Monday, December 06, 2010

First thoughts on Carole James resignation

The New Democrats are going to pay a big price for the messy coup that saw a minority of MLAs force Carole James out as leader.

There is lots of blame to level at everyone involved, including James and her advisers for failing to head off the sniping.

But the 13 dissident MLAs who publicly pushed for James’s ouster share responsibility for handing the Liberals a victory in the next election.

And, perhaps, for showing that the NDP simply isn’t viable as an effective opposition party.

Most of the anti-James faction did a lousy job of articulating their complaints, especially considering the seriousness of their actions. Jenny Kwan gave the clearest explanation last week. James didn’t consult MLAs enough and changed positions caucus had agreed on. Under he leadership, the party had failed to set out clear positions on key issues. And she was angry two unions had been tapped to pay party president Moe Sihota a salary.

Those might be important issues to work on. They aren’t a reason to launch a coup and risk destroying the party.

After a weekend spent trying to reach some sort of truce, James decided it was impossible and stepped down.

The coup came although James had won party support in a vote last month; the delegates included a representative from each riding association. And the party constitution called for a leadership review vote at next year’s party convention.

But the dissidents wanted her gone now.

The result is a divided caucus and party and a baffled public. The Liberals are in trouble. The NDP looked to be on track to win the next election, based on the polls.

Yet a minority of MLAs forced out the leader. That raises questions about maturity and judgment.

It also makes voting NDP risky. Who is to say the next leader - the premier, if the party forms government - would not be forced out by a group of disgruntled MLAs? Voters can’t make a confident choice when the party is that unstable.

For that matter, who would want to run for leader — or donate and time and money to a leadership campaign - when the whole exercise can be overturned by a dozen MLAs who decide they don’t like the way things are going?

The NDP’s self-destruction isn’t just a concern for party members.

Our system relies on a effective opposition to critique government actions and policies and raise questions and concerns.

But it’s also important that the opposition party be a credible government-in-waiting.

If the party in power knows that the voters are prepared, given a reason, to hand the government over to the opposition at the next election, it has to take care. The governing party has to moderate positions, listen to critics and respond to the public.

The NDP hasn’t convincingly made the case that it can be a credible alternative. In 49 years, it has won three elections: In 1972, when David Anderson and the Liberals split the vote with the Socreds; in 1991, when Gordon Wilson and the Liberals split the vote with the Socreds; and in 1996, when Wilson’s PDA and Jack Weisgerber’s Reform party took votes from the Liberals.

And in each of those cases, the New Democrats got a lower share of the popular vote than they did under James last year.

The NDP has, in 50 years, been unable to build a base large enough to win a two-party contest. (The reasons don’t really matter for the purposes of this discussion.)

The polls suggest it had a chance of ending that bleak history. That’s unlikely now, at least until 2017.

At a certain point, something has to change if the province is to have a functioning party system, with at least two capable of winning enough voter support to form government.


Dana said...

I can't imagine many swing voters deciding that the NDP is a viable vote.

The die hard NDP voters would vote for a union member beaver pelt so that won't matter but for the rest of the electorate the NDP just became a non-starter.

And a lot more people are likely to decide to simply stay home.

So fucked...

Crankypants said...

It may have been messy, but I think that sometimes the result justifies the means. The BC Liberal Party would love to run the next twenty elections against a Carole James led party.

As long as the BC NDP get their ass in gear and get a new leader as quickly as possible, in case the new BC Liberal leader calls a snap election, they should be at least as competitive as if Carole were still leader providing they elect a new leader that can make a decision and stick to it, which was one of the biggest complaints against Ms. James. A few defined policies wouldn't hurt either.

wstander said...

. Who is to say the next leader - the premier, if the party forms government - would not be forced out by a group of disgruntled MLAs? Voters can’t make a confident choice when the party is that unstable.

The answer to that one is to ensure that as many of the Dissident 13 are not renominated in their ridings for the next election.

Anonymous said...

" who publicly pushed for James’s ouster share responsibility for handing the Liberals a victory in the next election"' Can't the same be true for the Liberals. It's not as if Gordon Campbell left on his own accord. His team was starting to make their objections public and had he not announced when he did, we all know more would have come forward. I don't want to believe that voters want more of the BC Liberals.

Norm Farrell said...

Smart comments, as usual Paul. I suppose the benefit of the situation is that voters learned almost 40% of their caucus lacks mature understanding of this political system. They could have mounted a campaign for rule or leadership changes before the last party convention but they waited until they had the most leverage. It was a winning strategy but they may be left asking, "What did we win?"

Bill Tieleman said...

Hi Paul - I respectfully but completely disagree with your analysis - you can see why Carole James resignation was inevitable after May 2009 election at my blog:

Ian said...

Fine analysis, but I don't believe analysis can get at the amount of damage these people have done to James, to the Opposition Caucus, to the NDP and, most importantly, to the hopes of a significant plurality of British Columbians have for sensible, pragmatic and progressive change from the current regime.

To that end the only thing I could come up with last night was MacBeth.

I believe Kwan is walking the halls as I write doing her best imitation of Lady MacBeth while the rest of the dissident troops are watching the trees on the move.

Anonymous said...

Just like anonymous at 9:05, I hate to think that the recent events concerning the NDP's internal politics have somehow exonerated the Campbel Liberals for their shameful social record, and made the public hungry for four more years of the same. People can't be that naive...can they? If the Campbellites get another mandate, ergo tacit approval, for longer waits for ER and surgeries, lower standards and outcomes for students, increased homelessness, the highest rate of child poverty in the country, and wholesale privatisation of the province, most of us won't recognize the place by the year 2017. I'll be voting NDP.

Raymond Graham

Leah said...

Ya know, this morose wailing is already getting a little old. The ONLY people that were happy with Carole were her advisors and backroom handlers...and the old die hards.

Use this time to RENEW! This is only a death knell for those who want it to be - but whose death are they mourning? I don't know about anyone else, but I feel more alive as a result of there is OPPORTUNITY for ALL to contribute, not only money and time, but ideas, policies, and value that can't be bought with any price.

Stop bitching - start working!!

kootcoot said...

Leah, when you said:

"The ONLY people that were happy with Carole were her advisors and backroom handlers...and the old die hards."

You forgot the BC LIEberals, who are aside from Ian Reid, David Shreck and Dana, the most disappointed that they don't have Carole to run against anymore.

I never ever in seven years saw so much support and outright praise for Carole James in the so-called Mainstream Media (read BC LIEberal PR Machine) until she kicked Bob Simpson out of caucus and put her leadership in question!

DPL said...

I agree with the comments of Leigh.

Lets have a one vote per member to sort out the issues.The party doesn't need another leader who breaks party policy when it suits her, or doesn't bother to tell the caucus what she is planning to do. If the party wants that, well Gordon Campbell is available

Open to all said...

Other than pro Carole party insiders, the tears have been shed and folks are moving on. Funny how the insiders of any party exemplify why we need PPR. Everything that stinks about political parties can be deduced from watching the old guard writhe in agony. Similar to listening to the lame stream media and friends cry about Gregor because they don't run city hall anymore, what a joke. Get over it the people who matter are the voters and they would not get the NDP elected with Carole, so quit staring at your friggin navels and get over it. Party is just an apparatus, it's the public that votes, did I say that enough times yet.

Anonymous said...

"two unions had been tapped to pay party president Moe Sihota a salary"

Words to that effect have generated a lot of mileage in the media, and I'm wondering if I'm just to naive, or what, to expect that the unions would be supportive of the NDP in general. Come to think of it, who does anybody, including Paul Wilcocks, who slyly inserted the mantra yet again, suppose finances the Campbell Liberals, and has done these 17 years? Somehow that salient ingredient seems to be conveniently overlooked in 99 out of 100 pages of political punditing (is that a word?) these days.

Kim said...

I'm with Leah. Let the leadership race begin. Lets all get involved. Ask every candidate the right questions. Lets BE the change we want!

Anonymous said...

What evryoone fsemms to forget is that Carole James had lost the confidence of the voting public - the people that vote the MLA's. You cannot ignore the electorate and continue to be successful.

This is the time to turn adversity to an advantage - but it is gonna take time and effort.

I recently left comments on The Real Story (Ian Reids site) and was amazed at all the self pitying, pouting and bad hair days that seem to be prevalent there. Are these posters for real or are they just a collection of misfits in drag gear. Ooooh - the world is coming to an end - Duh!!


Anonymous said...

The NDP leadership candidates have to be green with envy over how amicable the Liberal leadership race looks to be going.

Bitter feelings on both sides of caucus are going to have to be tended to - Jon Horgan already made the first mistake by telling the dissidents they were essentially clueless about politics. Bridging the divide is going to take someone who's a bit more diplomatic - my bet's on Mike Farnworth or Rob Fleming