Like I said last time I blogged about the Canadian election, I’m no expert on Canadian politics. But I was a little leery of the perfect, “centrism works, see” scenario presented by Rob Salmond on Public Address. And yesterday’s column by Gordon Campbell (who I assume is far more qualified than me to comment!) seems to confirm my gut instinct.
Trudeau’s victory showed that by rejecting the cost cutting, budget-balancing mania, you can still win elections. One of the decisive moments of the campaign came when Trudeau said that, if elected, he would be willing to embrace modest budget deficits for the next four years and would use that leeway to build infrastructure, create jobs, and stimulate the economy. The sky did not fall in. …
Fatally, Mulcair chose instead to play the ‘ responsible’ card and committed the NDP to budget surpluses (for the foreseeable) as part of the NDP’s attempt to woo support from the political centre. This strategy only succeeded in painting the NDP into a corner right alongside the Conservatives. Suddenly the Liberals looked like the genuine party of change, and the only alternative to a stifling status quo. Mulcair’s Big Mistake – driven by the fear of looking like a loony lefty out of step with the neo-liberal orthodoxy – was the kind of ‘play it safe’ centrist politics that we’ve come to associate with the likes of Andrew Little and Grant Robertson –and increasingly, with the Greens. In reality, there’s not much future in a convergence on the centre that’s driven by fear of your own shadow.
I also quite like how Craig boiled it down:
(See, I do sometimes like what men say!)
The problem NZ Labour’s had with its centrist approach for the last few leaderships hasn’t really been about the position of their policy – however much I disagree with it. It’s been the uncertainty. The constant refrain of “well, we’d have to review that once we’re in government” or “let’s refer that to a Law Commission review” doesn’t give voters certainty.
A party cannot look competent when it’s unpredictable. And a party looks unpredictable when, instead of having well-advertised principles guiding its actions, it’s jumping all over the place trying to please everyone except its own supporters.
As with everything in New Zealand politics, there’s a John Key counterfactual: no one denies he’s extremely influenced by what polls well. You could argue he also jumps all over the place trying to please everyone. But he comes from a position of assumed credibility: he’s from the right, he’s a millionaire, he has great preferred-PM numbers. His shifting back and forth will always get portrayed as “responsive, reasonable government” in a way it simply will not when it’s coming from a leftwing opposition party in the low-30 polling doldrums.
I’m realistic. I know that I’m on the left, and extremely feminist, ends of the NZ Labour spectrum (spectra?). My party’s never going to have 100% policy I’m in love with. But it does need a strategy, to get a clear, undisputed message out to Kiwi voters: love us or hate us, you’re not going to feel “meh” about us.
And here’s your topical earworm for the day (language NSFW):