Friday, March 02, 2007

Reality is a bitch isn't it?

Liberals were feeling pretty good for awhile there weren't they?

From September to the beginning of February they did not have to do anything and they still saw their fortunes rise. They got used to it and thought it would carry through to the next election. Now they have a bad two weeks and suddenly many of them are wondering what went wrong.

Well, the short answer is nothing. Ignore the media hype, ignore the polls, ignore the pundits and the chattering classes who say the Liberals are in trouble. This is merely the Liberal Party coming back down to earth.

Have the Conservatives done anything really right to deserve the good fortune they have enjoyed for the past couple of weeks? No. However, they have not done anything really wrong in the last few weeks either, so in that situation the the advantage goes to them as they are the sitting government and one of the axioms of politics is the incumbent has the advantage in between elections unless they make a series of big mistakes.

Is there anything the Liberals can do to reverse their fortunes? Not yet. But I would not worry too much. No one is really paying attention to politics right now so whatever anybody says about the relative fortunes of any political party now is blowing smoke.

I have heard plenty of advice from the Liberal blogsphere about reversing their fortunes. My favourite is they should stop talking about the environment and move on to something else. That does beg the question though of who it going to listen? It is the lot in life of an opposition party that you will generally be ignored in between elections.

Mr. Dion announced a very reasonable income trust proposal. Did it go anywhere?
Mr. Dion announced a new Liberal policy on the Afghan mission. Did anybody pay attention?
The Liberals proposed some very reasonable amendments to those now infamous Anti-terror provisions. Do you know of anybody outside of the political blogsphere who knows what they were?

So if your target audience (the electorate) will generally ignore what you have to say why would you begin to make all sorts of policy announcements and policy proposals? The only people that will listen to you is your opponent and then only to come up with counterarguments to throw out during an election campaign when the electorate begins to listen.

The opposition best places itself by picking a theme and hammering away at it. Even though it does not pay dividends at the time it does cause the theme to stick in the minds of the electorate come election time. It is then that the opposition party should change tack and build on what they established. The Liberals will be proposing the three piller approach in the coming election but in order for that to be really effective they have to establish one of them in the minds of Canadians and keep it there. They appear to have succeeded.

I would point to the Liberals' chief opponent as an example. Mr. Harper hammered the accountability and scandal theme for months. After awhile people were tuning him out and it appeared that he was barking up the wrong tree as it appeared everybody else had moved on.
Then we had the election of 2006 and he changed tack completely. Although accountability was still part of his election theme it was not the only part. He made it part of a whole and it worked because he had established accountability as a key issue in the last election.

Despite the efforts of Mr. Harper et. al. their environmental bonafides have not been deeply established amongst the electorate. If it is a key issue in the coming election it will be a weakness for them and a point of strength for the Liberals. So when the Liberals build upon that strength by integrating it into a more complete whole it will put them in a good position to win the election.

5 Comments:

Blogger Miles Lunn said...

I think it really has more to do with which party is in the news the most and the fact less attention is being paid to us. In addition there is a high undecided vote and a large number of soft voters, so a lot can change. I've watched enough elections and seen enough polls to realize that until the election writ is dropped, there are meaningless. In 1993, some pre-election polls showed Kim Campbell in the lead and we all know what happened in the end.

March 02, 2007 10:29 PM  
Blogger David said...

I agree. I've never been of the mind that Dion should be bleeding resources - funding or time or otherwise - by fighting the CPC at every turn. Let them spend their money and effort; I doubt that the LPC is in the same financial position anyways. Spend the time fundraising and working policy until it is necessary to come out fresh. At that time, the LPC should come out full bore; wasting energy right now is pretty much useless.

I expect that there is a lot of ongoing thought about the possible outcomes if and when Harper orchestrates his own defeat. The Libs are not without a number of issues that are theirs to lose, and picking and choosing the exact method to attack Harper even on the issues he supposes he owns could easily cause the Con fortunes to turn.

I still think that there is nothing wrong with letting Harper have the false sense of confidence. He's his own worst enemy and pouring money into fighting him offensively or defensively will probably produce little gain that he can't hand over himself.

March 02, 2007 11:07 PM  
Blogger Steve V said...

Ottlib, well reasoned arguments. The "coming back to earth" theme is interesting, because the conventional wisdom was a leader would only help fortunes. If the Liberals were doing so well without a "face", just imagine when they have direction. It turns out, having selected a leader has allowed opponents an opportunity to zero in on specifics.

March 02, 2007 11:10 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

david:

You actually describe Mr. Dion's style. He bides his time until the moment is right and then he comes out hard.

The Liberals have a seasoned campaigner writing their election platform in Mr. Rae. Mr. Dion's three piller approach is sound and I think it will resonate with Canadians. Especially when he introduces the economic growth piller along side the environment piller and puts paid to the claims that fighting climate change will lead to economic ruin.

Miles: Then there is Mike Harris who began the 1995 election in third place and wound up with a majority government.

Steve: I think the problem is the election of Mr. Dion and the way he was elected raised expectations amongst Liberals and the public at large. There was no way he could meet those expectations as the leader of the opposition, for the reasons I describe in my blog.

No other party leader in recent memory had so much expected of them when they were elected, with the exception of Mr. Martin.

The resulting letdown is predictable really, although like many I am somewhat surprised by it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

However, the opposite may be shaping up now and that is to the Liberal's advantage. If expectations for Mr. Dion are low it takes some of the pressure off.

By no stretch of the imagination should Liberals be cavalier but at the same time they should not be overly worried either. There is still alot of politics to come and I believe it is still anybodies game.

March 03, 2007 12:54 AM  
Blogger Red Tory said...

I’d have to agree that aside from the diehard junkies, most people aren’t paying much attention to politics these days. They most certainly don’t want another election, that’s for sure. The nervous hand-wringing of some Liberals and the gloomy forecasts of most Conservatives about Dion are both awfully premature in my opinion.

March 07, 2007 8:13 PM  

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