Centrism and Canada

I’m not an expert on Canadian politics, so the only thing I have to go on regarding its New Democratic Party is what Rob Salmond says in his latest argument on trying to campaign for the centre.

It’s like a poster child for every political consultant’s “grow from your base, then reach to the centre” fantasy. …

That focus on middle-income earners, and on widely shared, optimistic self-images about “hard work” is textbook political strategy, employed by left and right parties alike. Tell swing voters in particular that they’re the most important, tell them they’re great and deserve more, and if you’re the challenger tell them the incumbent is failing them.

But there’s a logical hiccup. Rob himself says right up top:

Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) stands proudly for the progressive left in Canadian politics. Very few would accuse the NDP of being “Blairite.”

And good for them. But this pretty much ruins any argument that the NDP proves that a move to the right is a winning strategy for parties like UK or NZ Labour.

If there is validity in a push to the centre, it surely only works when, like the NDP, you’re still seen as “standing proudly for the progressive left”. It works because the left feel secure. They aren’t worried you’re selling out for the sake of a Crown limo.

This is not a luxury afforded to leftish Anglo parties like UK Labour which have been described as “Blairite” on a regular basis.

I said in The base is what you build on:

Let’s accept the idea that Labour activists don’t reflect the views of enough voters to form a government. Let’s even accept the idea that we can magically convince those voters that we agree with them on everything without compromising our basic principles. The point is that Labour can’t reach those voters without its base. No point agreeing with them on everything if they never hear about it.

But why would Labour’s base, those silly lefties with their silly principles, keep grinding on trying to sell a moderate/unfrightening/uninspiring message which has only led to increasingly terrible election results?

Label them fringe, call them the Twitterati, accuse them of living in an echo-chamber and being out of touch with ~real voters~, but someone has to run your phonebanks. If your strategy is “winning both the left and the centre”, you need to win both the left and the centre. What concerns me is the idea – illustrated in another post – that:

Around a third of New Zealand’s population are leftists. Same for right-wingers. But you need 50% of the vote to govern

… so you assume you’ve got 33% in the bank and just need to convince half of the swingers (no pun intended) to back you.

For the non-Scottish parts of UK Labour, that’s not too silly, especially after the Lib Dems slit their own throats. In New Zealand, with MMP, it’s dangerous. Leftist voters have other options. One is “not showing up”. And we’ve had two elections to see exactly what that looks like.

There are other issues with Rob’s analysis. Implying that only a centrist strategy can have “professionalized “slick” messaging” is a bit weird, given that Jeremy Corbyn won with some pretty slick, professional campaigning. It would be sad if Rob were trying to paint people to his left as mud-covered rabble.

monty python executive power

Rob also sneers at Jeremy Corbyn’s style of campaigning by saying “the progressive citizenry now demands conviction politicians who say what they mean, no matter how out of step it might be with swing voters”. But the polls – the data – show that Corbyn is firmly in-step with swing voters in the UK. He is “a mirror to swing voters’ self-images and desires”. And he can say exactly what he thinks.

And there’s this:

If you go centrist on innovation, you can go left on climate change. If you go centrist on taxes, you can go left on education. And so on.

I want to believe, folks.

i want to believeI’m honestly interested to know which issues the NZ Labour Party’s centrist crew are willing to go left on. Because when it’s come to extending benefits, advancing gender equality, or not participating in the second invasion of Iraq, it’s been a resounding no. Tinkering at the edges of student loans or hospital waiting lists isn’t “going left”. If we’re selling our soul to polling, I want to see more out of it than a halfway public-private KiwiBuild policy.

We hear a lot about how moving to the right doesn’t mean compromising our principles. But I still don’t know what the centre stands for.

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