Both CBC provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane and Telegram editor Russell Wangersky had opinion pieces this weekend telling the provincial Conservatives that they have a big political problem now that they are in third place in a CRA poll.
The Conservatives need to change what they are doing.
Wangersky had some specific suggestions on changes. Cochrane added the tidbit of news that there is a cabal inside the Tory caucus that is growing increasingly frustrated with the inaction of people running the cabinet and caucus. They live inside The Bubble apparently.
This is pretty much the same thing SRBP has been on about for the past year or so. The Tories are in a hole. They need to stop digging.
Great minds think alike, eventually.
The fools differ.
Except they are not fools.
Far from it. The Tory backrooms are full of wily politicians.
Kathy Dunderdale and Jerome Kennedy for two see exactly what the rest of us see. In their talking points on the most recent CRA poll, both Dunderdale and Kennedy said that Muskrat Falls was part of the reason their support has been tanking since the last election. That’s a pretty honest and fair comment.
They also blamed the budget, which is what they have been saying since the winter.
Go back through their responses to declining polls over the past 12 months or so and you will see variations on the same comments each time. Since last fall, the Conservatives have been talking about changes in stuff like communications. Look at what Kathy Dunderdale told Tories last fall at their first annual convention after the election. There are problems, she said in so many words, and we will be making changes. One of them was communications. The Premier is now working on her third complete change of communications staff in her office in the past three years. Another change was a cabinet shuffle Problems still there.
You see, if the problem was as simple as silencing the Twitter thugs or any of the other suggestions Wangersky makes, the Conservatives could have fixed their problems a long time ago.
Thing is, the Conservatives don’t have a communications problem at all. Whatever they think is a communications problem are really just more symptoms of the real issue. We are way beyond the point where the sort of things Wangersky suggests would be effective or even possible.
The Conservatives have a management problem. What’s worse, they know they have a bigger problem but won’t or can’t do anything about it. Kennedy said it most forcefully this time around: we’ll get out there and talk to people but the course is set.
That inaction has now produced the inevitable fractures inside the caucus (indicator: The Bubble comment) and possibly in cabinet as well (the free trade fiasco). None of that is unusual. None of that is rocket science. Every caucus since the invention of political caucuses has contained the same basic elements and the same motivations.
When polls get bad, some caucus members will reach for the toga and daggers, looking for someone to stab. All very civilised and Shakespearean. Add in the huge Tory loss of their base in the last election and you’d already have the sort of political mix that would see the unhappy politicians reaching for cleavers and machetes. Now with this latest poll, the Tories are in a place where no one would be surprised to find that Conservatives are gassing up the Poulans and rigging the shower curtains up in a motel bathroom somewhere on Kenmount Road.
We are talking Tony Montana time.
Part of this stems from the decision the caucus made in December 2010 to take Kathy Dunderdale as leader in order to avoid what they believed would be a divisive leadership contest in an election year. In itself that rationale is a clue to the sorts of serious internal cleavages the Tories had and that Danny Williams suppressed for his entire term. things were so bad the Conservatives were scared shitless of an open leadership change. The way Dunderdale and her cronies treated Tom Osborne is another enormous clue of the bile in some parts of the caucus.
The deal the Tories worked up in 2010 left a mess in place and the mess has – apparently - festered. What’s more, the people in the positions of influence not only live inside The Bubble they also have no incentive to change soon. Last fall’s cabinet shuffle mere;y rearranged core cabinet and left out of big promotions some of the politicians (like Paul Davis) an effective leader would recognise need to get a boost. It was the appearance of change without significant change.
And that isn’t good in a situation where pretty well all the core cabinet ministers will not be running in 2015 including Kathy Dunderdale. Some, like Tom Marshall, have already confirmed they are leaving. Tom Hedderson, Susan Sullivan, Jerome Kennedy, Clyde Jackman and Joan Shea are all pensionable. A few others, like Charlene Johnson, could stay around but won’t. Fairity O’Brien might hang on as long as his hair colour holds out but in total, there are something like 21 out of the 36 Tories who are guaranteed or almost guaranteed to be gone in 2015, if not before.
In the meantime, The Bubble People have no incentive to change. None. They don’t care about crappy polls now or anything of the sort. no need need to change now when they know change is coming anyway. They certainly are acting like people who are just marking time until they leave.
The longer The Bubble People wait to change though, the worse off they leave the rest of the Conservatives. A new leader will need to pick a cabinet and start rebuilding Conservative credibility. He or she will also need to recruit a pile of fresh faces, as the Liberals did in 1996, so they can win re-election. All of that gets harder the longer public attitudes about the Conservatives stay the way they have been for the past couple of years. The party or parties with momentum will get first pick of the new faces.
As much as some people wish, magic never happens.