Monday, January 5, 2015

On eating your own tail

Remember Paul Martin’s leadership battle with Jean Chrétien?  I ask because if I ask first or second year students that, it’s ancient history to them.

          Briefly, Martin challenged Chrétien for the Liberal leadership in 1990 and lost.  He was important, though (as well as being the son of an important Liberal cabinet minister) so he spent many years as finance minister, and was considered the heir apparent to Chrétien.  Chrétien took too long to leave, so Martin resigned and basically forced him out.  This split the Liberal party badly, and it took close to a decade, and third place showing in the 2011 election, for it to recover. 

          All of this to say that when a political party stops worrying about what the public wants and instead focuses its energy on what the various factions within it want, that’s typically bad news for the party.    

          This brings me to Manitoba’s NDP, which is currently occupied with having its head all the way up its own ass.  Sitting Premier Greg Selinger is running for the leadership (an unprecedented event, as far as I know), as are former ministers Theresa Oswald and Steve Ashton. 

                I honestly don’t have that much to say about the quality of any of them as a premier.  They’re all competent people, and frankly, their policy differences will be minimal (they sat in the same government for a decade, after all).

          I do think that the best choice for the party is probably Oswald.  That isn’t based on any particular preference for her, but for what makes the NDP the most competitive.  The NDP is suffering badly from fatigue in the public eye.  Even if they hadn’t decided to eat their own tail, the party seriously risked losing the next provincial election just because they’ve been in power since 1999 (!). 

          That means that the first and last thing the party should be looking for is a leader that has a reasonable chance of presenting a new face for the party.  Steve Ashton, another old white guy who’s not super-charismatic, is probably not going to be able to do that.  And Selinger… well, give me a break.  He should have retired gracefully a few months ago. 

          So NDP members will go into this leadership race with a few choices.  If they remember what’s important, they’ll vote for who has the best chance of winning the next election.  The risk, though, is that they get so caught up in their own internecine battles that they forget all about the broader picture and have to get politically thrashed (which has a good chance of happening in any case) before wising up.  

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