Polygonic

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

Who owns socialism?

With a shrug and a sigh, the NDP have delayed a decision on whether they are socialist, or social democratic. I shrugged and sighed too – this decision was to be a fascinating moment, and they kind of let that pass.

Sure, it’s only language, and a single word-change at that. But the biggest question seemed to me to be, who was motivating this change? Who do the NDP believe owns the word socialist? Is it them, and so what they do with it is very much their own decision? Or is it the Conservatives, who have appropriated it like a weapon with which to beat Layton up over the next four years?

I remember the 2004 U.S. election particularly well, not only for its result (I’m reminded of Dubya’s victory in the face of total incompetence whenever I contemplate Harper’s new majority), but also for one of the more effective political grenades the Republicans were able to lob – the word liberal. Every chance George W. Bush got to call John Kerry a liberal, he would. He’d sneer it. Liberal. Nothin’ but a fancy-pants liberal.

Now, any dictionary definition of liberalism will correspond pretty well to the philosophies at the heart of every Western democracy, with fuzzy margins, but that simply doesn’t matter in electoral campaigns that are more blunt bludgery than nuanced debate. By taking the word liberal and infusing it with satanic undertones, proud patriotic American liberals were left reeling. Their identity had become illegitimate. They scrambled for words like progressive to try and claim territory that wasn’t tainted, and that mad scramble suited (and suits) the American right just fine.

I always found that a uniquely American problem, but clearly it’s North American all told. We heard Dimitri Soudas bleating End-Is-Nigh-style “socialists and separatists” warnings for the best part of two years as Harperian Ottawa set about its root-to-tip demonisation of all opposition. And so, it’s understandable that the New Democrats may want to adjust to the new reality: the word socialist is passé, problematic, and out of their control any longer. The word belongs to Harper, so just let him have it.

In defense of socialism, though, look to Europe. Socialism isn’t just a single word buried in left-wing party constitutions, it is a word worn proudly, out in front, on campaign buttons and ballot papers. The main French Opposition is the Socialist Party. The Germans pre-Merkel were governed by the Socialist Party. Spain is governed by the Socialist Party, as is Greece and, till lately, lately Portugal. The second largest bloc of European MEPs in Brussels is the Socialist bloc. Even Tony Blair called himself a socialist, and he wasn’t an angstrom further to the left of Michael Bloomin’ Ignatieff.

The right may point to Europe’s woes as the product of all this damn socialism, which is mostly wrong and also besides the point. Modern European “socialism” is really no more radical than anything advocated by Canada’s Liberal Party, or Obamaesque wings of the American Democratic Party. The word doesn’t need cotton padding, because Europeans aren’t cowed by dark nightmares of Young Pioneers, or snooping Stasi, or state management of love lives and sugar intake, every time a socialist takes to the stump. The scare-mongering doesn’t work as well, perhaps because Europeans know what actual authoritarianism looks like – and Ségolène Royal ain’t it.

North America’s left has a greater challenge to manage its identity in the face of a more broadly suspicious media and a more brutalist political class. That’s a reality, and it leaves me torn on the NDP’s big question. I am all for New Democrats doing what they can to get MPs in seats and to encourage steady fundraising, and cleaning up their constitution can be a part of that.

But they must be careful to ensure it is they who define those changes, and they who define their language. Reclaiming language from those who use it negatively may demonstrate greater confidence than reaching for the Thesaurus of Friendly Words. It’s sensible to do what you can to beat back a Right which will inevitably come snarling with accusations of radicalism. But perhaps a reclamation of socialist virtue is still a way to do that.“Socialists? Maybe we are. And here’s what it means.”

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

Behold, the CDN Fed-Elxn Predictometer 3000

O.K., it’s not got quite as fun a name as that, to its shame. Nonetheless, Hill and Knowlton have launched their 2011 Canadian federal election interactive swing-o-meter map predictor thingy! If you find yourself with some time this morning, it turns out that playing god is surprisingly fun.

I’ve run through a prediction, based in part on some of the more inspiring poll results we’ve seen of late, and based also on my optimistic take of voter turnout. You have to be optimistic to see the new NDP support in Québec moving from soft sympathy to a hard black X on the ballot… but optimistic I am. I’ve given the NDP a hearty but reasonable swing, most from LPC, but from BQ and Greens in a big way too, and some CPC for the heck of it.

The Predictor employs uniform swing, unfortunately, which is kind of half-meaningless (I lie – it does appear to allow you to make provincial and regional predictions and variations in swing and split, but it’s unclear to me how you can assemble these into the national picture).

Despite all the flaws of prediction through uniform swing, I was nevertheless intrigued by the result I got. Indeed, within reason and considering my full respect for the laws of reality, you could say I love the result. CPC on 137 seats, LPC on 72 seats, NDP on 68 seats, BQ on 30 seats, and Greens on 0. It allows for LPC/NDP overruling the diminished Reformer minority, while also avoiding allegations of consorting with hellspawned Bloquistes to do it.

Applying my swings to the Predictor, I’ve turned more of the Prairies orange than I expected to, as well as more of Québec (on current figures, they’re lined up for six seats), but British Columbia has only turned a bit more orange than before. The Liberals are the West Coast losers extraordinaire, capturing Vancouver Quadra, and nothing else.

Give it a go yourself. Any thoughts on utility, fun-factor, improvements to be made?

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

Québec discovering its options

Sure, I actively try to shut my eyes to polls these days. What progressive dude wouldn’t, in a world where the HarperCons continue to defy gravity despite their overflowing ballast of rancid bullcrap?

That’s right, bullcrap.

But there is a spark of amazing news. The NDP currently appearing top of the federalist pops in Québec.

It’s one poll. And we’ve had the NDP topping the Tories in Québec in past polls, only to plummet to the 13% range they are used to there. So, it’s far too early for them to celebrate.

But to be in the position where it’s even conceivable that the New Democrats can place second to the BQ is remarkable. It’s the kind of example that Layton should (and does, to be fair) trumpet whenever he can. It was once unthinkable they’d ever win a single seat in Alberta, or in Québec, but then they did it. Then it was unthinkable they could ever top the Liberals and Cons in Québec to become a premier federalist option, but they’re now at that stage. What unthinkables are left? That they could ever become the Official Opposition, or even take government?

Why not, they should say. New Democrats eat unthinkables for breakfast.

The trick for Dippers in Québec for years now is that they’ve been torn two ways. People who identify principally as social democrats have tended to side with the Bloc, as that makes strategic sense in most ridings. People who identify principally as federalists have tended to side with one of the big two federalist parties, as it makes strategic sense for them. Québec’s federalist social democrats have, ironically, rarely turned to the NDP – Canada’s federalist social democratic party.

But when people like Thomas Mulcair talk like this, it helps their cause enormously:

Mr. Mulcair added that unlike the Bloc, the NDP not only expresses its opposition to the oil industry in the West, but can do something about it with MPs all over the country.

“The Bloc can only talk about the tar sands in Quebec,” Mr. Mulcair said, comparing that party to a hockey team made up entirely of defencemen. “That’s the difference with the NDP, which is a social-democratic, pan-Canadian party, with a strong track record that is attracting more and more people in Quebec.”

Mulcair’s already helped to “normalise” the idea of the NPD* in the province, but he helps more when he draws the political landscape in this way. If you want a social democratic federal system with real muscle, you’re going to need to look beyond the Bloc.

Combine that smart message with Layton’s perennial magnetism, and what seems to me to be a general appetite for anti-incumbency (growth of Québec Solidaire as an example), and there is big space for the NDP to move. Downsides, of course, are that seat translations are always going to be very tricky. It’s reasonable to suspect that much of the new (and old, for that matter) NDP support is trapped in safe, stalwart BQ ridings – we just don’t know.

To have steady popular support, at least, is encouraging. I’ve hoped this might come about for a long while – to sustain it, Jack best have Lac-St-Jean and Gaspésie on his travel itinerary.

I just might keep my beady, squinted eye on the polls after all.

* Québec friends, a dumb question for you. Is there any French nickname for New Democrats (ones that aren’t rude, of course) that play off the acronym? Enpédistes, maybe, in the vein of Péquistes? And, if there isn’t, can we start?

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

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