That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Didn’t win? You need a coalition

She can’t be happy. But Australia’s Julia Gillard is able to concede something that Harper never would.

“It is clear that neither party has earned the right to government in its own right.”

Interestingly, the Globe didn’t include this phrase from Australian PM Julia Gillard in her post-election speech, though the BBC did. Political cultural chasms reflected in journalism?

It seems a minor point, perhaps, but this immediate concession from Gillard is quite telling. It seems that, in Australia, we have a country where the uncontroversial reaction after the election of a hung parliament is to concede that a plurality is not the same as “winning.” Effectively, everyone’s a loser. The UK’s David Cameron agrees with this, though Harper refuses to recognise his rightful place in their company.

Britain is governed by coalition. Israel is. We see coalitions in Germany, Japan, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand – and overall, 10 of the world’s 16 Triple-A economies are run by coalitions.

When will Canada give up the fear and accept that government should represent a majority of the public? Even if that majority has to be achieved through bi- or even tri-partisan government? It’s too early to tell what kind of government Australia’s going to get – but to approach coalition as the first and the fairest of options is something to envy.

Political parties are not cults, not clans, not agents so righteous that any formal cooperation between them should be regarded is impure and immoral, if not illegal. For any one party to advocate such a view ought to be a clear signal of their failure to understand what the purpose of public representation really is.

Australia has its faults – but a country that can entertain full independence from Britain, as well as forging coalition government, has a leg up on Canada in some important regards.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , ,

Am I bovvered?

I’m beginning to wonder if Nick Clegg actually has a penchant for self-harm.

Nick Clegg: Coalition will go on even if electoral reform fails

Here is the man who co-pioneered Coalition Government in the UK, marching the Liberal Democrats into cabinet amidst great critical acclaim, and establishing, finally, that electoral reform would be put to the British people, and that a truly representative democratic system would emerge from the dreary status quo. Applause, excitement, huzzahs.

In a remarkable and unforgettable move back in May, in the midst of coalition negotiations, he even addressed a crowd of pro-electoral reform demonstrators, using a megaphone to promise he would not let them down.

How far we’ve come in three months. He seems unmoved in relinquishing every old Liberal Democrat devotion at the first opportunity – his approach offends his Parliamentary Party, it offends the Lib Dem local organisations, his own deputy leader, and most severely, his fragile base.

But to openly pontificate on whether or not electoral reform is really that big a deal after all…

“I wouldn’t have stood for the leadership of the Lib Dems if I thought the sole purpose in life was to change the electoral system.”

I don’t really think Clegg’s actually into self-harm. It’s more about a cackhanded strategy to appear, at all times, in control and happy as a pig in shit.

Are you happy with Tory cuts to public services and the VAT rise? Yes, yes, though I prefer to call these ideas “Liberal Democrat efficiencies.”
Are you happy with where you are in the polls? Couldn’t be happier. Polls are volatile, and that’s fine. Very happy. All part of the plan.
Would you be happy if you lost big-time at next years local elections? Oh, yes. Parties of government are prone to lose some support. I’d be upset if it didn’t happen, frankly. It will help us listen and learn.
Would you be happy if the most important policy ambition of your party, electoral reform, failed in the end? Pretty much, yes. No biggie. Lots of other ways to be useful, you know.

He knows, as we all know, that even should electoral reform make it to referendum and survive Tory rebel scuppers, that the public are more than likely to reject the reforms in their growing distaste for the Lib Dems themselves. It’s a tragedy unfolding in slow motion. But, rather than mitigate this disaster in advance, Clegg instead just wants to appear as though everything that happens is part of the Liberal Democrat masterplan.

He must be utterly deaf to the outrage in his party and across his broad (and shallow) support base – essentially, he appears to be giving up already. Perhaps Simon Hughes will lead the party putsch before May 2011 – I can’t see how it would hurt.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , ,

The Liberal obsession

Imagine Obama dealing with the Gulf oil spill by saying “Dubya handled Katrina much worse than this.” Would Americans accept that as an answer? Is that the language of leadership, or of someone who actually wants the job? Because it seems to work for Stephen Harper.

Here we are in the year 2010 – the future is indeed upon us. Yet, you open the newspaper to find that the Conservatives are still trotting out the bogeyman of the “sponsorship scandal” in their vast arsenal of anti-Liberal talking points. It begs the question: how do we explain Conservative obsession with the Liberal Party?

Perhaps both wings of the modern Conservative movement have inherited their own unique reasons. The Progressive Conservative wing (such that it is) were effectively destroyed by the Liberals in the 1990s. The humiliation of going from the party of government to unofficial party status in one fell swoop is certainly enough to breed a lust for vengeance as powerful as any comic book villain.

The Reformers were always a party of opposition – not only regarding their status in the House of Commons, but at the core of their manifesto. Like the Bloc, they were a regionalist, anti-establishment party. So, you oppose, you moan, you criticise, and you do so without any of the cumbersome responsibilities of ever aspiring to represent more than your base, of ever being the establishment.

Now add those humiliated Red Tories from the PC days to the froth-mouthed anti-everything Reformers, and you have a party populated by people who’s primary unifying feature is their obsessive hatred for the Liberals. Not by a common vision for the country that they seem to share – but by a dark, angry desire to squeeze the pride out of their vanquished enemy for its own sake. It’s bloodsport, not simply as a political means, but as a political end as well.

After four years in government, though, it doesn’t really do for the Conservatives to continue behaving like an opposition party. When facing challenges over political interference in appointments of public officials, which is a charge Harper’s facing this week, the PMO can’t simply change the channel and talk about Liberal mistakes of a decade ago. When, in a time of fiscal restraint, they blow $10 billion on super-prisons to lock up fictional criminals, they can’t simply accuse the Liberals of softness on the crimeness. They talk as if Ottawa’s the problem – without admitting that they are Ottawa.

Attack ads work, and negativity works. Sad but true – paint your opponent as a monster and some of that shite will stick. But the point’s going to come when Harper loses out through this negative obsessive anti-Liberal strategy as he increasingly comes off as someone with nothing very positive to say about his own party, and someone whose reactive, contrarian language betrays a desire to just go back to being an opponent again. Well Steve, as ever, we’re happy to help.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

100 days of Coalition

We’re past the 100-day mark of Coalition Government in the UK, and the universe hasn’t yet imploded. Lib Dems support may have, but the universe appears to be fine.

How is the public coping? Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian notes that:

The most striking change is the fading of novelty. This is not to be confused with the end of the coalition’s honeymoon, which – if lukewarm approval ratings are any guide – has also come astonishingly fast. It is instead the speed with which a political arrangement once confined to the dreams of nerdish games of fantasy politics, has become entirely unremarkable. There was some gasping at the “firsts”: Lib Dems strolling up Downing Street for their first cabinet meeting since 1945; Vince Cable clambering into a ministerial car; Lib Dems sitting alongside Tories on the government benches; Clegg deputising at prime minister’s questions. But after each first time, the second lost its frisson. Now the sight of Chris Huhne at the dispatch box is no more unexpected than the sight of, say, Jeremy Hunt: they’re just the government. Coalition politics is the new normal.

It’s something I’d like to shout out to any of the doom-mongers in Canada who hyperventilate with fear at the prospect of coalition government.

Indeed, there are good reasons why Canadian coalition could work even more smoothly than in Britain. Big caveats being that Canadians are more party-tribal than Brits, more cautious regarding electoral reform – and of course Canadians tend to view the big sovereigntist party in Parliament as not only intellectually distasteful, but as thoroughly immoral. The British don’t take the same emotional view of Scottish nationalists, so Canada has a bigger problem in terms of which parties would be deemed acceptable coalition partners.

Canada’s advantage, though, is that its Tories have already ruled themselves out of any potential coalition arrangement – they’ve slandered and smeared the very concept as impure, borderline criminal, unworkable and illegitimate. As he reminds us quite literally ad nauseum, Harper doesn’t do partnership. This means that the risk of a coalition with an ideological chasm embedded within it is unikely. The Liberals and the NDP, the only real Canadian coalition possibility, share an ideological compatibility that the UK’s Tories and Lib Dems aren’t supposed to enjoy.

“Supposed to” being the operative phrase there. The rifts and the faults that are emerging are not between the Tories and the Lib Dems – it’s within the Lib Dems themselves. The question is no longer existential and unimportant – What is their identity? Are they social democrats or are they liberals, finally? What does an alloy look like, and is that what we have? Joining government, and especially at a time of huge economic pain, forces this jagged question right through the heart of the party and through its base.

Cuts to public finances are deep and severe. They don’t offend the Tory base too much – Cameron’s voters are largely wealthy, and don’t tend to sympathise too much with those who aren’t. The Lib Dems base, though, is disproportionately young, less wealthy, and views itself as fiercely (if ambiguously) anti-establishment. So being the establishment was always going to feel uncomfortable.

Couple that with competing visions of what the party even is. Two observations this morning from Lib Dems Deputy Simon Hughes, and Leader Nick Clegg:

On Clegg:

8.29am: Not a very revealing performance by Clegg on the Today programme. He painted a picture of perfect harmony within the coalition, refusing to identify any subject on which the Tories and Lib Dems disagreed. Perhaps, given the Conservatives’ positive poll rating, he sees aligning the Lib Dems as closely as possible with the Tories as the way to revive his own party’s flagging poll ratings?

On Hughes:

Hughes wants a veto: “If you want a coalition to deliver the vote then you have to make sure everybody has bought into that,” he said. “It’s a matter of practical politics, the answer is therefore: yes, the parliamentary party, on behalf of the wider party, on big issues has to say, ‘No, we can’t go down this road.'”


“The idea of a centre left, of a progressive liberal Britain, is still very much for me what I am here to achieve,” said Hughes, who took over from Vincent Cable as deputy leader in June and has since become a lightning rod for Lib Dems discontented with the coalition. “Who knows, there may be a coalition with a Labour party if they are progressive at the next election, after the next election or sometime in the future. It’s on the agenda.”

So, on the same morning, this 100th anniversary, we see opposite tacks at the highest levels of the party: the social democrat who openly covets partnership with Labour, and the neo-liberal who simply cannot identify a single area of dispute with Conservatives. The ambitious social democrat who thinks the Lib Dems could punch above their weight, despite having just 1/6 the seats of the Tories – and the relaxed neo-liberal who is easily resolved to having got a few ideas in the joint manifesto, and is happy to cruise from here on in.

I don’t want the Lib Dem’s party conference this autumn to be an acrimonious dog-pit. But the odds are looking pretty good that it will be. With the unresolved wings of the Lib Dems flapping in different directions, the battle for unity of purpose lies within the Lib Dem tent, not between it and its Tory partners.

I voted Lib Dem, and I for one am not outraged at the Coalition’s performance so far. I know to place my outrage towards the senior partner where their policies seem short-sighted, careless, amaterurish, meanspirited. We do have to accept that it’s a Conservative government at heart – they’ve got the portfolios and they’ve got the bulk of seats. So while I share Simon Hughes idealism and would prefer the party better reflected his outlook, I also share Clegg’s degree of realpolitik around what the party can do with barely 50 seats. Here’s hoping they can unify around a strategy, that’s pragmatic and still distinct, to boost that seat count in future, not see it abolished through splittist infighting.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

That elusive majority

Following on from Jane Taber and John Wright in their suggestions yesterday (see the post below) that a bigger, more occidentally-oriented (hee) House of Commons could be the Secret Formula to unlocking future majority governments in Canada.

Eric at ThreeHundredEight has spent the time and crunched the numbers to dismantle the argument. Given where the new seats would be established (Alberta may be Big Sky Country, but B.C. and Suburban Toronto are Big Swing Country), a 338-seat House of Commons would not likely provide the bias to any big federalist party necessary for majority government. The new ridings, we can only speculate till they’ve been drawn up, would more than likely see a split across parties in a vein roughly similar to what we already see across English Canada.

So, federalist parties shouldn’t expect they’ll be able to thumb their noses at Québec and the Bloc, and still end up with majority government (not even getting into the dumbness of such a strategy for the obvious reasons – treating Québec, both its federalist and sovereigntist areas, as a vast graveyard of useless efforts – this is somehow good for unity?).

It’s very much worth reading the whole thing here:

New seats + ignore Quebec = majority?

So, is electoral reform on the agenda yet?

Filed under: Canada, Politics,

Lipstick on the electoral pig

The Globe’s Jane Taber is weighing in on electoral boundary reform today, arguing that adding new seats to provinces with growing populations – Ontario, B.C. and Alberta – will be the only solution to escaping the minority government deadlock.

The only solution – I suppose it is, if you take it as gospel that our electoral system is the fairest we could possibly have. That’s where she’s, sadly, missed the boat.

Une excerpt:

The key impediment to a majority is the Bloc’s strength in Quebec. Gilles Duceppe just celebrated 20 years as an MP and, were an election held today, would likely lead his party to a majority of seats in the province for the seventh straight time.

Mr. Wright is awaiting a bill introduced in the Commons in April that would create 30 new ridings, giving 18 seats to Ontario, seven to British Columbia and five to Alberta. What makes the legislation controversial is that no new seats will go to Quebec, which already has 75 in the House.

Controversial, in the sense that Québec is not advantaging by something that other provinces are. That’s not the direction our federation is supposed to tilt, is it?

But there is a point in what makes this a controversy: for example, Prince Edward Island is guaranteed four electoral ridings in the Constitution, despite the fact that all four of them combined barely have the same number of voters as an urban Toronto or Vancouver riding. That makes the Islanders four times more powerful at election-time than me.

Equally, if one were a strict egalitarian about these things, the federal ridings of Nunavut and the Western Arctic could be merged into a single, massive bi-territorial riding – it would be fairer in terms of population, as each riding as it is is pretty sparsely populated.

So, the federation isn’t allergic to “special cases.” In creating electoral districts, there’s this tacit balance between 1) districts of equal population, and 2) allowing some remote or “special” areas to retain territorial integrity, rather than be lumped into adjacent ridings like add-ons. Of course in the UK right now, the Coalition is pursuing boundary reform, and equally, remote areas of Scotland will likely retain their district sizes, despite it meaning they’ll be even more greatly over-represented.

The question in Quebec is, how shall the balance tilt? Is population equity trumping cultural and territorial specialness, and should it? Shouldn’t Quebec votes count for more, the Bloquistes are likely to argue, because we’re really rather special?

This Quebec specialness, of course, already manifests itself in taking full advantage of the electoral system to give the BQ a huge overrepresentation in the House. The FPTP electoral system is what really generates unrepresentative Parliaments, much more than untweaked riding boundaries.

You could give B.C. 50 more seats if you wanted – it wouldn’t go anywhere towards representing the popular vote any better. The Green Party will still come in third or fourth in every riding, which will still mean the same millions of supporters, but will also still mean the same zero representation in the House of Commons.

The Bloc will continue to poll well below the NDP and Greens nationally, yet will still scoop an obscenely disproportionately high number of seats. Tilting the balance of ridings westwards may, in the end, benefit the Liberals or Conservatives in their seemingly endless quests for majority government – but it won’t make Parliament more representative. I think if you’re going to risk the wrath of the Bloquistes and other advocates of Quebec rights-supremacy, which this reform inevitably will, then there should be a greater return than just polishing up our discredited electoral system.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Destination Twit

Oh no, no, no. Oh no, oh god. Oh god no. NO!

I’ve now got a Twitter account. I wouldn’t say I’ve resisted it particularly actively all this time, but my distinct luddite streak (I top up my phone with vouchers and don’t yet do internet banking, par example) has meant I have never seen the point – frankly, I still don’t know how I’ll use it.

The idea is that it will be a way to announce new Polygonic posts to a bunch of new people, and it may be also be a good way to share links to articles and news items that I don’t have time to blather on about myself. So, I guess there is a point?

So, come and join me as I tweet my way through the stratosphere, slaying the mighty air-lizards of untruth with my twitty sword of righteousness. I shall skewer them like so much diced pineapple on the barbie.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Duceppe and the Bloc: 20 years and counting

Gilles Duceppe today celebrates 20 years as a Bloc Quebecois MP, as the party itself enjoys its 20th year in federal life. The Globe today provides a short biography of the man, full of respect for his style and perseverance. It’s a testament to the staying power of the party and the longevity of Quebec nationalism.

The Bloc is such a marvel. Its goal is the creation of an ethnic state, but it speaks the language of civic values. Its founding principles are based in a rejection of pluralism, but it appeals to immigrant Montrealers as much as to pur-laine white Quebecers in Lac-St-Jean. It exists to give Quebec nationalism a voice in Ottawa, and does so by divorcing Quebec nationalists from the actual levers of federal power.

Duceppe’s longevity and continued support, despite the ever distant realization of his goals, is fascinating. In the same surreal vein, I suspect his downfall would really come in actually achieving his goals, as the nationalist dreams would become hard-headed and uncomfortable realities. Instead, it’s his (and his cause’s) perpetual underdoggism and perpetual struggle that generates and renews the nationalist appeal, and I suppose will do forever.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Jong-un’s long road

With less than a month before the anticipated Korean Workers’ Party Conference in September, North Korea Leadership Watch has posted an insightful piece about what the conference may mean in the context of leadership succession.

Party Conference a Coronation?

The post draws from a Korea Herald interview with Sejong Institute analyst Cheong Seong-chang, who goes a long way in identifying who’s providing tutelage to heir-somewhat-apparent Kim Jong-un:

Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek tutors him on the country’s finances and relations with China while Kim Young-choon is in charge of the military. Jang and Kim Young-choon are two of the four vice chairmen of the National Defense Commission, the country’s de facto supreme guiding organ.

Jong-un consults O Kuk-ryol, another NDC vice chairman, on operations against South Korea, Joo Kyu-chang on the North’s defense industry, Woo Dong-cheuk on international counter-espionage operations, Joo Sang-song on public security, Cho Myong-rok and Kim Jong-gak on military politics, and Lee Yong-moo on the private sector. All of them are members of the NDC, “elected” to their posts in April 2009.

It goes some distance to reinforce the supremacy of the National Defence Commission that it has produced so many of Jong-un’s regents and advisors, and/or incorporated these mentors into its own fold within the last couple of years. Jang Song-thaek, Jong-un’s uncle and principal advisor and mentor, is the most powerful of these NDC officials – Cheong notes that:

“Jang manages the finances of the NDC, the Cabinet and the security organs controlled by the NDC such as the secret police, the military intelligence unit, the prosecution and the court. He is also known to be responsible for North Korea’s relations with China.”

As to what is expected to be decided at the Party Conference itself, I suppose it’s the wrong way to look at it. The Party Conference will approve, rather than decide, questions of succession, which have presumably been decided by the NDC by now.

So a presentation of Kim Jong-un as the real heir apparent could be made, though Jong-il has been cited as wanting the Conference to be a “quiet affair,” which could well suit the NDC and the KWP interests as well – especially considering that we haven’t seen much evidence of any revolutionary narrative yet being built around Jong-un (where does he fit in Kim Family mythology, what are his “supernatural” qualities?). As such, there may only be inference to Jong-un’s future through some formalisation of new positions that point to a pretty incredible career trajectory. And, as Michaëlle Jean once said after tasting raw seal heart in Canada’s Arctic, “Take from that what you will.”

Blindly hoping that we’ll be some the wiser in September.

Filed under: Korea, Politics, , , , , , ,

Canada’s Shoebox Parliament

Ah, memory lane. A lane of wonderful memories.

After a skinful of beers following the anti-proroguation demonstrations in London (UK) last January, I got the cockamamie idea to create my own puppet show of Canada’s Parliament. Bereft of a real working parliament in Ottawa, it seemed like the only way to get a solid fix of political titillation. That’s right, titillation.

Here in the dreary midsummer, impatient I suppose for Parliament to resume once more, I thought I’d share the video with you now. It’s nearly eight minutes long, but so, so worth it.


Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,


August 2010

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