Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Catastrophe: The NDP lost because it deserved to

It is, ultimately, astounding how facile and false political narratives come back to haunt those who insist on their veracity.

And so it has happened with the "government-in-waiting" liberal led NDP.

After being aggressively told that the "left" needed a leader like Tom Mulcair to shed its "radical" and "left" image, the party has been delivered to its worst defeat in its history. While it is true that the party will have a final number of seats that a generation ago would have seemed a victory, yesterday's results are a terrible setback.

An almost existential defeat.

We were fed the line that the sacrifices of principle were necessary. It was claimed they would produce electoral results.

But like taste tests between Coke and Coke Zero, this proved a chimera. When the NDP sought to be another "liberal" government in waiting with the dour Mulcair at the helm the people chose an obviously inspiring Liberal leader in Trudeau instead.

And why not?

Canadians were offered two versions of "progressive" liberalism. Unsurprisingly, the more "inspiring" one won.

This was not due to the NDP running a "principled" campaign as some claim. It did not. It was not due, as some are conveniently suggesting, to the "niqab" issue either. If it were why did the NDP slide in the polls begin in Ontario after the "balanced budget" pledge the NDP made and why did Trudeau do so well in Quebec despite taking just as strong a stand on the issue?

The fact is, despite all the insults, Justin Trudeau proved a capable and even a remarkable leader. It turned out he had the very characteristics that over the course of a campaign the people wanted and that the pundits and the "strategists" running the NDP campaign misunderstood and lacked.

The NDP. almost like some slow motion suicide, mimicked the catastrophic campaigns of the Ontario NDP, Olivia Chow and others. They also massively underestimated Trudeau, as did everyone else.

Like moths to the flame they began from seeming positions of advantage and used those to justify right wing narratives as a path to power.

As if this was the UK in 1997 without any notion that Tony Blair was, in the end, a disaster,

The fact is, it was obvious that the Trudeau "left shift" would work. Many of us called it from day one. No one cares about deficits anymore. No one regards balanced budgets as a priority.

Only the NDP and its partisans failed to see the ground had shifted. The terrain has changed.

The illusion of Official Opposition  became the bitter pill of capitulation to political "realism".

The NDP has been wiped out in a number of regions. Annihilated in Atlantic Canada. Decimated in Quebec. Literally obliterated in Ontario and Toronto which was a must to win to power. It failed to make much ground in the west where its alleged fiscal "conservatism" was supposed to deliver results.

It has not.

At what point do we acknowledge that the NDP's strategy has failed? At what point do we acknowledge that "winning" will neither happen this way nor be worth it if it did?

At what point do we acknowledge the "Third Way" is a bankrupt place to campaign from?

Could the NDP have won? Yes. It could, had it had a better brand and set of strategists, have supplanted the Liberals once and for all as the new flavour of bourgeois opposition.

Given that it has not, maybe it is time to turn back to where the NDP came from. Back before Tom Mulcair and Jack Layton.

At this point it would seem there would be little to lose.

And the NDP might actually mean something politically again.

image via twitter

Editor's Note: The piece has been changed from an earlier version that stated that the NDP had been devastated in the west to state instead that it failed to make much ground in the west. 


11 comments:

  1. as disillusioned ndp voter who has lived all across the country I couldn't agree more. I remember the ndp surge in nova scotia under Jeremy akerman, when they won their first seats in decades, but the ndp leadership purged the north nova scoians, and they sat for two terms as the cape Breton labour party, and the ndp opposing the nova scotia fishermans union because homer stevens was involved(we really need that union--and after the loss homer got nova scotia fishermen jobs in british Columbia) and I still voted for them, then I remember the ndp in british Columbia slashing legal aid and welfare, and jailing 800 protestors from the claquyot sound protests(the feared right wing socreds used to do one or two test caes very year and left it at that) and the ndp forgot that most of those kids were children of ndp block captains. and I still voted for them, then I remember rae in Ontario, and especially his introducing the first version of workfare, over the objections of poverty activists,(ndpers told us , no one would so mean as to use this to hurt the poor), rather than bring in real job training, apprentiships and real jobs. and I still voted for them. but saint jack Layton voting down the last martin budget with the Kelowna accord fully funded, the national day care and pharmacare and the budget for cities, that was too much(couldn't they have waited two years? once those programs are in place it is hard to cancel them) and then they effectively put steven harper in power

    well I won't vote ndp again. that's it. it would be nice to have a real socialist party but we don't. and finally mulcair's cheap shots at trudeau? what the f? this is all you got? saying trudeau has other writing his lines(because tom has no speech writers, and saying that Justin "should know all about marijuana?) both in the debates. that's all ya got, except promising balanced budgets.

    who advised these guys, the same people who thought Michael ignattieff would sweep the nation? but more importantly, even though the social gospel socialists of the old ndp were too religious, as least they were socialists. time for a socialist party.

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    1. ollaimh wrote: "... saint jack Layton voting down the last martin budget with the Kelowna accord fully funded, the national day care and pharmacare and the budget for cities, that was too much -- couldn't they have waited two years?"

      I've never before seen this thought expressed so succinctly, yet incisively. Thank you.

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  2. Dear Michael,

    While I completely appreciate and applaud your analysis of the failed and disastrous NDP campaign, I think you let the electorate off the hook too easily.

    There is a prevailing 'common sense' that places a cap on NDP support at around 20 percent. I think it is too facile to say the electorate choose optimism over dourness. And even if that is the case we see the disastrous results when people choose personality above all else in the example of the Obama presidency. There is no reason to think that the 'Trudeau government' will be any less of a mess.

    I'm certain that mainstream political scientists have studied how party loyalty is largely transmitted uncritically, and reproduced, by-and-large, generation over generation. When Walkon called the Liberals a brand in his column today I think that should be the starting point for a deep and serious analysis that is beyond my ken. I think the Liberal brand is totemic and fetishistic. I don't think people can articulate a clear reason for electing them--except to be rid of Harper. Nor can they articulate why they wouldn't give the NDP a chance beyond the layered residues of misunderstanding that accrue in our consciousness.

    But a brand does not operate at a critical-rational level. Rather it would seem to generate vague, hazy, nostalgic feelings about a time that seemed better, but probably wasn't. That doesn't matter. It's enough to be evocative in the way Coke and Pepsi attempt to tap into that same human wellspring of emotion. In this regard, politics appears fascistic.

    As Gramsci asks in the "Prison Notebooks," "is it better to take part in a conception of the world mechanically imposed by the external environment ... Or ... is it better to work out consciously and critically one's own conception of the world and thus, in connection with the labours of one's own brain, choose one's sphere of activity, take an active part in the creation of the history of the world, be one's own guide, refusing to accept passively and supinely from outside the moulding of one's personality?"

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  3. Gramsci aside, I can't forget how, back in 2005 many NDPers welcomed Harper's rise in the cynical belief that the destruction of the Liberals would catapult them into power eventually. Didnt happen. This election looks like karma coming back at them.

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  4. Gramsci aside, I can't forget how, back in 2005 many NDPers welcomed Harper's rise in the cynical belief that the destruction of the Liberals would catapult them into power eventually. Didnt happen. This election looks like karma coming back at them.

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  5. I hope the NDP takes a critical look at itself now, rather than claiming victory as the provincial NDP did in Ontario. There is room for a party that speaks for people who are struggling. This election nobody talked to the precariat, the people with multiple degrees living in their parents' basement or the people who have been downsized into poverty.

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  6. I hope the NDP takes a critical look at itself now, rather than claiming victory as the provincial NDP did in Ontario. There is room for a party that speaks for people who are struggling. This election nobody talked to the precariat, the people with multiple degrees living in their parents' basement or the people who have been downsized into poverty.

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  7. Stephen Harper crushes Stephen Harper http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/10/20/opinion/stephen-harper-crushes-stephen-harper

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  8. The NDP were just like the Conservatives and Liberals, more interested in gaining power than what would be good for Canada.

    Only Elizabeth May held the interests of Canadians and Canada ahead of the interests of her party.

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  9. yes, I was horrified by the 2005 ndpers who cynically saw the rise of harper as a prelude to their eventual victory. harpers writings from the national citizens coalition were so radical right, they should have done their utmost to stop him at the beginning. it's a fantasy that the ndp will eliminate the liberal party, better to eliminate the tories.

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  10. Good analysis Michael except for the comment about nobody caring about balanced budgets. People may want to read my article about the Myth of Balanced Budgets Narrative at comer.org. I point out that the left should be concerned about balanced budgets because that narrative hides the huge transfer in tax dollars to the well-off in the form of interest payments on the debt.

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