As the NDP now, and the Liberals next year, set about choosing their new leader, they are thus faced with an all important litmus test: are they going to be likable leaders who can connect with Canadians? Even after the inevitable well funded Conservative smear campaigns that so effectively hurt Ignatieff?
I have long decried the focus on personality, not policies, in Canadian politics. I wish it was different; I wish we could sit down and have an honest, informed, and intellectual discussion about what policies are best for Canadians. For the most part, on this blog, I will strive to turn the conversation into such discussions. However, I am forced to acknowledge the realpolitik of the dominating importance of choosing a leader the fickle Canadian public can really rally behind if the NDP hopes to form a government in four years. And that means likeability and electability.
Thus far in the NDP leadership contest, the candidates have remained fairly homogeneous in their claims to core NDP values and the set of policies meant to implement it (outside of Nathan Cullen's plan for a quasi merger with the Liberals). When there is a major schism in direction among the candidates, when different sets of values or major policy differences are at play, then it is important to make judgements on these differences. When the field is more homogenized, the importance of the value/policy side of things is relatively less compared to the tactical considerations of electability and the like.
At the same time, the NDP remains diametrically opposed to the incumbent Conservatives. As in, the difference between the NDP candidates is vanishingly small compared to the difference between the NDP as an aggregate and the Conservatives as an aggregate. This redoubles the importance, from the NDP side, of emphasizing electability over the smaller minutiae of policy differences.
Likeability is a necessary but not sufficient condition. If a candidate does not have this - indeed, if they are not close to the best in this - it is going to put a significant dent in the ability of the NDP to win. However, after that we can turn to the question of values, policy, and who will put the NDP in a direction that not only allows them to win, but let's them win with the best set of policies. If anyone has an argument that a particular candidate will transform the NDP into values and policies that are optimal, then I can probably respect (and want to hear about!) such an argument. I would merely ask that the factor of electability be considered as well and that we are willing to invalidate candidates who do not meet this litmus test.
The policies and values pushed by the leader of a party makes a big difference; the leader has the biggest microphone, if you will. Jack Layton, for instance, truly pushed his viewpoints and perspectives into the broader party and movement. However, parties exist (and should exist) as an exchange of ideas whereby the bottom up work of party members, elected or otherwise, contribute to which policies the top pushes the most. As such, one can get an electable leader and afterward turn to their issue, as a party, of pushing the best policies.
Given the above, the question now turns to determining who of the currently declared candidates actually is the most likable and is most likely to be elected. I will share my thoughts on this in a subsequent post, but for now I will just leave you to consider (and comment below!) on which of the candidates you think best passes this test.
Thoughts on this post? Comment below!
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