Hywel Williams

Leaders, deputies—and elections

Leaders, deputies--and elections
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£180,000.00 or so doesn't seem to buy you much of a political campaign these days. Peter Hain's attempt at being deputy leader of the Labour party certainly ended in a lot of cheques being signed rather than in ballot papers being crossed in his favour. All that rather desperate spend only reinforced the impression that he was regarded as an outsider within the Labour movement as a whole-despite his status as a cabinet minister and MP of sixteen years standing.

It's all too easy though for a political campaign to run into such difficulties-because here the financial is an aspect of the personal. The moment a candidate puts his name forward is also the time when a large number of political friends and well-wishers decide they want to be a part of the action as well. And their wide-eyed eagerness can cause far more problems than the challenges thrown by the opposing camps.

Some of the money will represent a form of insurance-paid by those with money to spend and a desire to associate themselves with success-if the candidate wins. Others--less rich or more mean--will produce small sums but an equal expectation of access to the candidate of the moment. Very soon the hapless campaign manager will find himself having to adjudicate between these competing claims.

Mario Cuomo once said that while governing was prose, campaigning was poetry. It may seem like that when listening to Senator Obama in full flow-but the reality of campaign management is hardly a question of the easy and unpremeditated flow of iambic pentameters.


It's more like a series of staccato stabs since the audacity of hope-on the candidate's part-also involves the audacity-frequently shading off into outright gibbering irrationality-of his hangers-on and assorted camp-followers. Trading polices and exchanging ideas can give political campaigning an aura of reason. But the irrational undertow of human hopes which is its reality is never that far away.

A campaign brings these qualities to the fore-because it's the moment at which a number of people decide that it's time to defer all the hoping, to forget the frustration, and press the button for action. In these circumstances it can seem perfectly reasonable to spend tens of thousands of pounds on advertisements—as Mr Hain's team did. Anyone who opposes the profligacy will then seem a traitor to the cause or even a fifth-columnist planted in the midst of those who consider themselves to be preparing for government, access and influence.

Steve Morgan, who ran the latter stage of the Hain campaign, is a Welsh PR operator of some standing. He's also rather proud of his mastery of political strategy—a skill which will have been tested in his previous career of professional campaigning on behalf of Al Gore in 2000 and then John Kerry in 2004. With that kind of track-record of success he was not perhaps the obvious choice to run Peter Hain's campaign.


But not even an American presidential will have prepared Morgan for the political exercise which he was supposed to be running. American presidential campaigning has its own executive career structures since it's a more or less continuous process with the next campaigning season starting almost as soon as a president is elected. British campaigning by contrast—whether for office within a party or between the parties at a general election—offers no such continuities of experience. It offers instead the sight of a series of raids on power mounted at irregular intervals by a ragbag of individuals. It's the difference between a well-oiled bureaucracy and a tribal movement. And tribes-to be successful-need a very strong-minded chieftain to keep them in control. As Hain and Morgan have learnt.