on March 21, 2012
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 him to end 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.
on October 2, 2007
Tom Flanagan wrote a gem with Harper's Team. As an American, its hard to get my hands on good Canadian political material, so I couldn't wait to read this one. (Thought I'd get a good deal ordering from Canada, but the loonie and the dollar drew even. who knew?).
I have read Johnson's biography on Harper, and Wells' Right Side Up, and this is a great addition to the collection. Where Wells' book offers a valuable outsider perspective on the 2006 election, Flanagan offers the insider story on Team Harper and its bid to unseat the Liberal government.
The book is in the truest sense a behind the scenes look on the four leadership campaigns undertaken by Stephen Harper. That is to say, Harper himself is not discussed in great depth - Johnson's book covers that. Rather, the book focuses strongly on campaign strategy and analysis produced by Harper's team from the Canadian Alliance days all the way up to the 2006 election.
I must say I was greatly intrigued by the sections discussing the merger between the Reform/CA and the PCs. Flanagan did a great job highlighting the difficulties of merging two completely different political cultures. It really is quite amazing that the CPC came together the way it did in such a short period of time. Flanagan speaks very highly of the contributions made by PC members of the party.
Being an insider, Flanagan seems to have a pretty solid grasp on the strengths and weaknesses of the Conservative Party. He readily points out the party' limitations with certain voting blocs and electoral regions. I do wish he would have gone into more detail on the 2006 election victory. The book builds up for a big finish, but then he barely discusses the election results. Bummer.
But overall, he does a great job of illustrating just how far the CPC has come in the last five years, showing in very simple terms how the party finally broke through to victory.
on October 5, 2007
It is hard to believe that five years ago Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan were a couple of mildly successful right wing policy wonks and Canadian Conservatives were fragmented and listless. The new century saw the decline of the Canada's right wing voice and was heralded by key Liberal provincial victories; the Conservative journey to irrelevance seemed to have no end.
Today the Canadian political landscape today is vastly different. Harper has been transformed into the respected, though hardly loved, Tim Horton's-drinking Prime Minister of Canada. Tom Flanagan, who can justly be characterized as Harper's right brain, was one of the prime architects of the Conservative Party retooling and Harper's climb to the top of the parliamentary heap. Under Harper's leadership the once vapid Conservatives are a party that continues to grow in popularity to the point where they are currently on the verge of successfully replacing the federal Liberals as the leading federalist party in Quebec!
Tom Flanagan's new book, Harper's Team : Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power is a valuable and unique look at the ascension of the Stephen Harper led Conservatives from a seemingly ineffective opposition to Canada's current government. A book like this from someone with the credibility and analytical ability of Tom Flanagan is rare, and the insights he has into our current Prime Minister and his brain trust, are unavailable from any other source.
By any standard, this is a great story. Tom Flanagan was an integral part of every important move Harper ever made. He spotted the young Harper, who was a student of his at the University of Calgary, recognized the man's potential, and has long been one of the key players in Harper's inner circle. He has been a key advisor to Harper for the past five years. So Flanagan is uniquely positioned to provide insight into the Harper team and how it accomplished the political transformation that has played across the country.
At its heart, this book is a nuts-and-bolts, practical look at political growth and electoral success the like of which has not been seen since John Lashinger's Leaders and Lesser Mortals, published in 1992. And unlike the equally enjoyable Right Side Up by Paul Wells, Harper's Team has the added cache of being written by one of the key figures in Harper's decision-making team. Indeed, the friendship between the stoic and brainy Harper and equally brainy Flanagan is part of the unique appeal of this book.
For the political practitioner, this book is full of descriptions of campaign techniques as currently practiced by the Conservative Party. It's a useful update, especially considering the transformation of political practices that has occurred since the arrival of the Internet.
Flanagan, as he details in this book, has avoided the public spotlight since coming to serve with Harper in Ottawa. He learned quickly that a lead staff person to the Leader of the Opposition does not voice an opinion, no matter how interesting, which differs from that of the leader. That's why Flanagan, a published academic particularly well respected on the subject of Louis Riel and other native topics, has essentially been silenced until now.
As a Canadian Métis, I have a strong appreciation for the quality and thoughtfulness of Flanagan's previous academic work on native issues. I have read his book on Riel, and found it a substantial and important contribution to the scholarship on the subject. Yet Flanagan has served as a kind of über-nerd bogeyman for those who have wanted to criticize Stephen Harper, usually for his critical views on Riel and native issues. Usually this is political posturing, and sadly, it is often done by those who have never read his work.
Regardless of your political philosophy, it is hard to reconcile the harsh criticisms that have been levied against Flanagan with the tone and content of this newest book. It is clearly written, thoughtfully argued, easily accessible and deliberate and measured in tone. Moreover, the writing and publishing of this material is very much in the public interest.
The best part comes the towards the end as Flanagan discusses the creation and execution of the Conservative ad campaigns and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaigns in the failed 2004 campaign and successful 2006 campaign. Always the teacher, Flanagan concludes with 'The Ten Commandments of Conservative Campaigning. This section contains items on unity, moderation, inclusion, and self-discipline.
A remarkable book and very worth your time.
on July 29, 2011
The book was filled with exceptional detail. No slow spots. I was fascinated by the complexity of running a successful campaign.
I felt I got to know a little bit more about what makes Mr Harper tick and from what I have learned, I am very impressed.
It is hard to understate the achievement and the success of Mr Harper given the huge task he set out for himself. Of course, it takes a lot more than the candidate to be successfully elected and Tom Flanagan should be given a big chunk of credit for helping Mr Harper to become Prime Minister.
I think the book is very helpful to all those who want to get elected but don't know all the different tools that are needed to make them successful. It's also a great book for all those who are looking for the truth about Mr Harper rather than the fiction they get from the media.