As many activists on the Left have already pointed out, the new preamble approved at the NDP convention over the weekend is probably a more accurate reflection of the party than the old preamble, ideologically speaking. I don’t think anybody believes the NDP has been a socialist party for a long time, so there’s no sense in bemoaning the death of socialism in the NDP.
What doesn’t make sense to me is why the NDP brass went out of their way to alienate their activist base. What was supposed to be a policy convention, and an opportunity to garner media coverage of policy alternatives to Harper’s austerity agenda, turned into a manufactured crisis that pitted New Democrats against New Democrats.
The party brass would like to have us believe the new preamble is about elect-ability. This explanation ignores three important factors:
1) In the last federal election, the NDP vaulted past the Liberals to become the Official Opposition by winning over 100 seats for the first time in the party’s history. Voters didn’t seem to mind the references to socialism, eliminating poverty and social ownership in the preamble less than two years ago, why would they now?
2) The NDP has, for the most part, maintained their position in the polls since the last election. If anything, their recent dip in popular support can be attributed to Mulcair’s inability to connect with Canadians.
3) With the exception of a few political junkies, NOBODY HAS TIME (or cares) TO READ THE NDP CONSTITUTION!
So, there seems to be something else at play here. Mulcair is a smart politician, so I can’t believe this was simply a tactical error, a misstep or bad politics. Mulcair and the party brass are salivating and licking their lips at the prospect of taking power in 2015. They know it isn’t Canadians who don’t identify with socialism that are going to stop them, although it’s a great narrative for the media. They know New Democrats who identify as socialists are their biggest opposition and it’s better to push them out or marginalize them now rather than later.
We saw a great example of this at the convention: the NDP Socialist Caucus protesting Obama strategist Jeremy Bird and former Clinton economic adviser Joseph Stiglitz. While the Socialist Caucus wanted to debate and discuss policy, Mulcair and his gang wanted to hear about Obama’s election strategy. While the Socialist Caucus wanted to denounce war and violence, such as Obama’s drone strikes, Mulcair wanted to shut those pesky peace-loving socialists up!
But by marginalizing the Left, Mulcair runs an even greater risk than having his love-in for the Democratic Party spoiled. Mulcair runs the risk of losing the ground game in 2015. As a former New Democrat, I know what keeps the NDP competitive during elections. And it sure as hell ain’t money – it’s activists. The NDP remain competitive in the riding where I live (Ed Broadbent’s old riding), despite being badly outspent. Maybe this is a lesson Muclair has yet to learn, being a former Liberal and representing the affluent riding of Outremont.
Do the rough math: as a volunteer, I probably knocked on doors for 20 hours a week during the last election while I went to school. In a four week campaign, I spent 80 hours hitting the pavement for the party. If I hit 20 doors an hour, I knocked on 1600 doors in total. If even two more folks like me in my riding rescind their membership, that’s 4800 households not getting the NDP message. Now, extrapolate that across the country and this push the Right quickly becomes a major electoral obstacle for the party. And remember, I’m not talking about folks leaving the party in droves. I’m talking about two or three activists in each riding. That’s all it takes.
I left the party last year and resigned as the Student Representative on my local riding association. When I saw Mulcair ignore the Quebec Student Strike to avoid being seen as too close to activists on the ground, I knew I made the right choice. I suspect I’m not, and won’t be, the only activist to leave the party.