Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lorne Nystrom outs Jack: Its politics, not principle

I’ll go back to my regularly scheduled Conserva-bashing in short order, not to worry. But in the mean time I couldn’t resist highlighting these comments from former NDP MP Lorne Nystrom, as they validate some of the arguments I’ve been making for some time.

The argument? That the NDP doesn’t necessarily see an election as a moral imperative, they see it as an issue to bash the Liberals over. And their strategy isn’t about holding Harper to account; it’s about helping the Conservatives in painting Dion as weak.

Says Lorne:

Former New Democratic MP Lorne Nystrom, who is no longer directly involved with party strategy, said the NDP is clearly focused on keeping the Liberals on the defensive. Having asked swing Liberal voters in 2006 to "lend us your vote," Mr. Layton must prevent them from returning to their traditional patterns, he said.

Mr. Nystrom said that coming out early in favour of an election likely forces the Liberals to keep Parliament alive by abstaining on key confidence votes, making St├ęphane Dion look like a weak leader.

I have no problem with the NDP strategy, except for the fact that I think it benefits the Harper Conservatives more than it benefits the NDP. Nevertheless, from a purely strategic point of view it’s a good strategy for Layton and company. And all is fair in love and war.

I just wish the NDP supporters would get off their moral high horses, painting themselves as the party that doesn’t play politics, the righteous defenders of all that is holy and right, and the puppy dogs and the kitty cats. Bollocks. The NDP plays politics like everyone else. Indeed, in my experience they play it even more. And that’s fine, just don’t try to pretend that you don’t, and that you’re better then that, is all I’m saying. It’s a tad nauseating.

Which brings me to these last interesting comments from Lorne:

Because the NDP and the Liberals regularly fight over the same voters, Mr. Nystrom said, the NDP likely senses the Liberals are in a position of weakness at the moment that is not necessarily visible in the national polling and may not last.

"It may be worse to go [to the polls] later," Mr. Nystrom said.

"If the economy gets worse and the election isn't held until fall and there's an anti-Conservative mood in the country, then usually what happens is people seek the largest alternative party, which is the Liberals. ... If you have an early election, it may be too soon for the Liberals and work to the NDP's advantage."

This is an interesting theory, and one I hadn’t considered before, but it makes sense. I’ve been saying that because of the parliamentary math and Liberal unwillingness to force an election the NDP have been able to beat the electoral war drums without consequence, safe in the knowledge that the Liberals are going to prop-up anyway. Which is true. But I’ve also been saying the NDP don’t really want an election, given their really crappy polling numbers, which as the article notes have often been below their turnout in the last election.

Lorne’s theory is also interesting, however. And it punches an even wider hole in the NDP’s supposedly viewing an election as a moral imperative. It’s not principle. It’s political calculation. They deride the Liberals for wanting to wait until the polls are better for them, when it would seem the NDP may want to go now is because they think the polls will get worse for them. It’s all just politics.

On weakness

All that said; in closing let me backtrack for a moment on the NDP strategy, namely keeping the Liberals on the defensive and making the Liberals look weak. You know what? We are on the defensive, and we do look weak.

I was advocating a pre-budget non-confidence vote. Even if the Conservatives wouldn’t have likely procedurally blocked it, it looks like the Liberals have ruled that out anyway. The next test is the budget, and we’re going to wait to see what’s in it before we decide.

Which is a fine position to take, in the sense that coming out against the budget before we’ve seen it is just crass politics (see above) and it’s better to keep the Cons on their toes. Whatever is in the budget though, I don’t see how we can possibly vote for it.

You could argue we should wait for the fall to build momentum from the hoped-for by-election victories, getting Bob Rae and Martha Hall-Findlay in the HoC and, as Lorne postulates, a weakening economy solidifying the anti-Con vote. That’s all well and good.

To get there, though, you’ve got to get past this budget, which would mean more of this abstention nonsense, and I don’t see how we can keep getting away with that. You can argue that no one outside the Ottawa bubble gives a crap about this stuff. Maybe you could convince me, I don’t know. While this may not be hurting us though, I think is stopping us from growing.

Strategically, while things may get better tactically for the Liberals, they could also get much worse. Harper isn’t going to keep shooting himself in the foot forever. As I’ve argued before, a Liberal minority is within reach. And, even if moral imperatives have no place in politics, I think getting Harper out of government sooner rather than later would be a good thing. Particularly if the economy is worsening.

An election on the budget is a tough road to take, particularly since it’s sure to be filled with electoral goodies. That’s why I’d wanted to go pre-budget. It’s still better than the alternative though. It’s time to bring this government down.

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leftdog said...

"All that said; in closing let me backtrack for a moment on the NDP strategy, namely keeping the Liberals on the defensive and making the Liberals look weak. You know what? We are on the defensive, and we do look weak."

Well said. Listen - the average card carrying New Democrat is not focussed on the Libs at the moment. We have clear positions on Afghanistan, the economy and social justice which we are going to communicate to voters. Libs will do the same.

Let's get on with it - Harper must go. The people will design the next configuration of the House and we move on.

uncorrectedproofs said...

Buckdog may be right about the rank-and-file, but NDP-Tory cooperation is certainly not unheard of... check out my post from a while back:

Sean S. said...

great post BCer...I can't say I disagree with most of it or Lorne's comments.

I think its a bit of folly on any NDPers part envisioning themselves as a replacement for the Liberals, if it ever happened you wouldn't be the NDP anymore, merely Liberals in an orange shirt...heck take a look at recent NDP provincial governments for some good examples.

The question is, if the NDP brass are really moving in that direction what will replace the vacuum on the left? (and don't say the Green's, at least not based on their current policies).

berlynn said...

I don't give a flying eff whose strategy is what. It is time to turf these effing neocons, so Libs, get a gee dee backbone already!

Maybe too many politicos have their heads up their butts, I don't know. But I do know that on the ground, in the trenches and the coffeeshops, there is anti-conservative sentiment, even here in 12 Con MP SK.

Jeff said...

But I do know that on the ground, in the trenches and the coffeeshops, there is anti-conservative sentiment, even here in 12 Con MP SK.

Here in Toronto, and back in BC over the holidays, I found more of an "don't give a crap about politics" sentiment myself. Harper doesn't seem to rouse any strong feelings either way, outside of the partisans of any stripe.

Now what's not unusual between elections, of course, I'm just saying I haven't gotten much sense of any kind of a "throw the bums out" grassroots sentiment.

If we can get into an election though, I do hope/suspect they'll lean that way.

rabbit said...

I've never understood why people assume that conservatives are the natural enemies of NDP. They are not.

The NDP will only increase their seats by taking votes from Liberals and Greens. Conservative supporters aren't likely to turn around and start voting socialist.

You might say that this puts politics over principles. I agree, but I suspect it always been thus.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Sean sez:"...what will replace the vacuum on the left? (and don't say the Green's, at least not based on their current policies)."

Which part of Green policy do you think is not on the left, Sean? Is it the GPC's stand on Afghanistan? Same sex marriage? Tax shifting to carbon tax dirty industries while reducing personal income taxes? Fully legalizing marijuana? Renegotiating NAFTA? Ending $1.5 Bn in subsidies to the oil and gas industry? A moratorium nuclear energy development?

Or is it that the GPC considers itself fiscally conservative in that it sees businesses, large and small, as necessary allies in the fight to save the planet? The NDP is stuck in the 19th century. Adversarial anti-business philosophy and tactics have not got us anywhere. If major GHG producers can be won over, we can make progress. We don't win them over by going on strike but by rewarding good behaviour with tax incentives.

In the 21st century, companies like Toyota and Walmart are more powerful than many nation states. That power can be used for good if we work with business instead of as adversaries. The NDP needs to update its philosophy or fold up its tent. It has become irrelevant in today's bigbox, global economy.

Before you decide that the Greens' policies aren't progressive enough, take a good look at them. You may be surprised.

Vision Green


Sean S. said...

I never said that the Green's weren't progressive enough, I just said they were not "left".

JimBobby said...

I'm just looking for clarification. FWIW, the GPC doesn't consider itself left, either. It describes itself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The fiscal conservatism, however, is hardly anything like the free marketeer CPoC philosophy.

I think we're both on the same page vis-a-vis the GPC being on the left wrt social issues. Most of our social policies are similar to those of the NDP.

Maybe you could tell me specifically what you and many NDPers find so objectionable in the GPC economic policies. I know there are a few NDP bloggers with axes to grind and who seem to pounce on the GPC and label us as righties but I'd like some specific reasons why that is said. The Greens are willing to talk to any party and maybe we can accommodate some converts from teh NDP. We're sure getting a lot of them from the other parties. My local EDA is almost entirely made up of former Liberals but I heartell a lotta Progressive Con's are joinin' up, too..

Green Economic Policies


Tania said...

Their strategy may work against them too. My parents have always voted NDP. With the constant attacks on Stephane Dion, it's really started pissing them off. They don't look at Stephane as their enemy, they look at him as their friend. Unlike Stephen Harper who they just can't stand.

The last couple of elections, my Mom stumped and volunteered for the NDP candidate who got elected. Now she sees him as greedy and just wanting his face on TV.

If their riding gets a nice Liberal candidate, they will do everything to get him/her elected. Which is a big step for them. I've always joked that one day they'd have to choose between their love for their daughter and their love for their party should I ever choose to run. Their love for their party has been slowly dying the last few years and it's because of Layton. And if they can see that through their orange glasses then the average voter might too.

Scotian said...

Which is exactly why I tend to get annoyed with the NDP strategy, it strengthens Harper and is pure political calculation and not some high minded principled position, that if Layton was acting on core NDP principles he would be focused first and last on the destruction of the Harper CPC and THEN go back to fighting with the Liberals for votes. You cannot claim to be the party that places principle(s) first while clearly acting with partisan political interests first, and that has been why the NDP under Layton and those that have supported this position get under my nerves as much as they do. I remember the principles first NDP, and they would not have been willing to make nice with Harper just so to take some votes/seats away from the Liberals, especially once Harper came to power as PM.

It is the attempt to eat their cake and have it on this point that is the core problem, and it also illustrates that for all Layton's bleating to the contrary that he is no less motivated by his lust for power than any other party leader and that such is his primary concern and not these lofty principles he keeps talking about. He knows exactly what he is doing here, and it is the inherent dishonesty in this approach when we need to unite the left to get rid of Harper (then as I said we can go back to bickering between the various shades of lefty/progressive thought) as it is Layton nearly let Harper get a majority last time out and would have I suspect had not Harper shot himself in the foot with the Liberal Senate/media/civil service keeping him in check bit. I know NDPers think I must be a Liberal supporter to be making this arguments but as I said even during the last election I would have no problems with Layton's taking this approach were we talking about the PCPC's, but that Harper's CPC was a whole different breed of cat and something far more dangerous than anything we had seen before, and I think the last two years have only proved my case in that respect.

Good post Jeff, I'm sorry I came to it so late.