Tuesday, March 14, 2017

No, it is not a good thing if 4 NDP MPs all pat themselves and the party on the back in a leadership "debate"

In the wake of the almost unbearably boring opening 'debate' in the campaign for the NDP leadership a number of narratives emerged from those seeking to somehow cast this descent into the doldrums in a positive light.

These articles/posts were along the lines that it was a good thing for the debate to be "civil" and that this contrasts positively with the Conservative leadership debates, that trying to work together to build consensus is a part of 'movement' or 'party building', and that it was all about "introducing" the candidates anyway. These were usually accompanied by a variation or another of 'no matter who wins the party will be in good hands'.

What total nonsense.

First, while it is important for debates to be respectful, that only applies when they still remain meaningful debates. Disagreement and some level of division and contention is inherent to debate and is not a negative. To point to the Conservative's low level of gutter debate and imply the two alternatives are this and what passed for debate at the first NDP contest is absurd. Simply communicating vague talking points with slightly different emphasis and laying out a scant number of ill-defined policies all while frequently saying how much everyone agrees with everyone else is not a debate.

Even when Caron appeared to say that the NDP had been mistaken in opposing the push on the part of some politicians in Quebec for a niqab ban none of the other candidates challenged him on the point.

Serious debate is fundamentally important to democracy and that is as true within parties as it is generally. In fact, nowhere is it more necessary than within the NDP which has a very long history of stifling it -- a history which has basically made its convention membership policy resolutions meaningless and that goes as far back as kicking out the Waffle. 

This is even more important to point out given that the NDP just came off of a disastrous, highly centralized, profoundly undemocratic (see purges of candidates and 'Fred Checkers') and centrist campaign and that none of these four candidates who were MPs at the time had anything critical to say about it when it might have mattered to the outcome.  After the surprise of Mulcair's ouster, the party also went out of its way to make sure the type of candidates and voices who would be there to be heard in the campaign for a new leader would be limited to a certain type through the imposition of an undemocratic and steep leadership entry fee. 

When they were asked what the NDP could do to increase diversity in the party and in who represents it and gets a public voice within it, a candidate serious about changing things might have pointed to this obviously exclusionary act.

The trouble with 'consensus' within the NDP right now is that it is always the consensus of the party establishment and its sycophants. The idea that it is a positive thing after the 2015 debacle for the leadership candidates -- who are all very well paid MPs who appeared to have no issue with the Mulcair/Layton centrist, centralized strategy when they thought it might mean they could get to be part of a government -- to be patting each other and the party on the back and trying to minimize internal disagreements/debates is totally wrongheaded. While it is perfectly obvious why they might want to avoid opening the can of worms that is their complicity with the party being where it is now, failing to do so is just more of the same and more of the problem

It also has nothing to do with any 'movement' building (the NDP is not a movement at all, it is very much a parliamentary, hierarchical, top-down political party) nor even party building as presumably that would include trying to connect with activists outside the party who have been troubled by its direction and internal culture.

Round one was an 'introduction' that showed four candidates who cannot yet to be taken seriously on shedding the party's recent past. The only one at this point who seems at all willing to take the party in a truly different direction is Ashton. Angus' populist rhetoric is shaping up as only a change in tone (at least until we see some actual polices from him) while Julian and Caron would be a reversion to an earnest pseudo-social democracy that is long on good intentions and generally short on everything else.

The NDP is at a moment, yet again, where it needs to engage in critical self-examination and it should be entirely obvious that this is the case. It also needs to have honest, lively, democratic and real debate internally as to its direction, past and ideology and that is going to be divisive at times as that is the way a healthy democratic debate works.

So far things do not initially bode well that this is going to occur.

See also: The NDP's leadership debate begins not with a bang but a miserable whimper

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