Nothing is more valued in politics than loyalty and nothing so threatening as loyalty betrayed.
Having been thrown under the bus by Prime Minister Harper, both Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau have come out fighting and are providing Harpers foes with a dream scandal – both important and enduring (it has legs as the politicos like to say).
For those not familiar, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau were appointed to the Senate by Harper as patronage for past loyalty to the Party. Duffy was a high profile journalist and Brazeau delivered urban Aboriginal voters to Harper in each of the last two elections. Both have gotten into hot water over claiming expenses that are not considered legitimate – not huge amounts of money but enough to matter.
In response, Harper came out aggressively, denying any personal involvement and trying to kick them out of the Senate. Well, it turned out he did have personal involvement (at least in the Royal sense). Harper’s chief of staff leant Duffy money to replay expenses and Brazeau is now claiming her was offered a ‘back room deal’ to keep quiet. To make matters worse, it is also unclear that, legally, Harper can kick them out of the Senate and some fellow Senators are now resisting Harper’s request for fear of lack of due process.
Harper is in a mess. He has given the opposition a salacious scandal that just keeps on given.
So what should Harper learn? First, and most obviously, if you declare war on a fellow politician, make sure you are able to kill him. Duffy and Brazeau are most dangerous because the are deeply injured and have nothing more to lose. Their reputations have been so damaged, there is no downside in exposing everything. And everyone knows, in politics, by necessity, there is lost of backscratching, favours exchanged and patronage. Insiders know it is the only way business gets done, but to outsiders it all looks pretty dirty.
Lesson number two is also quite obvious. The coverup is always worse than the original offence, and in an age of social media, coverups always get out. A conservative Senator overcharging expenses (which were in a grey zone to start with) is not that big a deal. Lying about lending him money to repay it – that is trouble.
Lesson number three is the tough one. Politicians place loyalty above all else, including merit. This is not completely unreasonable as you need people around you that you can count on and who will go the extra mile for you. A lot of politics is subjective and having someone who will stick with you really does have value, and the system kind of relies on it. But loyalty in politics has reached a level of perversity. Over and over, politicians most trusted allies and advisors turn and go from most trusted friend to bitterest enemy in a matter of days. What we are learning is that loyalty, unbacked by true shared beliefs or expertise is fleeting. Friends become enemies too easily and past relations trump logic and interests too often.
If Duffy and Brazeau are good Conservatives and want to deliver votes because they believe in the cause, that is great. Plush rewards, easily revoked are both unnecessary and, as Harper is learning, very costly.