07 September 2010

Process Stories, or real insiders don’t gab

A piece this week in the Hill Times this week conjures up images of a West Wing episode. The night of Jed Bartlet’s re-election, some guy turns up on the major networks purporting to be a Democratic Party insider. The guy claims he advised Bartlet on issues during the campaign that turned out to be crucial to victory.

Only thing is the guy wasn’t really an insider.  Rather he was a pollster Bruno Gianelli hired to do some polling in one part of one state.  The guy knew nothing but he talked a good game and the networks ate up his story.

The Hill Times story quotes an unidentified ‘Liberal insider” as saying:

"They can't win. If you go province-by-province and riding-by-riding, what does it give you? I know the spin will be that the cross-country tour elevated Iggy, and the long-gun and census stuff pulled Harper down, so now we're tied. But when the crunch comes and people are going to vote, I don't think—whether they had to fill in a long-form census or not—I don't think it's going to be a serious factor…".

Someone actually so far inside any political party as to know what the leadership team is actually thinking:

  1. wouldn’t discuss it publicly, and,
  2. wouldn’t talk the sort of pure crap contained in this article.

You can tell the “insider” is full of crap by this simple paragraph:

In Newfoundland, for example, if Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams "goes whole hog" and puts his support behind the federal Conservatives in the next election campaign, the Tories could win five of the province's seven seats, the insider said. Liberal MP Siobhan Coady's St. John's South-Mount Pearl riding and Scott Andrews' riding in Avalon are the most at risk.

Right off the bat, this anonymous character predicts the Tories would gain five seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, but only names two that might change hands.  Where are the other three?

Any person who actually knew what happened on the ground in Newfoundland and Labrador  - as opposed to the bullshit - wouldn’t claim for one second that Danny Williams could turn the tide and suddenly have everyone vote for a party Williams himself savaged not so long ago. 

The simple reason is that Danny Williams didn’t do it the last time.

All Danny Williams did in 2008 was strangle the Conservative vote.

Well, for the most part he strangled it.  In St. John’s East, Tories turned out en masse for Danny’s old law partner, Jack Harris.  The Liberal vote there collapsed as well, giving Harris a giant majority. Don’t count on that one changing hands back to the Conservatives.

In St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, a sizeable number of Conservative voters actually rejected Danny’s instructions and turned out to vote for the New Democrat.  That’s right.  Even though Danny Williams’ cabinet ministers turned out for Liberal Siobhan Coady, a sizeable number of rank and file Conservatives in the riding actually made a choice for the New Democrat.  In other ridings they just stayed home.

But in SJSMP, they voted for the New Democrat as a protest over Conservative ministers actively campaigning for their hated enemy, les rouges.  Call it a hold over from the 1949 Confederation racket if you want, but Conservative townies tend to vote for the New Democrats rather than Liberals if the can’t vote for their own guy.

Put a stronger Conservative candidate in play and this riding might change its colours.  Then again, it might not.  If you apply the current poll configuration to old votes, the riding tended to vote Liberal more than Conservative more recently.  What usually made the difference in the old configuration was the solid blue voting along what is now known as the Irish loop.  Even losing coming out of St. John’s and Mount Pearl, the Conservative would go over the top as the Southern Shore went solidly Conservative.

One of the other key differences might be the New Democrat candidate. If the NDP run a candidate with a strong enough profile and the right messaging, he could split the blue vote. Yes, that seems counterintuitive for people who think of voting only in left-right terms – like the “insider” apparently -  but the distinction could be important in the next federal election.

Another factor to watch would be the impact of migration on the vote. The old Conservative stronghold in Avalon has moved to the metro St. John’s region.  Where they live now could have a huge impact on the vote in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl as well as neighbouring Avalon.

In 2008, the fight turned out to be a straight fight between the Liberals and the Conservatives.  You’d have to do a poll by poll breakdown to see where the Conservatives lost votes and where they picked up.  The New Democrats were a distant third, but they did increase their vote sizeably. They won’t have the Conservative Family Feud to count on this time and those extra 2400 votes the NDP gained last time might swing to one of the other parties.

None of that takes into account the value of incumbency.

Nor does it take into account the fact that in 2004 and 2006 – when Williams and his party actively supported Conservatives across the province – the best the Conservatives could do is win the same two seats they usually win. In 2008, though, Williams wiped out the Conservative vote and In St. John’s East in particular he may have locked that one in New Democrat hands for a while.  Conservative insiders –real insiders – are likely thinking that with friends like that…well, you know where that goes.

So that none of that looks even remotely like a scenario where the Old Man is going to hand his old enemy Steve five easy seats. And it gets even harder to see the “insider” scenario if you realise the farther one gets from St. John’s, the harder it is to elect a federal Conservative in Newfoundland and Labrador, even with the enthusiastic help of a guy whose strongest supporters are still found among townies.

Of course, the “insider’’ assessment only works on any level if you continue to think that Danny Williams remains as popular as he ever was, even within his own party.  As the insider aptly shows by his or her appearance of knowing things, appearances can be deceiving. 

The 2008 Family Feud did its most damage within the Conservative Party itself.  Even having Danny Williams call off the feud  or claim that he leads a Reform-based Conservative Party might not be enough to win back the enthusiastic support of Conservatives who voted Blue long before Williams was a gleam in his own eye. Those are the people he screwed with in 2008 and those people didn’t like it one bit.

Williams himself also hinted recently at internal political problems with his party.  And let’s not forget that earlier this year, someone dropped a dime on his little plan to scoot south secretly to have heart surgery.

To be fair, though, the one part of the scenario the Liberal “insider” didn’t mention is another one:  what might happen in one of the ridings if Danny Williams himself decided to take a shot at federal politics.

That wouldn’t change the federal Conservatives’ chances a great deal in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it would make the nomination fight in one riding a lot more interesting than it might otherwise be.

Wonder which riding it might be?

St. John’s East is already safely in the hands of his old friend and law partner. Odds are the Old Man wouldn’t run there.

But he does own a sizeable house in Avalon, the seat once held by his political nemesis, John Efford.


The Old Man jumping to federal politics.

Maybe the Hill times wasn’t speaking with a Liberal after all.

Their assessment sounds more like what one would get from a member of the Old Man’s crew.

- srbp -