13 June 2009

The lesson from Nova Scotia

In Newfoundland and Labrador these past few days some local adherents of the Orange Creed – that’s New Democrats, not Protestants or Dutch – have been buoyed by the success of their Nova Scotia brothers and sisters.

Others have been talking about the prospect of local New Democrats doing the same thing here that Darrell Dexter and his party did in persuading Nova Scotians to take a chance on voting NDP.

Therein lies the first lesson local New Democrats should learn:  Darrell and the crew didn’t ask Nova Scotians to “take a chance” on anything.  They presented a professional, credible alternative to the other two parties. 

There was no chance involved.

There was a choice.

A few years ago, the Nova Scotian Dippers were like other labourites.  Being a New Democrat was to be part of a social cause or a social group, not a bunch who seriously thought of winning an election.  That’s not unusual. Other labour parties have gone through the same thing.  The Labour Party in Britain once cherished ideological purity over electoral success.  So too did New Democratic parties across Canada.

But, like those other labourites elsewhere,  the Nova Scotian New Democrats decided it was better to be in office than standing impotent on the sidelines with their ideological purity intact.

That’s the second lesson the local New Democrats need to learn:  there is no substitute for power.  You can have all the lovely ideas you want but if you don’t win the election it’s just as well to order another round at the Ship and explain your theory to the bottom of a pint of Guinness.

You get to win by organizing.  Find volunteers.  Get people who know how to organize. Raise money and put it in the bank.  Find candidates.  Reach out and bring new people and new ideas into the fold.

Inevitably, there will be a crowd who will get pissed at the loss of ideological purity, but that’s the price of shedding the sack-cloth and the stench of burning martyr and donning the mantle of government.

Equally inevitably, for every old bolshevik who abandons ship for the Greens, there’ll be two or more new people who either weren’t in politics before or who defect from another team.

The two major parties don’t get elected because people vote the way their parents and grandparents did.  That’s a convenient excuse dreamed up by someone who just can’t face facts. 

The two major parties get elected because they hold onto a cadre of supporters and then add on a whole bunch of people who change their votes from time to time. The other two major parties appeal to voters with the platforms and promises by finding out what voters are looking for and then offering it to them.  Put another way, they get elected by building coalitions of people who have similar views or who can find enough reasons to vote for one team over another. 

That’s basically what politics is about:  bringing people together and that should be what New Democrats do naturally.

But they don’t.  Instead, they try to not just distinguish themselves but drive a wedge between themselves and voters.  New Democrats of the old school make it seem like it is a sign of moral weakness to have voted for the other two parties at some point.  Before one can vote New Democrat one must first  admit the sins of ones voting past.

That’s the essence of that common NDP refrain that the other two parties are all alike.  Predictably, it turns voters off.

Think about that for a second and then look at two New Democrat leaders.

Think about Jack Layton, he of the “they are all alike” school.

And then think about Darrell Dexter.

If you can perceive the differences, and you are a New Democrat, then you are well on your way to learning the Lesson from Nova Scotia. You are well on your way to bringing a genuinely competitive alternative to voters.