Citibank is seeking a new CEO.

Dateline; 28 November 2007

The bank should appoint Margaret L Wolff to the role. Ms Wolff is undoubtedly an intelligent woman. Of course, intelligence alone is not a qualification to run an organization as large and complex as Citibank. She is a partner with a leading New York law firm. And, though this is undoubtedly a challenging and responsible job, it is difficult to see that it has much in common with running Citibank. Ms Wolff’s principal qualification is something different. She is married to former CEO Chuck Prince. And, of course, that is how we judge married career women in today’s world – as an adjunct to their husband’s careers.

My suggestion is plainly ridiculous. So why on earth does anyone take seriously Hillary Clinton’s claim to be the most experienced presidential candidate? She has no managerial experience at all. Indeed, Margaret L Wolff is, arguably, better qualified to be CEO of Citibank (or indeed President) than Hillary Clinton is for either job. Both are lawyers, but the market for legal services is much more competitive in New York City than in Arkansas, where Mrs Clinton pursued her legal career.

While it could be volunteered in Clinton’s defense that she has also now been a Senator for more than six years, this is not much of a defense. In business terms, the Senate is an advisory board. Senators have no executive responsibility whatsoever. In any case, if being a Senator is a qualification, there are 100 of them. She is hardly the most experienced – not even the most experienced from New York.

The obsession with choosing Senators to run for President is something of an American problem. It makes general elections less competitive than they should be. But most specifically it is a problem for the Democratic Party. There is only one candidate on the Democratic side with any relevant experience – Bill Richardson – and he languishes in a poor fourth place. He is a third tier candidate. Clinton is the top tier on her own, while Obama and Edwards occupy the second tier.

The Republican Party is taking a more responsible approach. It has two top tier candidates, both of whom have substantial executive experience. One ran one of the largest and most complex cities in the world and served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department. The other was a hugely successful businessman and went on to be governor of a substantial state. Even in the second tier the GOP has another state governor.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Gordon Brown’s problems worsen. Just after Common Sense’s copy deadline last week, it emerged that one of the Labour Party’s largest donors was a bricklayer living in public housing. The main claimed to despise politicians in general and Gordon Brown in particular. Of course, the $400,000 donated to Labour in his name was not his at all. His boss, a multi-millionaire businessman, had wanted to donate anonymously, which is illegal. Perhaps he sought to disguise his donations because his company had received controversial permission to build a business park costing well over $100 million. Labour’s General Secretary has resigned.

Another proxy for the same businessman donated money to the campaign of Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman. She was Solicitor General at the time. Her husband is Treasurer of the Labour Party. You would think that, between them, they might know the law on political donations.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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