Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The great problem of Clark's missed opportunity to lead

Charlie Smith identifies one of Christy Clark's big problems in a Georgia Straight piece today.

"With most politicians," Smith writes, "you can figure out what they really believe in. There are certain issues that you know they are passionate about, even if you don't agree with them."

Smith cites examples. Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants a big military and more people in jails. Gordon Campbell - leaving aside his many fleeting enthusiasms- believed that taxpayer support for the corporate sector would strengthen the province.

But after watching Clark as premier for a year - and listening to her as talk-show host for several - Smith writes that he's still not clear what she really cares about, or why she wants to be premier. She's talked about families and jobs, but what politician is against families and jobs?

Leaders, in any context, need to be able to set out a vision. People in the organization - or party - won't all agree, but they'll know the goals and be able to articulate them. And, on some level, help to achieve them. Leaders can hang on without them, of course. They have the power to enforce discipline. But entropy sets in.

And while political parties have an overriding goal - getting elected - that doesn't rally the uncommitted voters essential to success.

Clark's fallback position seems to be to campaign on the argument that people who don't actually like the Liberals or their current direction must vote for them anyway to keep the NDP out of power.

The argument is sound. Votes for the Conservatives, in most ridings, increase the chances of an NDP victory. (Thought the latest poll showing the Liberals and Conservatives tied undermines Clark's claim to automatic support.)

But it smacks of arrogance and is incredibly uninspiring. "Vote for us - even if you think we're doing a lousy job. You have no choice." (I recall Glen Clark making similar arguments as the NDP sank in the polls in the late 1990s. When the election was closer, he said, people would realize that even if they didn't like the New Democrats, the Liberals would be worse. They didn't.)

Some former Liberals will ignore Clark's pitch and vote Conservative or New Democrat. Others will just stay home.

The problem is greater for Clark because she failed to seize the narrow window - a matter of months - that new leaders in any organization have to set the new direction and articulate it. If they miss the opportunity, the status quo, or a vacuum, becomes the norm, and change is much harder. Any new direction now is likely to be seen by many voters as empty, pre-election posturing.


kootcoot said...

"When the election was closer, he said, [they] would realize that even if they didn't like the New Democrats, the Liberals would be worse. They didn't.)"

But he was correct, they have been so much worse than anything imaginable and keep on keepin' on sinking to ever more depraved levels of exploitation and obfuscation.

Anonymous said...

kootcoot is right that Glen Clark was correct, but I didn't find that a compelling reason to vote NDP in 2001; now I wish I had.

Scotty on Denman said...

There must be more than a few BC Liberals experiencing an existential moment these days but Christy Clark isn't one of them. It's manifest in so many ways, van Dongen's defection, Falcon's and Abbott's equivocations, doubtless many awaiting the bye-bye-elections with trepidation; the outcome in two weeks should elucidate, at least for some, whether to jump ship like Dongen, announce a resignation, stage a palace coup, start a new party or bide time till mid November when no resignations will precipitate another by-election before the fixed-election date. Christy isn't any of them either.

She seems convinced, as ever, that she is rightly on top despite everything. Not stubborn: she'd flip flop on anything to serve her purpose, that is, to retain power at the top for its own sake. The details are somebody else's job apparently.

Not one to ask for assistance, she probably doesn't notice how little is given, less now than before, which wasn't much anyway. None of her caucus save the hapless Bloy supported her leadership and most probably cursed under their breath when she squeaked a by-election win. That's when the downhill slide really started, when it became apparent that she had buckled under caucus pressure to substitute the promised early election with the by-election. Caucus never made good their end of the bargain if it was supposed to have been loyalty and co-operation. And Christy became the rube even though she didn't show it, maybe didn't even know it, surrounded as she is with sycophants in her Premier's office...and estranged from the rest of caucus.

It was a deal with the Devil(s) with no second chance...well, maybe one second chance: if ever there was a time for a change in direction, who could blame her for making it when things are as bad as they are now? it would seem more sincere than the 'I'm OK, I'm absolutely in charge" stuff she's bravely putting forward.

She is brave, though. No one can deny that. But 'here's the thing' (as she likes to say): if she doesn't do something soon instead of pretending everything'll be fine because she damns the torpedos, she'll end up having to react instead of act and it'll be a hopeless game of whack-a-mole. There are simply too many strategies for her caucus members to relieve their existential chills.