I have had a theory for a long time that Stephen Harper has intentionally surrounded himself with idiots and incompetents to avoid any chance that someone can significantly challenge his position. This theory has come to true fruition with the promotion of John Baird to the position of house leader. I have thought for a long time that Harper has used Baird's obnoxious and offensive style to turn people off politics in this country. If you can be loud enough and offensive enough, and sound just stupid enough, many people will simply give up on politics (particularly young people) and Harper wacko religious-right, pseudo-libertarian Capitalist base will be the only ones who want to keep voting. Voila - you have a better chance of ruling over a frustrated and increasingly apathetic population that feels as though there is nothing they can do and politics is just irretrievably corrupt and offensive. But of course there is an added benefit here for Harper and his power hungry obsession. Unlike Thatcher who kept about her a number of very competent and intelligent ministers such as Michael Heseltine who ended up orchestrating her downfall, Harper keeps his most competent people at arms length and makes sure that those with the highest profile are the ones consistently before the public eye. Thus when you think of Harper's government you think first of John Baird, Pierre Poillievre, the unbelievably ignorant Van Loan, the slapstick Stockwell Day, the always offensive Jason Kenney, the sexy cancer-advocate Lisa Raitt and the ever incompetent Jim Flaherty. But the people who have the best chance and being significant and competent replacements for the big man himself seldom have these kinds of visible rolls. Thus Harper seems to keep Chuck Strahl, Gary Lunn, Jim Prentice and others at arms length. (Don't get me wrong, I don't like any of them but the most salable and palatable potential replacements don't get anywhere near the air time that his incompetent bulldogs get.)
It is still a mystery to me how Harper maintains any real loyalty within the caucus. Here is a man who can't deliver a majority, runs roughshod over democracy, and discards anyone who is inconvenient without any due process. But these kinds of things are always a mystery to me. And I always think of Khrushchev's now famous speech to the Politburo in which he confessed being witness to the crimes of Stalin and when someone shouted the question from the ranks "where were you when all this was going on?" Khrushchev yelled out angrily "Who said that?!" When he was met with nothing but silence, he supposedly smiled and told the audience "Now you know where I was." In other words, thus far, like Stalin before him, no one has had the simple courage to stand up and challenge Harper's simple style of control and intimidate. And with point-men like Baird around it seems that no one will. But Conservatives should be asking themselves an important question, to wit: If your leader can't deliver a minority and will inevitably retire, whether in the PM's chair or out of it, where does the party go next? Power vacuums are notoriously difficult to fill, and and if the rabble that is left behind are of the caliber of Baird and Poillievre, what kind of embarrassing carnage will ensure?