Every time I hear, or read about ‘uniting the left’, or ‘uniting progressives’ to get rid of the Conservatives, it makes me wince. And every time I read some journalist – pundit pontificating on the certainty of perpetual Conservative governments unless the LEFT unites, I get even more irritated. I mean, am I the only person in Canada who has noticed that the left – right spectrum has very little to do with electoral outcomes in a Canada? So here is the conventional wisdom. The Canadian Political spectrum is made up of the NDP on the left, the Liberal Party straddling the centre, and to the right we have the Conservative Party. In this one-dimensional world, individual electors fall in a nice neat continuum from left to right. The issues that actually motivate the electors are of course all nicely aligned left to right as well. The electorate, like nice little sheep know their place in this continuum, and take timid baby steps to the left, or to the right according to what way they are ‘leaning’ in the current electoral cycle. The pundits breathlessly analyse how the Liberal Party is leaning right this time, so the Conservatives are going to suffer as more of their end of the spectrum fall under the sway of the Liberals, or perhaps the Liberals are ‘campaigning from the left’ again, and stealing away all those socialists who fell under the sway. The natural conclusion is that the Liberals do not stand for anything, (because they swing both ways you see), while the principled Party’s of the left and right are ‘too extreme’ to govern in accordance with the majority of Canadians who dwell in the political ‘centre’.
What a crock! Socialists exist of course. Libertarians exist too, as do religious fundamentalists, and social conservatives. But how the heck do all these different ideas, beliefs, and ideals fit into that neat little left right continuum? The fact is that people are motivated by ISSUES, not by some imaginary political spectrum. There are things that Matter to them, and there is everything else, whether left, right, or not readily pigeonholed, which is mostly white noise. I have blogged about micro-targeting, segmenting the electorate, and the realities of modern electoral politics. The REAL world of electoral politics is made up of a whole lot of different issues, and ideals that constitute a much broader array of choices than left or right. These issues and ideals are held dear by people of different sexes and ages, not strictly by ‘seniors’, ‘women’, or other broad demographic groupings. This has always been the case, but it is only in very recent times (meaning the past decade) that the low costs and ease of communications, and computing power has made the old style targeting of broad demographics and right left spectrums essentially nostalgia of ageing pundits.
So what does this have to do with ‘uniting progressives’ or ‘the left’ to defeat the dreaded Conservatives? In essence, I would argue that there is no left to unite, and ‘Progressive`is a largely meaningless word. If the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP were to actually unite, they would be obliged to harmonise their policies before presenting them to the electorate. If their current voters were all nicely lined up on a left right spectrum, then it would be a simple matter of arithmetic, adding up all those votes for an instant and overwhelming majority. But Left – Right is NOT what motivates the majority of their current supporters. If there were indeed such a shakeup, then the Conservative Party would be very busy crafting policy messages for people who live on a whole another spectrum. The spectrum of `where do you stand on the issues that motivate ME?` The new party would be busily thrashing out their platform in a huge policy slugfest. As the new united left entity harmonised their policies, they would be shedding supporters who agreed with the predecessor party`s policy, but could not abide the new policy. Those electors would be up for grabs, and you can bet that the Conservatives would be looking hard for the issues that would draw them into the Conservative column on EDay. Maybe the united left would win, maybe not, but a slam dunk it would NOT be. And what would happen if the ‘left’ party’s simply collaborated to run a single candidate WITHOUT consolidating their policies first, (a la Joyce Murray)? Well, a lot of their past supporters would blow them a raspberry, and follow a coherent policy offering by the Conservatives.
So what it really comes down to for the Liberal Party is; How are the Conservatives, (and the NDP) to be defeated if merging three Party’s is not the answer? The answer is disarmingly simple. Stop treating the electorate like they were monolithic demographic blocks, and start treating them like they were individuals who happened to share their political motivations, and policy interests with other Canadians from many different backgrounds. I get the feeling that the Liberal Party has conceded the `right`to the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent the `left`to the Dippers. Well that is just plain dumb! Do you really think that well-heeled capitalists do not care if they are breathing air contaminated by industrial pollutants? Perhaps you feel that religious and social conservatives never ever considered that a social safety net is a handy thing when you are down and out? And those trade unionists, are they are all dyed in the wool socialists who would never consider abandoning the NDP? Of course not, but just how the heck do you get to develop a dialogue with them, and draw them into the Liberal fold? Well the starting point is to develop the means to communicate with them ALL over the entire course of the electoral cycle. And that means collecting reams and reams of email addresses and data about individual Canadians. As I have blogged in a prior post, the Real world of electoral politics requires that the Liberals build and populate their electoral database, Liberalist, with information on every single Canadian voter. Since the means of communicating directly with them is determined by possession of a valid email address, the most fundamental task for Liberal organisers is to employ any device they can conceive of to amass accurate confirmed email addresses for as many electors as possible. The second task, ( and it should be pursued concurrently) is to solicit, and acquire data on what motivates each and every voter in Canada. That means using communications to solicit responses that actually tell you what people think is important. And I cannot stress enough that the so-called ‘strongholds’ on the left right spectrum are NOT locked into the Conservatives and NDP respectively. Those demographics are made up of individuals. By reaching out to, and making contact with them as individuals, it is possible to delve deeper into the whole range of policy issues that motivate them. Now, building and weaving those motivations into a coherent policy package or election plank is a big task, but the basic facts are pretty clear. You have to start with the means and methods to communicate directly with the electorate.