Politics, Process, Policy and Campaigning – 4 vital skills you need to win

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.

Speak to me and not at me – the real secret of success for political lobbyists

Many companies do it, at least when they are selling products and services.
NGOs do it when they are fundraising.
Political communication living in the past?
When it comes to political communication most companies and NGOs seem unable to do it. Greenpeace is an exception. Their successful campaigns have all the hallmarks of someone who knows all about Social Network Analysis and Value Communication.
Too often corporate and NGO political communication comes down to a deep belief in religious conversion by words alone. A lot of people think that if you send a letter and a position paper the politician, adviser,or official  that they will realise the errors of their way, and accept the new gospel presented to them.I am sure it happens – it is just that even at this time of year, my belief in religious epiphanies is low.
The improbabilities of this happening seems to be lost on too many.  The smart will at least anticipate and reflect the concerns of their intended audience in their outreach.
 I am only suggesting this as I have tried this out for clients. I informed them what we were going to do.  It works.
The smart, or those with a lot of political challenges,  turn to it.
Google are facing a lot of political challenges in Europe. They are running a series of advertisements on paper and online. They are running a series in the Economist that is very smart.
Speak to Prospectors
Speak to Settlers
Speak to Pioneers
Specific policy communities
Android  are speaking to very specific groups in society. They are using  the very  words, images and emotions that speak personally to these audiences.
I am sure there will be an ad that speaks directly to Danish Liberal women.

Is “Sound Science” an indicator of how politicians vote?

Is “Sound Science” an indicator of how politicians vote?

I was chatting with some people who are convinced that if politicians just understood the science they would back them.

I get why some people may think “if only they understood our scientific case they would back us”. I understand it but don’t agree with it. More importantly, I don’t think there is any evidence to support the idea.

Having spent a long time  working for politicians and lobbying them, I think there are a lot more simple reasons to help explain why a MEP will vote for or against you.


The Background of MEPs

Looking at the Environment Committee you will see MEPs from a wide range of professional backgrounds.

  • Pastors
  • Political activists
  • Charity workers
  • Medical Doctors
  • Lawyers
  • Farmers
  • Civil Servants
  • Business men and women
  • Academics
  • Engineers
  • Scientists
  • Lobbyists

Top Professions for Politicians

I cross checked the background of this Committee with members of another Committee. The backgrounds are similar. Lawyers and political activists top the list.


Empircial Research

So, I have just spent a rainy December, using Vote Watch,  to see how a group of MEPs  of scientific backgrounds have voted. It’s dull work.

There are few votes that you could say are about science. The vote on DEHP is one of the few.

I looked at the voting habits of the scientists and doctors to see if their “scientific understanding” changed how they voted. It did not.

By far the best indicator of support is Party Membership.

One vote is not an ideal indicator. So, I  looked at some similar scientific votes. Again and again the results were the same, but with an added twist.  It seems that the more an MEP’s background is from science or as a doctor, the MEP is the less likely to back industry on the “science”.

This is good news for me. I understand lawyers and political activists best (I have been both. I won’t have to learn to think like a scientist.

Political party card and nationality is the best indicator of whether a politician will back your case.  It seems clear that science is not going to win them over.



Smart Political Advertising hits Brussels

At nearly 47, I don’t get impressed easily.

This morning reading the Economist, in the Europe section, I saw an excellent advertisement. It was an advertisement by android.

Here it is.





It’s part of a series of stories android are telling.


The self same ad popped up in twitter (micro-targeting the Brussels Bubble) and Politico.

This campaign can’t be cheap. Two pagers in the Economist are not cheap.


Values Work

But, what is really is impressive about the campaign is the depth of thinking that android have put into it.

What’s really smart, and is hardly ever done by companies, is that each story hits a different “Value” Communities.

They speak to Pioneers like me, Prospectors and Settlers.

It shows a degree of political sophistication that companies public affairs departments usually just don’t grasp. Most political positioning in Brussels (and to be fair nearly everywhere else)  advances as far as “Back this, it is good for me, so vote for it”. That it is does not really work, does not seem to bother many people.

What’s interesting is that many companies marketing and advertising departments do know what sells to their target audiences. The advertisements they use work and they speak to the values of their customers.



Android is a Google product. Google is having some difficulties with the Commission. I am sure the campaign and antitrust cases have a link, but I may just be getting old. I prefer apple.