21 August 2012

The Permanent Echo Chamber of Horrors #nlpoli

To borrow a phrase from Quebec Premier Jean Charest the other day, Twitter is a conversation between apparatchiks and journalists.  That’s pretty much it, although in Newfoundland and Labrador as elsewhere a few other people weigh into the exchanges.

The political Twitter world is a variation of the echo chamber.  That’s what Charest meant:  a small group of people discuss or argue among themselves, sometimes without much concern for the outside world. 

You can really see how that plays out in Newfoundland and Labrador again this week in the aftermath of the Tories’  orchestrated attack on the five lawyers who went public  - again – with their criticisms of Muskrat Falls.

Sure Kent is taking a pounding.  Sure he and his fellow Tories are fighting back and making new comment about Muskrat Falls.

The key to understanding what is happening  is in the way the Tories like MHAs Steve Kent and Paul Lane behave. It’s the way the Tories have behaved since about 2001, without change

They are hyper-aggressive and hyper-partisan.  They took this approach from American politics where competition among the two parties is fierce, elections happen every two years, and fighting campaigns is hugely expensive at all levels.

Even though politics in this province is nothing like that and never has been, the Tories view everything in public as partisan all the time.  There are only two types of people in their world:  supporters of the current administration and everyone else.  If you voice any opinion other than support for them, you are branded as an enemy and ruthlessly attacked accordingly.

 Mark GriffinJulia Trahey, and Cabot Martin  - Kent’s main target - can tell you what happens if you stick you head up in a public forum.  You will get it cut off. Laws like the privacy act are there to be broken, as they demonstrated both in the Trahey or Westcott examples, if it suits the Tories’ partisan interest.  They’ll invariably claim that their illegal acts are in the public interest.

This is the politics of the permanent campaign.

Of course, the main thing that partisans like Kent or fellow Mount Pearl MHA Paul Lane do is recite prepared talking points. They don’t  persuade. They don’t even try. They simply recite the words they’ve been handed. They are apparatchiks, not people of grand plans, “but of a hundred carefully executed details.”

And after all, apparently they don’t have to persuade anyone of anything.  As Tory politicians like finance minister Tom Marshall are fond of telling people, ultimately, “the government will get its way.”

What they do on twitter is simply a variation of what they’ve been doing on radio call-in shows as well.  They are there to send messages, not receive them.  They are there to hold a monologue, not engage in an exchange of views. 

Take all of that and apply it against David Cochrane’s comments to the partisans this past weekend on Twitter.  If you recall, he warned them that they were turning off the people who aren’t committed partisans on the Muskrat Falls issue. 

It’s going to be interesting to see how this little drama in the Twitter Chamber plays out in the weeks ahead.  After all, Corporate Research Associates is in the field this month and there’ll be another poll possibly coming anytime after that. 

You see the thing about the permanent campaign is that people learn to judge a politician or a political party not by the results of the last election but by the results of the latest poll.  The Tories have been claiming all along that they are right because they are popular and popular because they are right, based on what the polls say. 

What happens if the polls keep showing that they aren’t popular?



Jon said...

"What happens..." is a good question. But as you quite aptly point out, nothing will happen. There won't be an election until 2015, and there's no reason for a majority govt. to hold a plebiscite on the issue. Anyways, maybe the govt. figures the only polls that matter will be the last ones before the election.

As a side note, more than any steadfast opinion in favor or against Muskrat Falls, I think what is most unfortunate is that our democratic system does not allow for greater participation in decision making on important issues like this.

Edward Hollett said...

While you are right that there isn't a scheduled election until 2015, it wouldn't take an election to produce political change.

Remember that in August 2010, most people in the province probably assumed Danny Williams would be the Premier in 2012 having won a third majority. Only a handful of people might have believed otherwise outside the tight circle around the Premier who knew otherwise.

There's a bit of a contradiction in the way some people talk about politics and that contradiction is in this post. On the one hand they will point to the last election. But those same people have also been obsessed with the last poll. There actually isn't a contradiction here because they have operated on the basis that having great polls helps to stifle political debate in public which ultimately allows them to do as they see fit.

Well, that world seems to be over. So I ask rhetorically what might happen if this current state of affairs continues or gets worse.

Like I said, it doesn't take an election to produce political change in the province. Politicians have been known to leave of their own accord (e.g. Moores, Peckford, Wells, Tobin or Williams locally) or get squeezed out or forced out. (e.g. Margaret Thatcher).

What sort of situations trigger those changes?

Jon said...

Thanks for your response. One potential situation would be a massive popular movement. However, I am doubtful there is the will to mobilize -- Newfoundlanders seem somewhat apathetic when it comes to people power. For example, when bill 29 was being debated there was a torrent of condemnation in the press and in public discourse (coffee shops, workplaces, dinner tables, etc.), but the protest organized at Confederation Building was poorly attended (maybe 200 people).

I am curious if you are suggesting that consistent pressure from press, pundits, and polls can be enough to force govt. capitulation on this issue? To me it seems that some of the politicians will step down before the next election, but not before this deal is finalized.