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

Britain’s Stéphane moment?

After the resignation of Paul Martin, when a dozen Liberals clamoured for the mantle of Party Leader, I will confess that I hoped the whole time that Stéphane Dion would win, and barring that, Bob Rae. I was gunning for Dion because I thought he was genuine, committed, progressive, and precisely because he was the “anti-Macchiavellian” – almost a non-politician.

Of course, I learned, as the Liberal Party did en masse, that apparently you need a Macchiavellian after all. Warm ideas, leftist compassion, complex but workable policy solutions, do not go far at all if not backed (or even supplanted) by ferocity, charisma, and a bit of populism and populist understanding.

I’m applying this lesson to the UK’s Labour leadership race (as I am wont to do) with its results announced tomorrow. OMG.

For the same reasons I once hoped for Dion, a good part of me now hopes for Ed Miliband. Ed is the one of warm ideas, of leftist compassion, of complex but workable policy solutions. He is not ferocious, he is not especially charismatic, and he looks to me as though he’d prefer to leave the room if a heated argument began to consume it. So, I like him.

But he’s too much like Stéphane Dion.

David can swing a political punch, and plays off a more carefully studied understanding of populist mood. He seems almost cold for his obvious lack of ideological fervour in him, but warms up on television with a better charisma and a ruthless passion to win the argument. What he might lack in sincerity, he overcompensates for in tactics. And, at the end of the day, the idealist wing of Labour will continue to have impact on the leadership, and will continue to guide the direction of the party.

So, rather than see a relatively weak character at the helm, I am doing away with an unalloyed fondness for Ed Miliband, and wishing that, for Labour to win, they will need to be tough. Canada’s Liberals are still looking for toughness, and I wouldn’t want to see Labour endure the Liberals’ recent history. In addition to that – whoever wins, David or Ed, let there please be no vindictive bitterness between them. Canada’s Liberals and the UK’s Labour both suffered from bipolar ganglandism, and to succeed, must unite – ideally with someone who can deliver a pep talk, draw a crowd, and mobilise mobilise mobilise.

So, with a bit of a heavy heart – Go David Go!

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

The zombie we know

Jeffrey Simpson today wonders, in his article “Sure, there’s a leadership death watch – but for which leader?” which Canadian party leader is most likely to be dumped by his party in the short to medium term: is it the LPC’s Michael Ignatieff, or the CPC’s Stephen Harper?

I might say “God willing, Harper’s days are numbered.” Surely any major party leader who fails to secure a majority government after a fourth attempt has got to be considered damaged goods? And wouldn’t we all be better off without him?

Then again (and there’s always a “then again”): Harper’s leadership puts a helpful air-brake on what might otherwise have been Conservative majority government in Canada. Given the public’s disenchantment with the soap-operatic, scandal-prone Liberals after 13 years in power, it’s more than possible that the newly-united Conservatives should have had a decent shot at securing a majority government.

Perhaps it is Canadians’ nausea at Harper’s dull authoritarianism that’s really prevented his party from soaring to mind-numbing, majority-gobbling heights? So, the progressive Canadian might say to the conservative, “Keep Harper on! Without him, you just might win big.”

Which all avoids the main question. Are the Tories likely to replace Harper if they fail to improve on their 2008 electoral performance at the next opportunity? They must be sorely tempted. If they were an NHL franchise, their coach would be surprised to still have the code to the door.

But whatever the CPC is, it’s a strategic beast, and it understands its own vulnerabilities. They can see that the big Liberal tent is divided as ever by its ancient tribal factions: red Tories, blue Liberals, and ambitious social democrats who eschewed the NDP’s lack of career mobility. A caucus that can’t support their own bills, members riven between petty filial devotions to sub-leaders and pretenders throughout the party. At least as far as it does appear.

Canada’s Tories must recognise that their party is, by its own nature, even more prone to divisive infighting. It is, lest we forget, a re-married couple (not re-married for love, but for money). Its vast Reform-leaning instincts run against the old PC grain with a friction that could become all too heated – without Harper’s authoritarian approach to party discipline.

In the public view, there are certainly better liked Tories than Stephen Harper, and there are doubtlessly ones who could personally poll in the high 30s, or potentially beyond. Harper’s MP-gagging, parliament-proroguing, evidence-censoring, fixed-term-trashing, Senate-stacking ways run counter to any straight-faced definition of an “accountable government,” and Canadians in their great assembled majority know that.

But if the CPC doubts there is anyone amongst their tribe with the requisite ruthlessness to contain the boiling, mutually-antagonistic forces within their sprawling Reform-PC motley crew, they may stick with the minority-prone devil they know and suck up whatever little victories they can, one by one. The test for Canada’s Left is not to go insane in the meantime.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

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