Ok, I’m very pleasantly surprised. David Cunliffe has made a very interesting choice for chief of staff.
Based on what I know about the task, she looks like a damn good fit for the role. In fact I’m just surprised that he managed to attract her at all for the thankless task at all. I’d guess that she wants a challenge.
I’ve always thought that the Chief of Staff role should be exercised by someone who was staff orientated rather than being deeply embedded in the political game. They should also be more orientated towards the organisationally strategic rather than the tiresomely reactive daily media cycle. In other words to operate like a more general’s staff helping to enhance and implement a single vision rather than allowing it to pull in several directions as usually happens in an overly political context.
Obviously DC sees the same need
Wendy Brandon is currently the General Counsel at Auckland Council and a member of the Executive Leadership team. She has previously worked for the Ministry of Health, and was seconded as a senior adviser to David Cunliffe’s office when he was Minister of Health.
“Wendy Brandon will be an outstanding Chief of Staff. She is a vastly experienced lawyer and manager, with a CV that spans central and local government, as well as the private sector.
“For the past three years she has been at the heart of the new Auckland Council, playing a vital role in the establishment of the country’s largest local body.
“Her skill set is exactly what is needed for the pivotal role of Chief of Staff.
“At a personal level, I’ve known Wendy for many years. I trust her absolutely, and value her honesty, integrity and excellent judgement.
“I could not be more delighted to have her come aboard. I know she will add real depth and heft to my office,” says David Cunliffe.
Sure Heather Simpson managed to do a pretty good job of combining both the active political role and the organisational/staff job. But it wasn’t hard to see the strain lines at various times – mostly in the burnt out husks of staff peeling off and falling away.
In my view the leader’s office have to make sure that the resources are there, the strategy is clear and coordinated amongst the allies and troops, and that the effect is coherent and effective. But over recent years it has tended instead to operate far too much like a inadequate cadmium rod set trying to control a nuclear reactor. In a classic positive feedback manner it succeeds only managing to either cause the reactor to overheat or to go inert, always at the wrong times, and never generating the required sustained power.
I’ve just been digging around google because I’ve never met her and never picked up a read. But even from what I can see on google I can recognize the Wendy Brandon’s breed. There are a number of people I know with similar backgrounds and what looks like a similar managerial temperament.
Wendy Brandon was a nurse, who became a lawyer, who then moved between the private and public sectors. As a lawyer, she worked both as a hard arse commercial litigator, in what were essentially public safety law cases, and in various public roles. That type of background creates a particular type of operator. Nice people,very hard nosed, and with an almost frightening awareness of and preparation for their current role. Their experience tells them that if you start working on ad-hoc or improvisational basis then you kill people. So they reduce the risks whereever possible, and try to make sure that mistakes are prevented with a clarity of roles2
They are extremely effective at making things work better without any particular fuss. She won’t be to everyone’s taste1 but I’d take a bet that she is likely to make that office far more effective than it has been for a while. I just hoping that it will cause some more clarity about what is the actual role of the leaders office for the Labour caucus and the wider party which has been becoming increasingly confused and outright interfering over the last decade.
This piece was from 2000 and written about her role as chair in the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. When her name came up, this article was the only thing I particularly remembered about her. It impressed me at the time.
Arrayed along the wall, the five members of the tribunal listen intently.Only when one occasionally issues an instruction about the conduct of proceedings is it plain that she’s in charge.
Her authority is exercised firmly, but almost invisibly. And there is no sign that she is finding the moment difficult, even harrowing.
But just the day before, Wendy Brandon, who chairs the tribunal which sits in judgement over the country’s erring doctors, made it plain that she would be steeling herself for the challenge of hearing evidence from a woman at death’s door.
Wendy Brandon is a lawyer, a battle-hardened commercial litigator who did an exhausting tour of duty in the apparently endless Equiticorp saga. But she feels passionately about the importance of the law in protecting the powerless damaged by the powerful.
She knows what it is to act for the dead and the shamefully injured – she represented the Cave Creek families and Morgan Jones, the small boy who fell from a poorly maintained viewing platform on a TranzRail train.
But Wendy Brandon, an Aucklander who was the tribunal’s deputy chairperson from when it was established in July 1996 and took the chair a year ago, has also breathed deeply of the air outside legal chambers. She nursed at Middlemore in her early years (“Nurse Barker was the matron and Ron Moodie ran the hospital and I’ll tell you what, it was a pretty well-run hospital”) and she and her first husband farmed in the Bay of Plenty before she went to law school.
As a lawyer with a history of interest in medico-legal cases – and a postgraduate degree in ethics – she must have seemed a logical choice to chair the tribunal.
She is conscious of the weight of the hat she wears. While she might, by background and inclination, tend to feel an instinctive sympathy for the victims of medical misadventure and malpractice, she must discharge her duties – overseeing a tribunal which includes three doctors and one lay member each time it sits – with scrupulous fairness.
As I said earlier, a very interesting choice. With the short timeframe to the election, this is probably more vital to Labour than some of the merely political choices.
1: She is sure to pick up a ringing endorsement from Penny Bright who has tangled with Wendy Brandon a number of times as chief in-house counsel for the Auckland City Council. Although I’m sure an endorsement is not what Penny will intend to make *evil grin*.
2: Not my current style at all I might add. But operating in a different style doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the qualities that other styles bring to roles outside of programming and part-time blogging. Many eons ago I was a army medic and a manager