07 September 2013

The Importance of Appearing Earnest #nlpoli

Once upon a time, not so very long ago,  your humble e-scribbler noted the importance the provincial Conservatives placed on the appearance of things.

The idea came together neatly in a celebrity interview not by someone in the private sector media but by a representative of the state-run broadcaster.  “Government by Fernando” it’s called and it is worth going to read even if you read it back in 2006.

It will be worth your while since a front page column by Telegram editor Russell Wangersky this Saturday is likely to have the local chattering class chattering up a storm for the next few days.  You see Russell uses the column to tell Kathy Dunderdale that it is time she resigned. 

While everyone else is likely to be taken up with the fact he called for her resignation, it’s far more revealing to look at why Russell thinks she ought to go and go now.

The problem is that the good points of the Dunderdale administration, sadly, are not enough — because, under Dunderdale’s current leadership, her party is absolutely tanking at the polls. That same party is running out of time to show it can put the brakes to the slide and show a new face to voters in time to change their minds.

Stalwart Tories won’t care about Wangersky’s opinion anyway.  After all he is not one of “us” in whatever way they want to define “us”.

And those who fancy themselves as political savants  - usually those who learned everything they know  from observing politics from the outside – will nod approvingly on the wisdom about the importance of polls.  Everyone talks about polls so, of course, polls must be important.

But the thing is that Wangersky’s ultimate reason for her departure is because things don’t look good.

It is all about appearance.

As you read through Wangersky’s column, and as he builds to that core argument about why she ought to go, note what he says along the way.

Kathy Dunderdale has many accomplishments, according to Russell.

First was her sex, something over which she had no control.  First woman premier.  getting elected.  Again,something over which she had no influence whatsoever. Danny Williams picked her.  The caucus stuck her out in front and they went into the polls in 2011 against two parties that between them couldn’t have organized an orgy in a whorehouse. 

The Tories could have run a female avatar – a Maxine Headroom computer simulation – and they would have been the first party to elect a female-appearing non-entity to  the province’s top political job.  Would that have been an accomplishment for anyone?

Second, was a line straight from Dunderdale’s own self-myth.  She has put social issues at the forefront.

Like what?

Wangersky doesn’t mention even one.

Note that.

Russell tells us that if you have talked with Kathy you will know she is “quick, attentive, aware and on the top of her game when it comes to issues involving the province.”

She is also chronically inarticulate, usually a bad sign in a leader.  She’s also shown no sign of being able to translate that awareness of the issues into concrete action.  Unsustainable spending and the province’s growing debt burden  - even without Muskrat Falls - would be chief among those.

So what is Russell on about there?  hard to understand actually, given that it appears to be cosmetic as opposed to something for which there is substantive evidence.

Some of you will have noticed that Russell mentions that Kathy replaced a “popular and charismatic” leader.   That’s where the Fernando interview,and the emphasis on appearance comes in.

Then having considered all the supposed good stuff, notice the big reasons why the current Tory crowd are failing in Russell’s mind.

Top of the list:  Bill 29.   Like the Tories have not been one of the most secretive governments in the province’s history until then.  Like they didn’t try to charge $10,000 for copies of public speeches, speeches they claimed they would have to review to block out personal information and such even though it was already in public.

And not purple files or deliberate breaches of the privacy act to satisfy their partisan agenda that happened before Bill 29.

Second: 

the singular message was that the provincial cabinet knows best, and that it … are neither interested nor willing to accept input from others, no matter how educated and well thought out those other opinions might be.

You see this is where Wangersky states the problem:

Take any issue from Muskrat Falls on down, and ask yourself if you’ve been engaged in the discussion, or merely told what you should think. Exactly. The problem is that the good points …

You read the rest of that paragraph earlier.

But seriously:  take any issue from offshore Equalization offset transfers in 2003 to Muskrat Falls on down and ask yourself if you’ve been engaged in a discussion with the provincial government or merely been told what to think.

Well, or risk being attacked as a quisling and a traitor, if you offered a contrary view in public.

What is so striking about Wangersky’s column is not that he is wrong – the Tories do have a catastrophic political problem – but that he bases his entirely column on superficialities, on appearances. 

The Tories have had a polling problem for the past 18 months and more, as regular readers here well know.  The political problem they face – again as regular readers well know – is that the current crowd are merely doing what they have always done and all they know how to do and for some reason that is utterly incomprehensible to the Tories it just doesn’t work any more. 

Tories can no more explain it than can Wangersky who faults Dunderdale for the same things that Williams did and yet Wangersky used to love Williams to the heavens.  Vote for him again, he would.  Don’t go, purple file-wielder extraordinaire.

Wangersky’s prescription won’t fix the problem.  His entire commentary is based around the fallacy that the leader is the only thing.  It’s a common misperception. If the Conservatives got rid of Kathy tomorrow and replaced her with anyone else, they’d still have a monumental political challenge. 

You see, if changing the appearance of things made a real difference, then the Tories would have already averted the political slide that started in February 2010,  months before Danny Williams high-tailed it out the door.  The Tories changed the face from the Old Man to his hand-picked successor, you see, back in 2010 when the polls first showed a problem.

And for all her appearance of newness, right down to the supposed emphasis on social policy,  the slide continued.  It continued until it got so bad that even the local political savants couldn’t miss it when CRA told them there appeared to be a problem.

-srbp-