At the end of the first full day of the political crisis inside the New Democratic Party, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador learned more about the party than anyone likely imagined they’d ever know.
Two members of caucus – George Murphy and Gerry Rogers - showed they are freaks of nature: they have even less backbone than the average provincial Conservative cabinet minister. Well, either that or they cannot read plain English.
That’s about the only choices you have once the pair of them tried to claim the letter they signed to leader Lorraine Michael wasn’t a request for a leadership review but just a request for a meeting.
The most striking, and in many ways the most startling news, is about Lorraine Michael and the cabal running the provincial NDP.
Normally a leader who got a “please die” letter from caucus would want to meet with caucus and sort things out right away.
Instead, Lorraine Michael came back from her month-long sojourn in India, got the letter, and went off to meet with the provincial party executive. Then she set about speaking one-on-one with individual members of caucus to divide and conquer them. The meeting with the whole caucus will come…at the end of the week.
The strategy worked.
Lorraine’s strategy did peel away a couple of members of caucus but in the process, Michael and her party executive used media lines that will likely do lasting damage to the party’s public standing.
For starters, let’s acknowledge that there are obviously problems inside the party. Some people want leadership change. There are plenty of New Democrats who want change either because they aren’t fond of Lorraine;s style or because they believe she has taken the party as far as she can.
Others don’t agree.
But no one can say that everything is just fine. If no one in the NDP wanted a leadership review, then Lorraine’s supporters didn’t need to slip a constitutional change through the last party meeting that made a leadership review virtually impossible.
Beyond that, the biggest problem for Michael is that she has made the entire thing about her, personally. She was “betrayed” by the letter. She was hurt, a comment that turned up several times in the hours after the story broke. Her supporters, like party president Kathleen Connors, played on the same personal comments by saying that people within the party were shocked and appalled as CBC reported.
Personalising the issues involved makes it virtually impossible to resolve whatever lay behind the letter. She and her supporters have painted her as a victim. Michael has laid claim to the only definition of “right” and anyone who disagrees must be, by definition, “wrong”.
There is no hope of compromise in such a situation. Every successful political party is, in effect, a coalition built on compromise. Do the math. Lorraine may have won a tactical victory within the first few hours, but she has set up for a strategic defeat.
When she wasn’t being personally injured, Michael was claiming that her caucus had made a mistake. They were inexperienced. She talked down to them. She condescended even as she said that this was a great learning experience for everyone..
Not surprisingly that same line turned up in talking points. Gerry Rogers is a fine example. She now makes herself out to be an incompetent. Rogers talked a lot of superficial nonsense on CBC Radio’s Radio Noon about having a “dialogue”, “renewal”, and “assessment” and other equally meaningless words. She admitted she had made a fundamental mistake and that the only way forward for the party was under the wise and principled leadership of Lorraine Michael.
Rogers’ weasel words were as unconvincing as the claim that she didn’t understand plain English in the letter she signed. But for a real sense of what is going on, look more closely at the way she, Connors, and other Michael supporters profess their unflinching love of their fearless, glorious, and perfect leader.
George Murphy, another of the reformed apostates, told the Telegram that he feels as though he betrayed Michael when all he really wanted was a chance for people to affirm their love for her. Evidently, he didn’t understand plain English either.
But now that does not matter: he has recanted his heresy and Murphy can once more go forward as a communicant in the personality cult of Lorraine Michael. One wonders what penance George had to perform for his sins.
All of this damages the credibility of the New Democrats at a time when they needed to be looking for ways to break out of the flat line the party has been experiencing at the polls for the past year. It wasn’t the e-mail that did the damage. The harm has been done by the response to the caucus e-mail by Lorraine Michael and her supporters.
Interviews with New Democrats over the next 24 hours may change the story again. Another day may bring another twist in the tale unlike all the others.
But as it stands on Wednesday morning, Friday’s NDP caucus meeting won’t end the party’s political problems. At the very least, the party might be able to bury the problems and make them vanish. All that will do is postpone the inevitable.
The NDP need to change in order to improve their chances of forming the next provincial government. Unfortunately, change is not on Lorraine Michael’s agenda. That’s clear from the crisis: it came because nothing has happened in the past two years. The party is stalled and there’s no sign of anything to break it loose.
At the other end of the range of outcomes, the Friday meeting might well split the caucus more badly than it is currently. The only question in that case is how open and how badly the fracture might be.