS: Yes, sir.
President Josiah Bartlet: That's your Chief of Staff.

In any political office, the chief of staff position is one of the lynchpins of the whole operation.  The person in the job needs bags of policy and political experience, judgment and a whole host of other qualities.  One of the big ones is a special, personal relationship with the party leader or the politico for whom he or she works.

That’s why the West Wing writers had Bartlet talk about the chief of staff to the president as his smarter best friend who the president would trust with his life.  Odds are the president’s friends are every bit as capable as he or she is.

So when you need a person with all those qualities and a whole bunch more besides, you would expect an organization to go out and find the specific person for the job that they need, the sort of quiet, low-key head hunting for the sort of senior executive plus a whole lot more that the job requires.

Or you can just place an ad in the newspaper, like the Liberals have done for their office.

Wanted:  One Chief of Staff.


Note one of the qualifications is the need for political “savvy”.  That sounds suspiciously like what Sheldon named one of his cats after he broke up with Amy Farrah Fowler.

Finding a chief of staff for the official opposition should be a big deal for the Liberals.  In the ordinary course of things, the chief of staff in the opposition office would be the potential chief of staff to the premier. The job requires extraordinary judgment and an extraordinarily close relationship with the Leader, to whom the chief is the single most important advisor.  The chief of staff can also be a key source of stability for the staff and even for new politicians who are unfamiliar with their jobs and the demands of their new world.  The chief of staff can provide direction for the whole organization. 

Bear that bit in mind when you look back on the past eight years.  The Liberals haven’t had anyone doing the chief of staff job or even anything vaguely like it – despite claims to the contrary - since they went to the opposition benches in 2003. The absence of an experienced and capable chief of staff didn’t help in the first period in opposition. 

After 2007, the Liberals decided not to fully staff the office at the senior level, again.  That created yet another source of instability in a caucus that proved to be largely devoid of direction and a party leadership that wasn’t any better.

And so in 2011, the Liberals are in no better shape. The party fill-in leader is waiting for his replacement to show up.  The leader he replaced, who has become the interim opposition leader – yet again – is waiting for her fill-in to fill-in. 

Meanwhile the executive board seems to be trying to figure out how long they can dither and delay making a decision on leadership.  Perhaps they are hoping that the caucus leader – Dwight Ball seems to be lined up for Opposition Leader -  could be named party leader, thereby avoiding any sort of leadership contest at all.

By the time they sort that out, Ball could well inherit not a staff of his choosing, but rather a bunch of people selected for him by others who may or may not know what should be going on.  Rather than hunt for the right person, the Liberals have decided to let people select themselves for the job.

The future leader’s fate  - whoever it may be - is sealed no matter what happens now. The Liberals have to pick one of the people who sends in a resume even if none of them is suitable, let alone qualified.  To do anything else would leave the party open to the same embarrassing, silly, public display that took place last year when some other party loyalist didn’t get the job to which he felt he was entitled.  Imagine what the racket over the erstwhile premier’s chief of staff job would look like.

Of course, the real message in this job competition is even more stark:  the Liberals have told the universe that they are not thinking for a second about rebuilding or the future or anything so grand.  They just want to flesh out the staff chart or hire on a defeated candidate who needs a job.

What the Liberals are doing today virtually guarantees that in 2015 they won’t be a political factor at all.

- srbp -