Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tom Flanagan: Mostly laughable spin but some actual insight

Breaking the usual convention for 'senior conservatives' Tom Flanagan, Deceivin' Steven's 'former' campaign manager (he’s sure to have a senior job next time too) penned a column today on parliamentary tactics and Harper’s minority government.

Flannagan’s column, while decidedly much more well written than most Blogging Tories, still contains a mind boggling amount of credulity-stretching spin. Not that there’s anything wring with that. I’m just saying. For example:

For a while in early 2007, the opposition seemed to believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper would call an election, even though he had campaigned on fixed election dates, had introduced C-16 and would have looked ridiculous if he had asked for a dissolution.

Part of Tom’s thesis is that the fixed election date legislation makes it next to impossible for Harper to force an early election, unless the opposition does something crazy. He further seems to contend that it was fear of being seem to break the spirit of the fixed election dates thing, even though its accepted to have no applicability in minorities, that prevented Deceivin’ Steven from triggering an election last spring.

That’s a load of hooey. First of all, if Harper cared about looking ridulous for flip-floppery its news to me; he didn’t seem to mind harpocricy when he appointed Fortier to the Senate or made a defence lobbyist his defence minister, all on his first day on the job, to take but two of many, many examples. By the way, hasn’t that last one worked out swell?

Actually, as you, I and Tom both know, there’s only one reason why Harper didn’t call an election last spring, and it has nothing to do with looking ridiculous. It has everything to do with the fact that, at best, he’d have gotten another minority. Maybe a little bigger, maybe a little smaller.

Back to Tom, here’s the crux of his advice:

By using confidence measures more aggressively, the Conservatives can benefit politically. If the opposition parties retreat, the government gets its legislation. If the opposition unites on a matter of confidence, the Conservatives get an election for which they are the best prepared.

Yes and no. Strategically such brinksmanship would put the opposition in a tough spot. No one, Tom’s boss included, wants an election right now. Of course it’s unfortunate Tom is taking us down a road of brinksmanship instead of one of parliamentary cooperation, but putting that aside, strategically pushing the opposition in this way has some merit for the Cons. They’d be betting someone would blink, perhaps the BQ depending on CPC numbers in Quebec.

Because there would be an element of bluff to the Con brinksmanship. Tom says the Cons are best prepared for an election and he’s right, certainly from a financial and organizational perspective. Actually though, you could argue from a financial perspective the Cons are in a better position outside of a campaign then in one. In a campaign spending limits apply, the Libs and Cons both have the resources to spend the limit so the playing field is leveled. Outside of a campaign though the Libs don’t have the cash to run silly attack ads, so advantage Cons.

But I’ve digressed. While the Cons are better prepared for an election, that doesn’t mean they’d fare better. As the polls have consistently shown, Con support had steadily eroded to the point the Libs and Cons are both now tied in voter support. Which means Harper could even lose seats depending on how the campaign plays out. So it’s not the win-win Flanagan portrays, it would be a risky bluff for Harper.

Lastly, while I’ve been hard on Tom, he does briefly remove his partisan blinders here with some good analysis:

Surviving for 18 months has been an impressive achievement for the Conservatives, but mere survival will become increasingly less rewarding unless it is matched by legislative achievement. No government can survive politically if it acquires a reputation for weakness, and that is the risk the Conservatives face if they remain tied up in Parliament.

Very much agreed, at least to the first half. Conservative legislative achievement has been scant and there appears to be little in the hopper. That’s part of the reason for the low Con poll numbers, and why the brinksmanship would be a risky bluff. With sponsorship a faded memory they need a record to run on, and they don’t have much of one. They need to change that to be successful.

Tom goes off track again with the weakness comment, and by prescribing brinksmanship as the cure for a lack of legislative achievement. His solution is macho posturing and chest thumping, sound and fury signifying nothing, and I don’t think that would impress Canadians.

What would be more impressive would be actual, substantive policy passed cooperatively through the HoC and put into action. A record of achievement and getting things done; that would be something to run on. Luckily for Liberals, I don’t think Deceivin’ Steven will be going that route. Brinksmanship, here we come.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Gauntlet said...

I think my political science professors would have something to say about your assertion that polling numbers have something to do with legislative performance. Something... critical.

Jeff said...

Particularly if your poly sci prof was Tom Flanagan. But Jason, you don't think a record of legislative achievement would have a positive effect on public support? Granted it's not the only factor to contribute to polling numbers, but it would sure help a bit I'd think.

Brandon E. Beasley said...

I think Flanagan's advice for the Conservatives would only benefit them were their poll numbers better, because otherwise they have no incentive to want an election, which at the moment would get them no more than they have now. Tom is right in that the convervatives are better prepared financially, but they just don't have the support to gain anything by having an election.

That said though, since the other parties have little to gain at the moment as well, such brinksmanship would get the conservatives what they want in terms of legislation - the opposition doesn't want an election either, so attaching confidence to bills the government wants to pass would be a good strategy for them.

Now, I am talking here purely in terms of strategy; what the right thing to do is is another matter, as you allude to when you mention parliamentary cooperation.

One thing, though - you say the bill doesn't have applicability in minorities - why wouldn't it? The PM can no longer just ask the GG for an election and get one - the only way to have an election due to C-16 is for the government to fall on a confidence motion.

As to the Conservative's paucity of legislation, I assume that Flanagan sees this strategy as one that will get legislation passed, and thus improve the government's lot. But this doesn't take into account the negative effects of being painted as parliamentary bullies by the opposition, which is what would happen were they to take this tactic.

Finally, what you see as partisan spin or rhetoric, I see as a couple different things. Sure, some of it is spin, but the rest is not Flanagan's wearing of "partisan blinders", as you put it, but rather his distinctive conservative view of things. Like it or not, Flanagan's ideas are well thought out and carefully considered, however incorrect we think they are. To call them blindly partisan is going a bit too far.

But, I own that it may be hard to tell this unless you've met and talked to him, which I have (and he's a suprisingly cool guy).