Tactical Lessons, Part I: The Conservatives

By Jared Wesley on Dec 11, 2008

Hindsight is 20/20, and a backseat driver is always the best judge of the road.  For what it's worth, here's my view of the past few weeks, as seen out the rear windshield.  Part I:  What lessons can we learn from the Conservatives?

Lesson 1:  When you're in your best sweater-vest, don't throw mud.

Without a doubt, the Tories' first and most crucial error was issuing the "F.U." (fiscal update) to Parliament.  Between them, the bans on public servant strikes and per-vote subsidies painted the opposition parties into a corner.  Surely, that was the intention.  One gets the sense that the Conservatives had no intention of following through with these proposals.  (The quick retreat suggested prior planning.)  Rather, their purpose was to make the opposition look hapless, self-interested, or both.  It was a gamble, and one that tarnished the image of all parties involved.  Stephen Harper's hopes of crafting a sweater vest image - attracting moderate voters and women - are all but dashed, as a result.

Lesson 2:  Consider all options.

Despite Jack Layton's constant musings during the campaign, the ‘coalition option' didn't enter into the Conservatives' calculations.  One wonders whether Mr. Harper would do it all over again, knowing what he does today. 

Lesson 3:  Don't hire "yes" men.

As suggested last night on The National, Conservative fortunes have retreated since the departure of Harper's original brain trust.  Flanagan, Bosenkool, Brodie, and others were never afraid to either tell Harper "no," or to ignore some of his more ill-advised suggestions (see Lesson 1).  That's the job of any good political advisor.  If media reports and anecdotes are accurate, Giorno and Harper now hire "assistants" based on ‘the level of fear in their eyes.'  In such a working environment, more ideas like the "F.U.," publicly-announced cuts to arts funding, and midnight Senate appointments, tend to slip through the cracks.  It's ironic, then, that so many people have blamed Tom Flanagan - specifically - for the events of the last few weeks.  In reality, as Tom suggested himself on television, none of this would have happened on his watch.

I invite readers to submit their own lessons.   Goodness knows this episode will form the basis of textbooks and lectures for decades to come.

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