Sunday, October 19, 2008

Election Post-Mortem, Part Two: The NDP


Theirs is a hard campaign for me to cast judgment on. There are many arguments to call it a great success, and arguments to call it a failure as well. So I’ll break it down into the good and the bad.

The good

They knew exactly who they were speaking to and what their message was, and Jack Layton was a master of delivering that message and sticking to his script with ruthless message discipline. Theirs wasn’t a muffled message at all. They would stand up for regular people: Harper wouldn’t, and Dion didn’t. Layton hammered this home effectively and persuasively.

They also reacted to changing events with ease and skill, using the story of the day, such as market meltdowns, as a jumping-point to insert their own narrative (kitchen table, regular folks, jobs) into the media story, ensuring more coverage than another stump speech would have gotten. Another example is promising government funding when the Montreal Formula 1 race was canceled. A small thing, and frankly a bit if cynical opportunism in my mind, but a good example of the kind of inexpensive, bite-sized pollicyettes that have served the Conservatives well and play well in target groups. And in got them in the news.

The NDP articulated politically-attractive policies and communicated them well, resonating with their target voters. With the exception of the chalkboard/Dion cartoon ad, I thought their ads were aggressive, to the point, well articulated and effective, and very visible on the airwaves.
They were rewarded for their efforts with increases (small, but still increases) in seat count and popular vote share, and at least the appearance of momentum.

The bad

I have to confess to not being a fan of Jack Layton’s style. I guess you could call him the anti-Dion (which is both good and bad I suppose), he oozes politician but for me he lacks sincerity and comes off gimmicky. I frankly found his performance in the English debates embarrassing, I thought he was overly aggressive to the point of being rude and flip. Obviously not everyone shares this view, he received generally good reviews for his debate performance and consistently high marks for leadership, but for what it’s worth that’s my take.

I also must confess a degree of frustration that legitimate questions weren’t raised about his leadership qualities. He lost four candidates in this race, and it should have been five. What’s more, he stood by each of them until public pressure forced them to quit. How did these people get past vetting? And how did Layton not fire any of them, particularly Jullian West who exposed himself to teenage girls and asked them to “paint him”, instead defending them until they quit? To me that speaks to a massive failure of leadership, and yet Layton skated through it unscathed. Impressive in a tactical sense, depressing in a moral sense. Perhaps it speaks to an apathy of the public to these kinds of political attacks, they’ve just come to expect this of all politicians.

On to more substantive policy issues. As I said, the NDP was successful at crafting politically attractive policies targeted at key voter groups and selling them with skill. Despite being politically attractive though, they were largely bad ideas that, if ever implemented, would be economically disastrous. Just scrap the softwood lumber deal with no new deal in place? Renegotiate NAFTA with the likely US election winners want concessions FROM Canada? Raise corporate taxes going into a recession? Policies that sound great on the surface, but with critical thought raise serious questions.

Lastly, on the bad front, the NDP borrowed heavily to spend the maximum in this campaign, including a heavy ad buy. Despite this, and despite a weak Liberal campaign with a vulnerable opposition record and a leader they ridicule as hideously weak, they still managed just a handful more seats and a small vote increase. And no ground gained in Quebec. Far from the Broadbent-like results they'd hoped for. Will they ever get a chance like this again?

The Verdict

I suspect most NDPers will declare victory and move on, satisfied with another incremental improvement, and the chance to take a larger opposition role in parliament with the Liberals likely to be in leadership disarray for six months. And Layton did run one of the best, if not the best, campaigns of this election. For that, they deserve full credit, and it's hard not to call it a victory. But with a new notations.

If they do seriously hope to form government some day though, or at least, as an interim step, be the official opposition, while they declare victory in public they'd be wise to do some serious introspection in private.

While reading post-election media coverage, I was struck by this passage:

Said Gerry Scott, the NDP manager for the campaign in B.C.: "I think a lot of the less-than-firm-Liberals chose the Conservatives over us . . . Lord knows why."

I think its rather telling that Gerry doesn't know the answer to that. I don't think it's exactly a mystery. Until the NDP finds the answer to that, they won't be able to take the next step forward.

Leadership issues: I don't think Jack Layton needs to worry about challengers for his job. He performed solidly in this campaign, and can claim small victories. However, with some other contenders in caucus now like Tom Muclair, Layton may be under more pressure than before to start delivering results. They won't be satisfied with incremental progress forever, not after he has raised expectations higher.

Tomorrow: Part Three: The Conservative Party

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Steve V said...

"Said Gerry Scott, the NDP manager for the campaign in B.C.: "I think a lot of the less-than-firm-Liberals chose the Conservatives over us . . . Lord knows why."

I know why, because 19th century socialism is hardly attractive. We all know the banks gouge us, but listening to Layton bank bashing, while we were in the midst of a financial meltdown, showed an amazing lack of practicality.

What this election taught me, despite optimal conditions, spending the max, offering EVERYBODY EVERYTHING, an edgy and focused campaign, a great debate performance, they really didn't achieve much, unless of course get a few more decimal points is considered victory (strange that logic). The only way the NDP grows from here is too effectively become the Liberals policy wise(horror).

The good news, from a Liberal perspective, the NDP are so narrow they actually think this is a big victory, which means no appetite to change some policies or direction.

Carrie said...

I don't care for Layton or his style. But until this election, he was a minor irritation, because of the party he represents. I never had any dislike for him. Until now.

What always stays in the back of my mind is if I can't endorse the Liberals, I can vote NDP at least. Sure it won't amount to much, but the Liberals will read that vote as lack of faith in Lib policies. It will make them wake up. That's the way it's always been, in my mind. Again, not after this election.

The NDP and Layton waded into an approach this time around which really put me off. That cartoon drawing ad just finished it. There was Layton saying that the Liberals would be a mess internally and take 2 years to recover. Now, who is he to put out crap like that? And on what planet does he think that's a good idea to say out loud? Sure, lots think it, but to put it in an ad! It was wrong on many levels but here's the main reason.

This country has been built and developed on Liberal values. That's right, Liberal. Whatever a person thinks of the party today, they are who we have to thank for what we have grown into. So for any party, but especially the NDP, to bash the Liberals and hint at wanting to annihilate them...that says to me "I hate Canada". It does. Because if not for the Liberals and our entire history as a country, the NDP would not have a voice much less a party to represent a small portion of the population.

Layton was highly insulting, degrading, exhibiting the right touch of arrogance and coldness, to completely put me off him and his party. The NDP may want to lead Canada one day, but the reality is, they are simply a party to keep the big two parties in check for us Canadians. And if they don't get back to that, and stop trashing who we are as a country, they won't survive. And Layton must go now, he and his wife. The two of make have gone from being a mild joke to being disgusting in my eyes.

KC said...

I'd have to agree with Steve V. Watching Dr. Dawg gloat about NDP successes and Liberal failures this past week has been comic relief from the prospect of several more years of Conservative rule.

The simple fact is that despite a well ran and well funded campaign on the part of the NDP and a virtual perfect storm for the Liberals we doubled the NDP seat count and beat them by 8% of the vote.

If that doesnt conclusively demonstrate the hopelessness of the NDP I dont know what would.

ch said...

I'm struck by Carrie's comments, because I have often voted NDP. I voted Liberal this time because I am a Dion supporter and because I think Canada really needs a carbon tax now and because I had already started to worry that Layton only wanted to be seen as fighting Harper. Under a new Liberal leader, and a different environmental plan, all bets would be off.

However, one thing I now know, is I will never, ever vote NDP again as long as Layton is their leader. Hearing Layton outright attack carbon taxes means to me that he is an enemy of the planet.

Robert McClelland said...

Your assessment of the NDP's finances were obviously plucked out of thin air. They are now eligible for the 60% rebate in 244 ridings (+30). By comparison the Liberals get the rebate in 271 ridings. And in Quebec this jumped from just 8 ridings in 2006 to 50 this year. From a financial standpoint the Quebec campaign was a major success.

because 19th century socialism is hardly attractive

Talk about boring and predictable. Hi Steve.

Steve V said...


It's not my fault you guys NEVER change.

I look forward to Jack's question everyday around quarter to 3.

Greg said...

Liberals we doubled the NDP seat count and beat them by 8% of the vote.

Bonus points to the person who is the first to point out the obvious here.

Koby said...

"I think a lot of the less-than-firm-Liberals chose the Conservatives over us . . . Lord knows why."

Because in BC, as opposed to Toronto, the NDP and Conservatives are swimming in same pool. Those voters that switch between the Conservatives and Liberals never vote NDP.

Koby said...

Weak Liberal support in BC is not good news for the NDP. It means that ridings they might have taken because of a Liberal Conservative spilt go Conservative.

Steve V said...


I guess you realize, if we had PR, the NDP seat count would have remained the same this election vs last. Yes, another sign of the VICTORY!

A Eliz. said...

a few years ago, people often wondered how anyone of the NDP could vote Conservative and Viceversa...take a big jump, either way, over the liberals

Demosthenes said...

I think you missed the boat here, to be honest.

Layton's job is not to win more seats, at least not yet. His job is to rip seats away from the Liberals. Where they go is immaterial: he knows that as long as there is a Liberal party, his party will almost certainly never get either government or official opposition. The only way they can get either is to kill the Liberals.

So, well, that's what he's trying to do.

If they go NDP, great! More money in the bank, more voices in Parliament, more mainstream respect.

If they go Conservative, well that's great too! The Liberals start feeding on themselves, and lurch rightward in a pathetic attempt to "triangulate" their way out of their problems.

When they do lurch rightward, and Harper responds by simply moving the "center" towards greater and greater conservatism, the NDP can simply take over more of the sensible progressive voter that the Liberals have alienated, and they STILL win. They even win if the Liberals try to lurch back, because both Harper and Jack (or his successor) can say "look, can you really trust these guys? They don't actually stand for anything!"

If the Liberals are reduced to a rump, or dissolve entirely into the other parties, then he or his successor simply completes the Blairizing of his party and (he hopes) Canada ends up with stable social democratic governments, probably in coalition with the bloquistes.

(There's nothing "19th century" about social democrats. To claim so, steve, is just ignorant. Disagree if you like, but be aware of the threat you actually face.)

burlivespipe said...

Layton's game with Harper is really what irks me. Because both succeed with the Liberals out of the way, they've formed a backroom coalition of sorts (certainly helped by our own fumbles and foibles currently) that shucks aside the principles that each party once stood for just to watch their enemy squirm.
That ol' 13-years blah blah does get old. I guess it stings my ears just as 'Liberals brought universal health care to Canadians' busts the socialists' ear drums (and we use to be able to trump the CONs by saying 'who slayed the deficit?' but somehow the media has forgotten that answer)... tho at least mine makes people feel better.

Militant Dipper said...

19th century socialism sounds pretty attractive to me. Or maybe we should keep going with 21st century capitalism, it's working out real well.