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Cartoon by Greg Perry.

Cartoon by Greg Perry.

Is their approach to campaigning and politics in general. Here’s why.

It was a smashing defeat for British Columbia’s New Democrats. In my view, it will be difficult for them to be in fighting form before 2021.

I understand that eight years is a long time and that in politics a week is an eternity. But the NDP has a daunting task ahead of itself. I’ll deal with what needs to happen to get the Liberals out before this in a moment.

This province is a 30-30-60 political affair. Thirty per cent will vote NDP no matter what. Thirty per cent will vote for the party of the “right” and getting the 40 per cent out to vote and vote for you is what makes the winner.

I’m not saying that I like this or think it’s remotely democratic. Democracy is not an essential element in our system — that’s just how it is.

This has led to dramatic differences between the “left” and the “right.” The right-wing coalition (Socreds morphed into Liberals) positions itself as populist. The issues don’t usually matter very much as this past election proved. Most issues this election didn’t favour the Liberals for the very good reason that they were caused by their own right-wing government.

The truth of these assertions is demonstrated by the brilliant way the Liberals can out-slogan the NDP and how they can conjure up the most horrible feature of NDP governments past, never limiting exaggerations, inexorably drilling their mantras into the public crania.

It’s instructive I think, to look at last May.

The Liberals had been a corrupt government for 12 years. We will never likely get to the bottom of the BC Rail case which was so manipulated that the grisly facts can never be disinterred. Sweetheart deals with private electricity companies are driving BC Hydro into bankruptcy. Fish farms are killing wild salmon. We remain hostage to the federal government over pipelines and tanker traffic such that wait for it, folks, we’ll be getting both — and probably a new, sanitized HST, too. Since the Liberals came to power the average public debt borne by citizens has risen to $40,000 from $8,000. It makes previous NDP governments look like models of economic virtue.

Were any of these issues raised by the NDP? The answer is no.

The Liberals sure as hell didn’t want to talk about them and must have been astonished to see that with two weeks to go, these were non-issues.

Was the NDP just too stupid? Can they learn from this? We can’t overlook that they won’t. As Mair’s Axiom II points out: “One makes a very serious mistake assuming that people in charge know what the hell they are doing.”

Beyond Fabianism

But the plight of the NDP goes deeper than stupidity. They — at least unofficially — are a movement. They held the title deeds to Fabianism — the British-born, reformist (rather than revolutionary) version of socialism. As such, fidelity to creed trumps the desire to be elected. Purity of heart must express itself in purity of political ambition.

Let’s pause here for a moment. Purity of person and decency in elections surely must be a very good thing. Wouldn’t we all be better off if real issues were before the voter? Wouldn’t it be a grand thing if all parties were held to their principles?

Of course that would be better but with our system, it will never be.

In a system where 40 per cent of the 50 per cent who voted is a winner why tie yourself down to principles when good advertisements and distorted facts will get you home, high and dry?

Let me give you an example from my own political days.

When a government brings in a budget, it then goes to a committee (in my time the whole legislature) to pass judgment clause by clause. In 1975 the NDP government brought in a very sensible rule that these “estimates” would be confined to 135 hours.

The picture the Socreds of the day wanted to paint was that the NDP were wastrels throwing our tax dollars down the biffy. They therefore “ran out the clock” on estimates by the time the Finance Ministry’s spending on its own ministry was due to be debated. (It should be noted that Finance does not use a lot of money on their own ministry.)

When the first item (vote) was called the Socreds tried to debate and the Speaker ruled him out of order, the 135 hours having passed. Opposition Leader Bill Bennett stormed out of the House crying “Not a dime without debate!” and took that slogan all around the province leaving the impression that the NDP were robbing them blind. Stupidly, Premier Barrett and the NDP voted to suspend Bennett’s legislative stipend, making the poor little millionaire from Kelowna into a martyr.

It was all applesauce and moonshine but great politics and this movement by itself was probably enough for Bennett (and me) to win the next election.

The New Democrats have fooled themselves into believing that if they take the “high road” the public will lap it up. That doesn’t work anywhere and it has never happened in B.C.

Girding for the next battle

The NDP have won three elections: 1972, 1991 and 1996.

In 1972 and 1991 the NDP won by default. The governments of those days had crumbled and the NDP were sucked into the vacuum. In 1996, Glen Clark, head to head, knives flying, won. Thus the only way the NDP can win is how the Socreds did and the Liberals do now.

It is not for me to tell the NDP how to run their party. But I can, and indeed did, advise them how to make their party a winner.

The NDP have two years to bind their wounds. It may be that another 1972 or 1991 is coming. The Liberals will be presiding at the funeral of BC Hydro, the energy issues will scarcely be to the government’s advantage and, indeed, all the environmental questions of 2013 will be open sores.

My warning is this: Another 1972 or 1995 may be coming but if you want to win, don’t chance it. You’d best look at how the Socreds and Liberals did it.

Stand outside with your nose against the window pane and snivel. Or batter down the door and help yourself to the goodies therein.

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