Saturday, November 28, 2009

Carole James on Cruise Control

There is nothing especially deplorable about the cautious centrist business-friendly tack that Carole James took at the recent BC NDP convention. I agree with Rod Smelser's comment on Bill Tieleman's blog that "[n}o professional political strategist in any nation in the democratic world has ever recommended any strategy other than a pragmatic, centrist one for any party that is on the doorstep of winning power and wants to go that last, extra mile." I also agree that Carole has performed acceptably well in both of the last two election campaigns--well enough to win in 2013, just as Mike Harcourt performed well-enough in 1988-1991.

My criticism is of how many NDPers are dependent on what political scientists call the "absent mandate"-i.e. the mandate that comes not from genuinely persuading the voters to support the NDP platform, but simply from waiting until the normally governing party rots from within and its ability to win local pluralities in a majority of ridings collapses. Since many MLAs and operatives can count on this happening 3 or 4 times during their working lives (i.e. enough times for their favoured legislation to pass and for their public pensions to vest), they don't bother doing the really hard job of selling their ideas to a majority of constituents. Nor do they favour an electoral system that would give them more incentive to do so ( a degree of proportionality will force governments to care about every voter). "Carole will probably win anyway, so don't worry about it."

The problem with the absent mandate is that it quickly dissolves once in office, like a castle made of sand. It was frustrating to watch the Harcourt government, with its bright youthful cabinet and impressive policy agenda, struggle to explain their policies and mobilize support from the public. I predict that Carole James, who reminds me of Harcourt in more ways than one, will experience a similar fate, even if she does succeed in being the first woman to lead a party to victory in a B.C. general election.

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