By Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, October 19, 2011
These days, that will to power on the part of ambitious New Democrats is hampered by splits. In many parts of the country, the non-Conservative vote is divided between the NDP and Liberals.
Some New Democrats, like Winnipeg MP Pat Martin, have argued that merging the two into a so-called united left party would overcome this impasse.
But this idea has foundered for two reasons.
First, the Liberals see themselves as a centre rather than left party. They fear, correctly, that a formal merger with the NDP would send many of their voters cascading to the Conservatives.
Second, NDP apparatchiks — particularly in Ontario — have long viewed the Liberal Party as their primary competitor. The death of the Liberals, they argue, would force voters to make a purer, left-right choice between Conservatives and New Democrats.
While a real merger plan would force both parties to confront these almost insurmountable obstacles head-on, Cullen’s scheme has the virtue of being far less formal.
Both parties would continue to exist, each with its own leader, caucus and policy platform.
At the same time, both would agree to give individual riding associations the option, should they desire it, of holding joint nomination meetings.
“It would be sort of like a U.S. primary,” Cullen told me Wednesday night in a telephone interview from an Ottawa restaurant, where he was explaining his plan to other New Democrat MPs.
Whoever won the joint nomination would, under Cullen’s plan, contest the election under the banner of his own party.
Let's see: is this another hybrid idea born of scarcity? It might be.
Liberals and New Democrats do want to remove the Harper gang from power, the sooner the better.
Liberals and New Democrats, however, are not merely different parties, they have different cultures. In the case of the NDP, supported in the past by the now-waning labour movement, the ordinary folk, many of the poor, the dispossessed and a few capable and articulate academics including some very strong feminists. On the other hand, the Liberals have historically enjoyed support from both the middle class and some of the corporate board rooms, as the party of good government, of moderate change, of a social conscience linked to a fiscally responsible balance, and, importantly, a strong surge of support from Quebec. Nevertheless, taking power for granted has reduced Liberals to swaying in the wind on their own sword.
Media politics, that is media generated stories and leadership are important, given the average voter's numbness about most things political, unless and until they find themselves faced with an issue important to them, their family, or their budget. Consequently, a public "front person" who is articulate, confident and well versed on the issues, who is also likable is one ingredient that all potentially successful political parties require. However, that person, given the incontrovertible evidence that social skills are at the heart of all innovation, (and that includes the capacity to collaborate, to select the right people for teams, develop those people and demonstrate empathy for those people), must also be able to demonstrate a significant capacity to provide that kind and quality of leadership. Clearly, this "social" skill set is not one of Harper's strengths, given his obvious control-freak leadership style.
Likability, plus a social skill set, plus an attractiveness that makes (not lets) people think they would like to invite the leader to dinner, or at least over for a chat...these are all qualities demonstrated clearly in the last election by the late Jack Layton. Most of those who voted for him did not even read his party's platform. Consequently, the support for the NDP, primarily based on likability of Jack, does not run very deep, in many quarters.
The Liberals, on the other hand, seem to have fallen victim to the hallowe'en costume of the "loser" both from the sponsorship scandal, and from the recent election results. So, in the short run, their "scarcity" runs deeper than does that of the NDP. However, in the long run, NDP scarcity may be more profound, and more difficult to fill with plenty.
The Liberals are and will continue, for some time, to struggle with a "right-to-govern" mentality that renders them, as a party, not so much individually, arrogant in the public mind. In fact, individually, it would appear that the current crop of Liberal members are more than painfully aware of the "fallen-from-grace" state of their party.
Now, with respect to policy, the Liberals have demonstrated, in the past that they can and do grasp the big issues, and can and have wrestled significant problems to the ground, witness the debt/deficit crisis of the 1990's; however, the capacity to take bold measures seems to have slipped out under the door of the last campaign offices of the party.
That same capacity, to take bold measures, has never seemed to enter the campaign rooms of the NDP, preferring to articulate domestic policy matters, that people can and do grasp at their kitchen tables.
If Harper is to be defeated by a competent alternative party, it will have to have run candidates in all ridings, not merely those where the riding associations have chosen to "go Liberal this time" or to "go NDP this time"...because then party "brand" and party identification, already at a low tide, could atrophy and even disappear.
There is little likelihood, and less feasibility that Cullen's idea will wash with the people responsible for the future of either party, especially those responsible for the leadership of the Liberal party. And they would be on firm ground in rejecting it, especially if they can connect their "reality-based" perceptions in both personalities and policies to the public's shared wish to dump Harper and his gang.