Reach for Topp
It’s reach for the Topp!
Monday’s news wasn’t really news — veteran NDP backroom guy Brian Topp has finally revealed what pretty much everyone already knew: He covets the New Democrat leadership, and will formally seek it. Around Ottawa, it’s been an open secret almost from the moment of Jack Layton’s sad passing.
While not news, Topp’s ambition does provide us all with an unprecedented opportunity to have fun with words.
When we meet his family, will the event be hailed as “Pop of the Topps”? Is Brian at the Topp of the leadership pack? Will he now claim to be a Topp-drawer candidate?
Anyway, you get the idea. It’ll be fun for headline-writers, but possibly not Brian Topp.
That said, the longtime NDP adviser popped by the National Press Theatre on Monday, with his surprise supporter — none other than former leader Ed Broadbent. Topp spoke (and spoke, and spoke) in impressive French and English, and he modeled a neatly barbered head.
He dissed the idea of a Liberal-NDP merger (“We don’t need to be Liberals to win,” he said) and he put Prime Minister Stephen Harper on notice (“I will fight Stephen Harper, I will focus on his failures and his shortcomings,” he huffed).
I rather doubt Harper lost a lot of sleep over that Monday night because, let’s face it, guys like Brian Topp haven’t had a stellar record in moving from the relative calm of backrooms to the unscripted chaos of all-candidates meetings. Jim Coutts, Hugh Segal, John Tory, Tom Long and a host of other backroomers you’ve (understandably) never heard of ran for office, and suffered some kind of ignominious defeat. (And when it comes to ignominious defeat, I know whereof I speak: in 1997, I — a former Jean Chretien adviser — got my keester kicked by a Reform Party MP The Canadian Press described as “elfin.”)
So can Brian Topp do what few, if any, Canadian political hacks ever get to do — win the, er, Topp job?
For starters, he needs to stop being a campaign manager, and let others manage his campaign for him. For backroom types, this usually represents the biggest challenge of all.
Even as young children, my species are a breed apart: For us, a shiny new poll is always much more exciting than a joint visit by both Santa and the Easter Bunny.
Secondly, there’s a reason why backroom people reside in the backroom — they are mostly unelectable. Topp, who I know and like a great deal, would be the first to admit that he lacks many of the things that made Jack Layton so successful. Can Topp achieve the kind of appeal, in a few weeks, that it took Layton many years to achieve? Doubtful.
Finally, Topp needs a better story. Monday, he said he’s against the Libs and the Dippers getting together. But, back in 2009, Topp was the NDP strategist who crafted the NDP-Liberal coalition government plan — and he even wrote a fascinating book in support of the idea. How he can now be against the very thing that brought him to everyone’s attention in the first place?
That all said, he’s a smart cat, and eminently likable, too. For NDP leader, he’s my Topp choice!