Hey bloggers, stop blaming the staff

by Jake Quinn

The Standard guest author Jimmy Reid writes about the struggle by Labour parties around the world to formulate and articulate their vision. He says they have “no communications strategy or narrative.” 

Some interesting points are made in the post about the lack of a cohesive vision, both here and elsewhere. It seems that Labour parties the world over understood what they used to stand for, but are now struggling to find an effective space between the centre and the left that makes sense to both voters and membership.

Jimmy goes on to attack David Shearer’s staff, saying he “is being let down by an inept communications team and by useless advisors. We really have to stop assuming that because someone is a journalist they get campaign and political communications. There is more to it than boozy lunches with Duncan Garner.” 

On the points raised about poor advice and advisers, I think that he (and some other bloggers) probably overstate this. Don’t get me wrong, crappy staff can create massive headaches, and good ones are worth their weight in gold, but leadership and vision mostly comes from the leader and their deputy, they are the ones that are ultimately responsible for how the public perceives their vision.

When Goff was in charge there were calls from left-blogs to sack some of his staff. Do you think a new press secretary would have suddenly made Goff more loved by the public? I doubt it. While it would be nice to think a savvy staffer could have that kind of impact (and I guess this is a meme encouraged on shows like West Wing and elsewhere), I think its unrealistic.

When getting stuck into staffers, it’s worth keeping in mind that the battle of ideas within a party happens within the caucus, party council and senior leadership group. Staffers role’s are much more to do with following orders and cleaning up messes rather than dictating politically-genius strategic manoeuvres to senior MPs. (It’s also worth pointing out that there has been a near complete turn over of Opposition Leader’s Office staff over the last year or so).

Shearer (and his counterparts in Aus and the UK) are receiving no shortage of advice, from all sorts of quarters, plenty of of it good, plenty of it not. They need to have the smarts to pick who to listen to. Ultimately though, the buck stops with them. Blaming staffers, while not entirely a waste of time, is probably a bit of a red herring.