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.

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2 Responses

  1. John says:

    As a member, I voted Cullen as my top choice, followed by Topp and Nash, respectively.

    I wouldn’t have predicted Mulcair as leader but that could more of a reflection of the fact that I don’t predict things very well.

    He’s not without his issues and he’ll have three years to work on them if he wants to be prime minister but I do recognize that he comes with certain advantages: he’s prepared to go in as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition from day one and there won’t be the issue of finding him a seat as there would have been with Topp. He also *should* keep the Quebec support the NDP gained in the last election. The BQ has been rising in QC since Jack Layton died and I’m hoping this will put a stop to that.

    It was, all things considered, the most practical choice the NDP could make. I’ll insist on remaining optimistic about the party futures.

    I’d also love to know what his former boss, Jean Charest, is thinking right now.

  2. AM in BC says:

    Survey after survey has shown that when you strip away the left/right, socialist/capitalist labels and language, Canadians broadly support basic NDP values. That’s why it was vital to lose the “purity”, which never got the party beyond Broadbent’s 40 seats in 1988. It was an obstacle to connecting with people we’re basically in agreement with. Layton’s recognition of that fact was crucial to the NDP’s gains in the last election.

    I think Mulcair was the best choice, for reasons of his own experience, strengths and character. I trust the old guard to criticize the party from the left the way James Laxer promised to do – AFTER throwing his support behind Mulcair.

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