Polygonic

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

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

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3 Responses

  1. Hugh Jenney says:

    We came second in over 100 ridings. If we can convince the Liberals to not run a candidate inose ridins we will be the Government in 2015. Jack Layton tried to make Ignatieff Prime Minister. Ignatieff was conned by the Conservatives into refusing Jack’s generous offer.

    We could offer cabinet posts and deputy leadership to win over reluctant Liberals, but at least the left would have a say at last. Hopefully our win will come in time to save Canada. hj

  2. divanov says:

    I was able to speak to Cullen quite a bit after the Montreal debates and he struck me as incredibly candid and committed to his policies. He was able to both disagree with a lot of the people who came to see him (for example, a large number of the students on strike who supported free post-secondary education) while not alienating them at the same time. He was by far the most impressive candidate I spoke with (though admittedly, with the huge crowds around Mulcair, Dewar’s unannounced meeting, and Ashton and Topp’s poor choice of venue, I barely heard anyone else)
    Though I think the numbers are pretty much against Cullen for the leadership race, I will be very surprised if he didn’t become one of the Opposition’s rising stars over the next few years.

  3. Voted my top two choices in exactly the way you say you would: 1-Cullen, 2-Mulcair. Topp was my third choice.

    For most of the race, Topp had been my first, then second choice. But as time and performance moved on, I grew very impressed with Cullen and less impressed with Topp – not in terms of what he has to offer the party, but strictly in terms of leadership material and presentation style. Of the latter, I fear he’d not be accepted by the general populace nearly as well as Cullen or Mulcair.

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