Politics, Process, Policy and Campaigning
A friend recently asked me about the skills needed for politics, political campaigning and policy making. It’s a smart question. The lines often seem blurred.
In Brussels and DC, a lot of smart young people come to town. After an internship in the Commission, or DC think tank, they think they are newly minted mythical creature of policy, political and campaigning experts rolled into one.
Too often people find themselves in political positions and find out late that that they don’t like politics. In fact, they don’t really like the process, policy, campaigning, let alone the politics. In Brussels policy experts find themselves promoted and find out they dislike the politics and campaigning, and find the process unpleasant. When interviewed, they come look like a scared rabbits caught in the headlights.
An understanding, if not mastery, is essential if you are going to represent your client or interests well.
A lot of people who like policy hate politics. They hate having to do what needs to be done to get enough broad political support to get their positions adopted. They hate the deal making with political opponents, the fleeting political alliances, and backslapping. I have always liked it, but I came up through the political machine.
The political operator is the person who returns every phone call, no matter how late at night. They are your go to person to garner a political coalition that gets what you want.
Yet, at the same time, they are going to keep your base constituency on board.
The great Irish-American, Congressman Tip O’Neil, was a great political deal maker.
I always rated Ken Collins MEP, the dominant Chair of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee. He got the laws he wanted adopted whoever was sitting up against him. I approached him to seek his backing to secure the adoption of the 1st Daughter Directive on ambient air pollution, back in 1997. When I secured his endorsement, I knew the job of my MEP, Anita Pollack, was going to be a lot easier.
There are a lot of eggs heads in Brussels and Washington DC. Clever young men and women come to town thinking that 200-page policy reports will change things. As J.W. Kingdon notes this rarely happens.
Policy expertise can be useful at the start. But, too many policy experts neuter themselves by their inability to converse with anyone outside their policy community.
As a rule, I’d keep think tankers very far away from the political debate. There is a strong political autism strain that runs deep. Their ability to offend politicians and policy makers is high.
The policy expert who can communicate lucidly and concisely with a broader community is a powerful force. EPC’s Fabian Zuleeg is one of that rare breed.
I have added process because I think this is the vital ingredient. Most people ignore it.
You need someone who can secure the adoption of their organization’s position through the machinery of the government or legislature.
Too often, people do not have an understanding or mastery of the rules of procedure for getting laws into proposals or adopted as amendments onto the Statute book.
They are also the person who keeps your internal machine flowing. They make sure that crap position papers and insulting lobbying letters don’t even reach your desk, let alone go out the door.
Ludwig Kramer, the former DG Environment lawyer and head of unit, was a veritable master of the process. His crisp yet powerful brief policy briefs would expose the weakness of the opposition and lead to even sceptics often siding with him. He secured the adoption of so many laws into the OJ because he knew the process better than almost anyone in the Commission.
The apprenticeship for becoming a skilled political campaigner puts most people off. If you can’t communicate your case clearly and persuasively, in particular beyond your bed rock political constituency, it really matters little. You are not going to win.
A lot of campaigners don’t stray and resist the lure of government. James Carville stuck strictly to the campaign trail. Ed Rollins tried government and hated it.
There are a few master class political campaigners out there. Chris Davies, the UK Liberal Democrat and former MEP knew how to assemble a winning bi-partisan coalition in the European Parliament.
Greenpeace’s Saskia Richartz and WWF’s Stefania Scampogianni I rate as an exceptional pros.
There are few people I know who combine all the skills. Former WWF’s Director, Tony Long, had it. There are a few more, but I will make their lives easier by not naming them.