By Robert Silver, Globe and Mail, November 23, 2010
Who are our target voters? This drives me crazy. If you want to pick up 5 per cent more support, isn’t a reasonable first step to stop and ask yourself “who makes up that 5 per cent”? If your answer is “women” or “Ontarians” let me give you a clue – too broad, you can’t call 40 or 52 per cent of the electorate a target group. I’m not suggesting that we need to go quite as far as the Conservative Party in terms of micro-targeting or psychographic segmentation but the Liberal Party of 2010 has no idea what our winning voter coalition is never mind who our next 5-per-cent slice of the electorate might be. We still act as if the winning coalitions from 1968, 1980 or even 1993 exists today.
Who are our current voters? This drives me just as crazy. The Liberal Party elites do not understand our own current supporters. They don’t understand who they are or their views on a whole range of issues. They think they do – are absolutely convinced of it – but they don’t. This is the single largest reason we can’t raise money as a party. That’s different from saying the only reason but it is the biggest one.
Mr. Silver, among other things, seems quite disenchanted by the "elites" in the Liberal party. I would be extremely concerned that the "elites" would be in charge of the party. This concept of "elites" is so offensive, and so contrary to the principles of democracy and so endemic to most political parties, that it turns new-comers and any potential new donors off, from contributing and from policy participation.
In each city and town across the country, everyone knows who is part of the "Liberal party machine" and in each of these towns and cities, that very fact discourages new membership, and it may be that those inside the "circle" of the elites are relatively unconscious of their capacity to block new memberships.
A few new candidates will generate support from new-comers to the party, just because they, themselves, are also relatively new, and not completely identified with the "party machine" although I have noticed that in order to have "credibility" with the party "establishment" one has to serve at least five years in a riding executive before earning some kind of unspoken and unwritten "stripes" of apprenticeship.
And yet, new-comers may have earned "stripes" in more than one professional career, and be willing to bring those credentials into the party, if invited; however, it is Liberal Party "stripes" that are the only ones that count, with most party executives.
How sad, especially when the party is in desperate need of new blood, new ideas, new policies, and more than a few new dollars.
No political party can have it both ways: that is, continue to regard some as "insiders" (the elite) and some as "outsiders" those whose membership is less than one year old, and at the same time, continue to pitch to new people both to join and to contribute dollars to the party coffers. These two concepts are mutually exclusive, and it does not take a philadelphia lawyer to recognize their mutual exclusion.
In a recent nomination contest, several comments were bandied about by party members that "X candidate joined the party only months before the nomination" and "Y candidate is not a home-brew"....if those comments were to be turned into headlines, that would be devastating to the political party in question. Naive me, I actually thought that we might evaluate candidates on their "merit" not on their place of birth or the longevity of their party affiliation. If that were still the case, in 1968, Pierre Trudeau would never have become Prime Minister.
When are the political parties, those vehicles that carry the policies and the hopes of the next generation, going to come to terms with the fact that "former establishments" have to give way to contemporary conditions. Party loyalties no longer go back three or four generations. A recent comment heard by this observer sounds like this: "I have worn a red tie all my life (the man is in his mid-forties) and I will never wear one again!" (Red Tie, in his mind, is symbolic of membership and loyalty to the Liberal Party, and in his case, it was to the provincal wing of the party the he referred.)
One of the skills needed by the Liberal party, and presumably all other political parties, is that of community building. It may sound like nothing important to many who think and believe that as long as the numbers of memberships and dollars continue to grow to keep pace with the need for political success, there is no need to build community. That is not the same thing as "family" as Mr. Silver states above.
In a community, no one has a monopoly on good ideas; and no one has a monopoly on access to those in the executive of the party, locally, provincially or nationally. No one has more influence on party direction at the grass roots level than anyone else. Call this view "polyanna" if you like; nevertheless, every political party needs a constant, vibrant and vital, and constantly monitored system for inquiring into the nuanced thinking of its members, and those making decisions about all matters facing the party need to pay close attention to the data coming into party headquarters.
I recently attended a nomination meeting where five excellent candidates were offering their names as potential candidates. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the federal leader of the party was not present, to say a few words, to shake a few hands, and to make his pitch for those dollars that will be necessary not only to sustain his leadership but also to sustain the party in the fight with the Liberal-HATING prime minister, whose party coffers will be filled in part because of his well-known contempt for the Liberal brand.
There is literally NO EXCUSE for such an oversight! The party leadership has to be scrupulous about attending to such details, and if the oversight was that the leader was not invited, then the local officials need to count themselves "ashamed of such oversight."
Our expectations of new government, provided by the National Liberal Party, are real and extraordinarily high. We simply must have a new government, and we simply must remove Harper and his band of power-hungry, deceptive neo-cons and restore some confidence among the whole range of Canadian people in the future of this country, for their children and their grandchildren....and that means paying very close attention to all Canadians, in a disciplined, formal and informal manner.
And the technology has never been more available, more accessible to more people, and more adaptable to the constant flow of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and debate...and the flow of that "data stream" does not have to be available in the public arena. It can remain private to those who are members in good standing...Even groups like Salon.com have their own "open blog" site, and a similar site would be very useful to the Liberal Party. But that does not reduce or eliminate the need for face-to-face encounters, affordable, provocative and structured on measureable results.
Failure of the party to accomplish these intermediate goals will go a long way to ensuring the failure of the party to take power in the House of Commons in Ottawa. And the country simply cannot stand that!
"Customer Service" as envisaged by the proponents of a video conference in the late 1980's from the University of Tennessee, could serve as Customer Service 101 for the Liberal Party of Canada. And the benefits would go a long way to enhancing membership numbers, confidence and participaction.