I have obviously been reading too many Liberal bloggers this week (and, yes, there are quite a few good and sensible ones out there). The optimism for the Liberal Party’s future that they’ve portrayed seems to have infected me somewhat: I was actually beginning to think that a real debate over the future of that party, brought to the table by several leadership candidates other than IggyBob, might set the stage for the Liberals to, à la the Pearson opposition period, truly rethink themselves.
Well, so much for that.
One by one the leadership hopefuls have tumbled. Kennedy, Hall Wilson, Coderre, Manley, McKenna … asked to play, and answering “no thanks, not me, not this time”. The unstated finish to that, of course, is “… not under these rules”. A $90,000 entry fee (and let’s just forget the discount for a successful run of delegate-gathering for a moment, since by definition those who force the policy discussion for the most part won’t be front-runners) and a 10% tithe to the party on monies raised isn’t very attractive when anyone considering the run knows how many riding associations and how many party operatives are already in the hip pockets of IggyBob.
No, it’s not worth a candle — or the debt.
But here’s the thing. Canadians have seen Ignatieff and Rae, thanks to 2006. Surprisingly (to their egos) and unsurprisingly (to the rest of us) they were found wanting. Don’t believe it? Remember the “Anyone But Iggy” and “Anyone But Bob” motifs of the 2006 race? Isn’t that why Dion managed to sneak up the middle: Kennedy’s deal with Dion could drop a group of delegates for the next vote into Dion’s camp, but it was the migration to Dion out of the “Oh God No…” crowds — on either side of the IggyBob juggernauts — that gave the Liberals St-Stéphane.
Now by this point you may think, “ah, he’s pointing out how that kind of race can have a Joe Clark moment, such as in 1976 when Clark came up the middle between the Mulroney and Wagner camps in the PC Leadership. But, no: that’s not the point.
The point is that Ignatieff’s camp and Rae’s camp are set to fight to the finish — to the point where the investment in beating the other guy is so strong that, no matter what the candidate says afterward, the camp carries on the struggle, much like Joe Clark in his second incarnation as Progressive Conservative leader (and we all know how well that turned out). If you’re not buying that the internecine warfare in the Liberal Party will be that bad, just consider what Ignatieff’s supporters continued to do to back him against Dion post-December 2006. Was Ignatieff duplicitous about his loyalties? Probably not: his supporters just weren’t giving up the fight.
Much as with a negotiation where there’s only one issue on the table — anyone who has done this knows how difficult it is to get entrenched views to move without a way to “get a win” for everyone — what is effectively a two-way race (and LeBlanc is unlikely to be much of a challenge to the IggyBob battle, certainly not enough to turn either camp toward considering him as a rival) will be a single issue fight. Can we live with that other guy? The probable answer is “no” — and unity will be further delayed.
Remember, too, Canadians know Iggy and they know Bob, and they weren’t impressed with either one enough to push them over the top the last time. So neither is likely to be an engine of growth for the Liberal Party: at best, a “hold the fort” while the battle continues to rage under the surface.
That, in turn, will further damage the Liberals. The Canadian people — not the media, but voters in almost every demographic slice — are heartily sick of a party who thinks its own internal issues are the nation’s business. For the Liberals to prosper, three things are required: a belief that whomever “wins” in May 2009 actually has the rank and file behind him; a serious non-grab-bag policy rethink that gives a reason to believe in the party; and a winner who can act Prime Ministerial in Opposition.
None of that is on offer with IggyBob. Maybe those Liberals who thought to insult BCers by complaining about the cost of coming to Vancouver were on to something: a regional rump that’s even more Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal (and not much elsewhere) — and that’s the IggyBob promise! — shouldn’t meet elsewhere. After all, the Bloc wouldn’t hold a convention outside of Québec; why should a residue of Liberals do the same?
Unfurl the egos and the hurt feelings, because that’s where the Western World’s most successful power management organization is headed — followed by an on-going whittling away at the edges and a residue power base in just a few places.
PS: Financially, the party is losing with an IggyBob outcome, too: far fewer fees, far fewer new delegates and members … ah, but the battle of the egos really is more important, isn’t it.