Saturday, April 13, 2013

NDP -- socialist now a dirty word?

Barring a huge shock, it's almost certain Justin "Not Ready for Prime Time" Trudeau will become the leader of the federal Liberal Party, tomorrow.   But the one I'm watching this weekend is the NDP convention, and their mulling over whether to eliminate or significantly tone down references to its being a democratic socialist party.    Some of the delegates are saying to get rid of the word would make it a paler shade of the Liberals.   Others are saying that it needs to be more middle of the road if it has a chance not just to become the government, but to permanently displace the Liberals as the alternative to the Conservatives.

What does this remind me of?   The battle between New and Old Labour in the UK.

When Tony Blair took over the party after the unexpected death of John Smith, he and Gordon Brown understood that Labour had no chance until it became more pragmatic.   And the biggest challenge wasn't making a U-turn and taking on a tough on crime approach -- or more famously, "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime."

No ... it was Clause IV.

This was, and is, the key underlying statement about what the party was.   The original Clause IV, dating from 1917, was an unabashed demand for nationalization of just about everything -- that its goal was:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
After a decade and a half in the wilderness due to the huge strength of Margaret Thatcher (RIP) to 3 straight majorities, and then an upset win by John Major in 1992, much was said about what approach the party should take going forward.    After much back and forth, a new Clause IV was created in 1995.   It says:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.
In layperson's terms, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but everyone should have an equal shot at getting to the top.    What is remarkable is that in one fell swoop, the party dropped its demand for nationalization and formally accepted free enterprise; while declaring for the very first time what everyone already knew -- that it's a democratic socialist party.    The strategy worked, helped by a very lackluster (albeit competent) rule by Major -- Blair managed to pull off a three-peat of his own.

Tom Mulcair is no Jack Layton, but he does have a lot of credibility stemming from his long time as a public servant and later member of the Québec National Assembly.   He comes off to me as a competent man who knows what he's talking about and where we as a country should be going.

Frankly, as a Liberal but one who could be persuaded to switch his vote, I think it would be a mistake to pretend to be something that you are not.   The only way and plausible chance the NDP has to beat the Cons in the next election is to say on the one hand, yes they are socialist, but on the other hand it would be pointless to dismantle the free enterprise system we have.   The nuts and bolts is for the party itself to decide of course, but presenting a honest but pragmatic foot forward would win many voters over.

Pragmatism is what has always served Canada best -- not ideology.   And the best ideas often become accepted planks.    Take public health care -- as late as the early 60s when it was first implemented in Saskatchewan, people in most other provinces thought it was not only ridiculous, but even Satanic.  Ditto public pensions, and even national parks.    Imagine a Canada without them.   We can't.

If the three candidates for PM -- well four, including Elizabeth May -- all put forward their real platforms rather than posture with nibbles that attract hidden by realities that hit us with a sledgehammer, we'd have a real election for once.    Don't we wish, though.