Polygonic

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

A vote for reality – a congratulations to the NDP

Quel jour! Quel nuit! And, for most New Democrats, thank god it didn’t take two jours and two nuits to finally sort the question out.

Indeed, poor me – UK clocks leaped ahead one hour into summer time yesterday, leaving me drowsy-eyed in front of the CBC live feed at 2 a.m., still waiting for final results, and already slipping into semi dreamstate. For a moment, I thought I saw Puff the Magic Dragon giving his acceptance speech.

Puff, it wasn’t, and that is for the best. The NDP have done exactly what I hoped they would – they have voted for reality. They’ve invested a great deal of support in the candidacy of its old guard, as manifested through Topp, but have given even more to the spirit of innovation and inventiveness manifest in Thomas Mulcair (and, to an impressive extent, Nathan Cullen).

Topp’s impressive totals surprised me, but were something of a reassurance that the purest strain of the party’s social democrat soul is strong, coherent and vocal. Topp’s results will perhaps serve as something of a check against some of Mulcair’s more radically centrist views – and perhaps that’s already evident in Mulcair’s announcement that Libby Davies will remain as Deputy Leader.

As a digression, I frankly see Davies’ re-appointment as a missed opportunity to create a new generation of leadership – bringing two 2012 candidates (ideally, Cullen and Nash) into a joint deputy leadership would have helped heal new rifts, and would triangulate nicely across three provinces and three discrete factions. But, perhaps Davies’ re-appointment demonstrates that Mulcair isn’t as worried about his relationship with fellow 2012 candidates as he is about his relationship with the party’s old guard. So, his show of respect for her probably has its merits – or, at least it has a logic. 

One thing surprises me a great deal: once Nathan Cullen dropped from the ballot, his 15,426 delegates split much more evenly between Topp and Mulcair than I’d ever have guessed. On the final ballot, Mulcair’s numbers grew 23.3% from his third-round results, which was enough to put him over the top – but Topp’s numbers grew 27.8% from his third-round results. That the proportion of Brian Topp’s growth should have been higher after the elimination of Nathan Cullen is not the way many people will have expected things to go. Cullen and Mulcair were very alike, not in style, but in their comfort in challenging convention and appealing to members and to caucus much more than to party brass. So, yes, surprising.

As for the acceptance speech? Yes…. Mulcair’s fifteen minutes were widely panned, from what I can tell, and rightly so. Quite staid and unbelieveably reliant on notes – it can only be called an uninspired litany. A lament for apathy rather than a call to arms. Compare it against his interviews, and it’s hard to actually square that it’s the same Mulcair. 

But that he excels in interactive spars and in issue-specific debate, if not in grandstanding before large, friendly crowds, is the more important thing – we’ll see him at his best in the House and in debates. If he gets pumped by opposition, great – there’s plenty of it ahead.

As has been recounted all throughout this race, there has been an emerging tension (if largely imagined) between two concepts of “victory” – the electoral versus the moral. It is right to be tense about that question, but wrong to view an absolute dichotomy there. There isn’t one.

New Democrats, just like all of us, have a responsibility to their own ideals to make them real. Dreams of a better world are not ends in themselves – they are only the inspired motives to action. And, for political parties, the means to action are electoral victories. That’s irrefutable. It’s no sin, it’s the duty of anyone running for office – and it’s the only way to properly respect the wishes of the majority who rejected Harperism. In Mulcair, they’ve got a leader who’s completely to grips with that.

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

La France Forte, or Why You Desperately Need Sarko Standing On the Beach

The French presidential campaign is kicking into high gear, and Nicolas Sarkozy has one key message for his ungrateful people: vote him back in, and he promises to spend his second term standing on the beach, like a magnificant granite Colossus, liquifying overseas demons with the sheer power of his blue-eyed gaze. 

Don’t believe it? Here’s the advert.

Fancy a dip?

It’s been running for about a month, and it’s the subject of some witty (and goofy) send-ups(Franc Fort, Farce Fort, France Morte…). But as I’ve just come across it, what in the dickens is it trying to tell us? He certainly doesn’t look prepared for the beach. 

First off, we ask ourselves – what exactly is this inexpressive poker face meant to project to us? That he doesn’t enjoy his job anymore? Or he has no time for trivial things such as cuddling kittens or chilling with his family?

Perhaps it’s that compassion and empathy are naive, wasteful, hopeless attributes in a world strewn with threatening vagrants? I think so. Here is Sarkozy, steely-eyed warrior, who has achieved a lasting peace with his unenviable duty – the perennial defence of his people against relentless, unspoken nastiness, washing up on the nation’s beaches!

Indeed, beaches. France is a famously geographically diverse country, and his deadened gaze might have been set against any number of natural backdrops. The Alps. A sun-kissed pasture. A mostly-sunny sky with a couple of attractive, clumpy clouds you just want to bite into.

But this vast, flat grey sea. No sign of waves, islets, boats, or features of any kind. The eye is drawn to nothing but the horizon. And what lies over France’s oceanic horizons?

Fear, in two tiers. 

Firstly, amongst the Marine Le Pen fans and other xenophobes of the far right (of whom there are too many), nothing matters more than immigration and foreigners. Take heart, hard-asses – when Granite-Sarko stands on his Mediterranean coastline, he looks outward towards North Africa with a sober resolve to smite so much as a dodgy looking raft drifting his way. Sure, Granite-Sarko seems cold, but it is because he fully understands the scale of the threat bursting northward from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mordor itself, overflowing with writhing masses of non-Christian refugees and non-conformist asylum seekers keen to exploit the nourishing teat that is the French Republic.

Sarko stands on guard. France’s teat is not for their suckling. Plain and simple.

For the more moderate French nationalists (of whom there are also a great, great many), Granite-Sarko stands not on the Med, and not so much as a merciless bulwark. But he stands on his northern shores, almost within sight of Great Britain, which he regards with the non-plussed demeanour of a dinner host watching an arrogant, drunken guest boast about himself while ladling brown gravy onto his salmon. With a dessert spoon.

Sarko reminds his people, that in the face of Britain’s swaggering self-exceptionalism within the European Union, it is only he who can tell David Cameron, literally, to shut up. Sarkozy will not bend or wither, and will happily dismiss the selfish pleadings of his Anglo-Saxon nemesis and snub his handshakes!

The logic is that London has tried for too long to free itself from Europe’s grasp, yet continues to enjoy coming down to the Continent with wagging fingers and half-assed condescension. Sarko responds by unfurling his middle finger, to the applause of his peeps. In that vein, he is self-respect, he is firmness, he is bold and fair on the European project, and will take no guff from ale-swilling islanders to the north.

This poster, truly, has it all! Nicolas Sarkozy as the great Janus of French conservatism, looking two ways at once to two quite distinct voting constituencies and hoping, dearly, that at least someone, somewhere, in some direction, will take the bait.

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

Decisions, decisions – who’s to lead the NDP?

Since posting those NDP leadership candidate impersonations, part of me wishes I could buy them all a round and say “no hard feelings!” While another part of me just wants to poke fun at them again.

But the main part of me has been thinking about who to vote for (were I a member!)

It’s been an interesting contest to me, in that the original unity around directing all criticism towards Harper has shifted into a more healthily competitive discourse amongst the candidates themselves. They’re looking to differentiate their visions. Topp swings left, Mulcair ducks to the centre.

Cullen’s been a surprising master of it. He has maintained this solidly “non-partisan,” open-door discourse, emphasising unity among all progressive Canadians, whether Green, Liberal or New Democrat, but has been able to simultaneously speak like a tried and tested partisan tactician. Through denying that he saw Tom Mulcair as a Liberal, he nevertheless made the Mulcair-Liberal connection explicit on national TV. He talks of beating Conservatives as the ends in itself – the nobler mission. All the while, he successfully frames himself as least partisan of the lot. Incredible stuff.

Ultimately, what’s been guiding my thinking is a conviction that, if there’s any quality an NDP leader needs to have from here on in, it’s to be tough, intelligent and sportsmanlike at once. A power forward with a winning smile. God, I think I want to vote for Jarome Iginla.

To me, this rules out everyone bar Cullen and Mulcair. For all Brian Topp’s acumen and his extensive campaigning background, he has not personally been tested electorally, and I think is too unaware of his communication tics. People don’t simply look past that. Whether we take the example of the Liberals plumping for Stéphane Dion, or Britain’s Labour plumping for Ed Miliband, I think it’s doom to select someone who may have the principled policy but not the means to communicate effectively. Principled policymakers always have a role in cabinet, as senior aides, as party strategists – but not necessarily as leaders. Ironically, I think if there’s any job Brian Topp is well-suited to, it’s as NDP party president…

I have no enormous affection for Paul Dewar or Peggy Nash as leaders either – great senior members of cabinet, yes, and they’re media-friendly and have an appealing frankness about them. But I’m struggling to see them unify the party effectively, or to get down to the bare-knuckles work of dismantling Stephen Harper.

So, it’s Cullen or Mulcair! Pros and cons?

Cullen’s Pros

Brilliant orator, committed environmentalist, bleeding charisma, able to talk about big reforms in a realistic way. If anyone can carry off Jack Layton, it’s Nathan Cullen – and so, even as a British Columbian, I think he’s supremely capable of courting and retaining the Québec vote next time round.

He strikes a phenomenal balance between principle and strategy, and expresses optimism without naivety.  That’s a powerful set of attributes, and he deserves to go far.

Cullen’s Cons

The joint nomination thing. I don’t think he genuinely wanted this to define his entire candidacy, and wanted to use this as an example of his “box-thinking-outside-of-ness” and his would-be commitment to devolving to the grassroots. He’d surely prefer to shift the narrative to mixed-member PR by now, instead of everyone focussing on the joint nominations proposition, which just doesn’t come off as very well thought out.

Also, could Canada elect a 42-year-old Prime Minister in 2015? Is that relative youth necessarily an advantage if the NDP need to convince Canadians that they’re “safe”?

Mulcair’s Pros

Despite some people’s anxiety that he’s too close to the centre, I think it’s essential that that’s where the leader is at. One essential quality of a party leader is to bridge the interests of the dedicated dogmatists and the larger popular masses – it takes some conniving to do it effectively, but that need not be viewed as a threat to the party faithful.

Look at any successful political party and you’ll see leaders tacking centre, and backbenches and grassroots extending away from it into the traditions and the manifesto – and that’s as it should be. Again, a UK example: Britain’s Tories are filled with the traditional anti-European, anti-poor, fox-hunting schoolboys, but in David Cameron they’ve found a leader who doesn’t frighten the general masses (at least not enough for my liking). Perhaps the backbenches aren’t perfectly content to see a leader look so “liberal,” but then they remind themselves that they get their way over Cameron time and time again.

Leaders will always listen to their parties, as Mulcair will listen to his.

Besides, his record as Environment Minister in Québec is greener than green – this is no Progressive-Come-Lately. More than that, his decision to abandon the Charest Liberals for their obfuscation of his strong green policy direction, I think, disproves any slur that he’s a phony. What kind of phony in their right mind would have left a high-profile provincial cabinet post to later run as a New Democrat in Montréal, in those days anyway?

His thick skin and proven experience mean he’ll appear more than a damp squib in front of the Harpermachine. I think he has the capacity to appeal to soft Liberals and non-partisans who simply want a good political and economic manager who’s free from the corruption and the arrogance of the Harperites. 

Mulcair’s Cons

Not as eloquent as Cullen, and perhaps not as inspirational. But of course, anytime I say that party leaders need to have outstanding social nous and boast Obama-esque smile-wattage, I remember…. Canada elected Stephen Bloody Harper.

He might not connect as well or grow memberships at the pace that a Cullen could – but I think this is mitigated by the fact he will be a steadier, steelier hand on the wheel, and the party will be in winning shape in three years.

Decision?

I think I’ve concluded that, were I voting for NDP leader, I’d select Nathan Cullen as my Number One, and Thomas Mulcair as my Number Two. Ironically, I would do this with the clear hope that Mulcair actually wins the thing…! Perhaps that’s daft on my part, but I don’t think Cullen is going to win this race, and probably shouldn’t, but I’d like him to finish with an impressive delegation of first-choice ballots to bolster his role in the new shadow cabinet. And, from there, a future government.

I’m convinced it would be a thing of beauty to see Mulcair as leader, with Cullen and Nash holding a joint deputy leadership of the party – what a great bridge-building arrangement! Triangulating three provinces, three distinct strengths, and three streams of left/centre-left appeal. 

That’s it! Cards on the table! Now let’s just hope Martin Singh doesn’t come up the middle.

p.s. – if you want to have a play at voting before the big day, try Skinny Dipper’s useful Demochoice poll – rank your own candidates and see how they’d fare in an election simulation. http://www.demochoice.org/dcballot.php?poll=NDP2012NPD

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

The NDP Leadership Candidates – a wee little parody

The NDP leadership candidates have been through dozens of debates, yet people have complained that some candidates remain a mystery. It’s clear what we need – a series of grotesque caricatures of each and every one of them.

The Seven Hopeful Remaining have presented themselves, in the main, as pragmatic visionaries, gentle and reliable in their manner and agreeable even in argument. No question that they’re showing off the best virtues of the party.

But they’ve shown enough in the way of difference, in style and substance, for us to be able to grossly take the piss out of them all. So, my fellow New Democrats and/or Lefty Waverers! If confused as to who to vote for, look no further than the following video summaries for guidance!

Nathan Cullen!

 

Niki Ashton!

 

Paul Dewar!

 

Thomas Mulcair!

 

Peggy Nash!

 

Martin Singh!

 

Brian Topp!

What more could you possibly need to go on?

I’ll post something in the coming days with some actual thoughts on the race and my own snowballing impressions…. though doing these little videos probably gives the impression that I favour none of them… 🙂 

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