This is an excellent book to read to understand the nature of modern day politics, and Stephen Harper's rise to power. Flanagan writes well and keeps the book's momentum going right through to the end. However, I can readily understand why Harper was so furious over the writing of this work as it outlines most of his electoral tactics and strategies. Ultimately, it led to him ending his close relationship with Flanagan.
In concept, the basic principles of successful campaigning are simple. First, a ground war is fought which uses technology to identify sympathetic voters, and then maintains regular contact with them to build empathy and develop fund raising. Secondly, an air war is fought which involves relentless control and delivery of party messaging, to ensure the domination of one's position in the media. This is the most crucial factor in the winning of any election.
If the concept is simple, the implementation is extremely difficult and requires enormous amounts of energy, discipline,and money. From attack ads to day to day delivery of party platform, absolutely everything is preplanned well before the election period starts. The fine line between success and failure is so close that any kind of add hoc action normally leads to disaster. I was amazed at how detailed and mechanical this operation is, and how everything is related to spin, spin, spin. Forget about idealism and spontaneity! Its all about the polls and positioning.
I am well familiar with Flanagan's style and character. He is a right wing propagandist and a loose cannon to boot. Although he tries to take a moderate tone in this book, with his descriptions of "the leader," Harper, and his own actions and contributions to the campaign, one also sees him condoning the distortion of the truth, the breaking of election rules, and the accelerated use of attack ads and wedge issues. (I found it hilarious how he kept referring to his conservative attack ads as fact-based ads.) Perhaps this is the nature of the game, and of course he blames the Liberals as the initiators, but it is easy for me see how his cavalier attitude of no holes barred has led us to the robocall disaster of the 2011 election, and the cynicism and passivity of the Canadian electorate. It may be electioneering, but it has little to do with real democracy.
Finally, I thought the most revealing element in the book was Flanagan's statement that the neo-conservative's target audiences were the lower middle class and working class elements of the population. Obviously, the party was not interested in the upper class elements as they felt this group was was too well educated to be responsive to their message. Instead, they hoped to play on the prejudices and fears of the most vulnerable elements of the population in the hopes of gaining power. Its called populism and demagoguery.
Ultimately, by pitting social class against social class, special interest groups against special interest groups, and region against region, the neo-conservative's well organized minority has been able to override the values and interests of the majority of the country. For a fragile country as Canada the resulting polarization is profoundly dangerous and may lead to the break up of the country. Ironically, those who have the most to lose from such a disaster are the very social classes that the neo-conservatives have targeted. Flanagan and Harper, no matter what happens, will still be collecting their pensions and living in their ivory, ideological towers. Such is life.