Thursday, May 04, 2006

The danger in seeking the center

Jack Layton wants the NDP to become the center-left alternative to the Conservatives and the Liberals to fade away to a shadow. He wants, in other words, to bring Britain's political dynamic to Canada.

In England the two parties viewed as having any realistic chance at government are the Tories and Labour, to be precise, New Labour. The Tories in England are still in a position analogous to the Progressive Conservatives after Kim Campbell. They're in the penalty box and only severe incompetence by, or public disenchantment with the Labour Party will keep them from staying there for a generation.

Under Tony Blair the British Labour Party became Thatcherite-lites. It's arguable how necessary such a transition was, given the severe disenchantment the public had reached with the Tories. Neo-liberal economics and slavish obedience to the White House seems designed to appeal more to the Elites than the public.

The price of such political expedience is an electorate that views Blair and the Labour party as unprincipled and scandal driven. Without guiding principals and yes, an ideological under-pinning, New Labour is directionless and rootless. As Mick Hume put it today:
But the politicians are not innocent victims of a 'meejah conspiracy'. New Labour has asked for this. What we are witnessing is not so much the power of the press as the weakness of the political class. It is New Labour's fundamental lack of firm political foundations that has left it so vulnerable. And its panicky, near-paranoid responses to media pressure always ensure that things get worse. At root, the government's wounds are self-inflicted. The media are merely the messengers, delivering the news about how shaky New Labour has become.
And this is the political path Jack Layton seems to want to take the NDP down.

In a quixotic quest to become the established left of center alternative in the Canadian political environment the NDP risks becoming completely irrelevant. There already is a vaguely left of center party that supports social spending to ameliorate the worst excesses of capitalism while offering no substantive critique or alternative to Capitalism. They're called the Liberals.

If retaining our principles, let's be clear, socialist principles, means that the NDP is always a perennial third choice to the Canadian electorate is that necessarily a terrible thing? Does it in fact even follow that would be the case? There's a whole generation of progressive young people fighting elite guided globalization and elite benefiting global trade policies that frankly view the NDP as irrelevant. At the same time that global mass movements were mobilizing against a global order designed to benefit the elites at the expense of the rest of us, the NDP was abandoning a substantive critique of Capitalism and seeking to take over the Liberal role of supporting a 'market economy but not a market society.'

If we abandon substantive ideals based policy in exchange for a vague situational liberalism, why should someone vote for us instead of the Liberals? If the Liberals and the Torys go even further right, does the NDP lurch even further to the center in response? Given the apparent global shift away from the Washington consensus and elite guided globalization is the NDP about to find itself on the wrong side of history?


McGuire said...

There are many role models out there for the NDP. Germany's SDP would probably be a better fit. They aren't as left-wing as the NDP, but are more left than UK Labour.

What Layton is trying to do for the NDP is what Harper did for the CPC. A party that is still maintains its long held beliefs & values, remains distinctly what it is at its core but is more moderate, more pragmatic. Willing to look at ideas that aren't within its traditional idelogical sphere but take those ideas & put some of its own fluorishes on it.

Jan_ from_ BruceCounty said...

Personally Cliff, I would like the NDP go for power. If we campaign from the 3rd place, we will always be the poor cousin and never be in a real position to put alternate policies forward. When crunch time comes in political wars between Cons and Libs, we become dispensible. That said, we need to know what our core principles are and how we can maintain them.

Cliff said...

It's a fine line, I agree. When I ran for the NDP in Calgary I admit to some resentment that the money and hopes were clearly being spent in Edmonton. Pragmatically it made sense but I still like to feel like there's some hope of winning.

I've met Jack Layton a couple times, He wasn't my first choice for leader but I think he's a smart guy and I agree with a lot of his strategies.

Clearly I belong on the leftward slope of the party, and just as clearly Layton belongs more to the moderate, Blairite Third Way strain - Third Way in the New Labour sense, not the Klein health scam.

I see the argument for broadening our appeal, for getting voters who might never have considered the NDP - I just think the real, developing subteranean trend is a swing to the left comparable to the swing to the right we've been living with for the last couple of decades.

Nobody seems to have noticed I was quoting - and challenging - an Ed Broadbent line with that 'market economy not market society' line. I should point out that one of my my proudest possesions is a Parliament Visitors gallery pass stamped by Ed Broadbent's office.

But the trends in the party I was critiquing here have been ongoing for quite awhile.

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