Leaders need plenty of friends

FOR most political nerds, The West Wing is compulsory viewing as the seventh and final season is aired on Channel 4's satellite channel More4. Set in the White House, it's the story of how an obscure American professor who became Governor of New Hampshire ended up in the White House.

FOR most political nerds, The West Wing is compulsory viewing as the seventh and final season is aired on Channel 4's satellite channel More4. Set in the White House, it's the story of how an obscure American professor who became Governor of New Hampshire ended up in the White House.

The last in the series will be shown in the United States on April 30, but for those who can't wait, the scripts can be found on the Internet with the Democrat Party's hispanic candidate Matthew Santos defeating the Republican favourite Arnold Vinick in what is a victory for the liberal elite which has nothing but contempt for the evangelism of the born again Christian right.

The West Wing is the name for the executive section of the White House, where all the staffers work within easy reach of the Oval Office in at least 16 hour shifts to serve and protect the president. In Downing Street, there's a far smaller operation surrounding the Prime Minister, but it's equally important to keeping the machinery of government in operation.

Last week, when I was invited to attend Tony Blair's seminar on the financial recovery of the NHS, the start time was 8am - just about fine for people based in the capital but it involved overnight stays for many of the chairmen, chief executives and clinical directors of NHS trusts from all over England.


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But even at 8am, Downing Street was a hive of activity. Looking after the two dozen or so specially invited journalists was the job of senior officials of not only No 10 but also the Department of Health.

How they must like working breakfasts!

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Long gone are the days when the Prime Minister's office would comprise of a private secretary, a few secretaries, typists and telephonists, plus of course the Whitehall char ladies without whom administrations of every political hue would gave foundered.

Apart from all the policy advisers and speech writers who are essential for any Prime Minister, Tony Blair has a chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, a deputy chief, a principal private secretary, a director of events, visits and scheduling, a director of political operations - paid for by the Labour Party - who provides political management and support for the development of the government's strategy, a director of political operations, a head of the policy directorate, a chief adviser on strategy, and a director of government relations.

There's also a communications team of more than 20. Apart from a director of communications - currently David Hill - there's the official spokesman Tom Kelly, whose job it is to brief the media twice a day, and a number of press advisers who deal with media inquiries to No 10 which overlap with the responsibilities of individual departments of state.

And in this age of instant communications, the Internet has assumed massive importance, with No 10's web team having a web manager, news editor, and a video production manager.

None of these are 9 to 5 jobs. They require loyalty to the incumbent and the cause. Personal lifestyles are destroyed as serving the PM takes precedence over everything else.

Such support teams have grown over the years. The more a prime minister remains in office, the more he or she will want to be surrounded by people he or she can trust in a sort of bunker under siege mentality.

Margaret Thatcher was no different to Mr Blair - and she remained in office for more 11½ years.

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