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Toronto Star: NDP strategy of attacking Liberals not working.

Well, as you know, there was some byelections around here a couple of days ago. One of the bylines that came out of that was the dismal showing of the NDP in the urban centres. More then a few Liberal bloggers have said that this shows that their strategy of constantly attacking the Liberals and almost virtually ignoring the Conservatives, or at least keeping their attacks low-key on the government has failed to resonate with the public, and I’m of the same view.

Of course, that hasnt stopped the NDP bloggers from pressing their attacks on the Liberals/completely ignoring the Conservatives, or dismissing those allegations of failed strategy as mere Liberal blogger partisanship, but that perception has reached the media, including the Toronto Star’s editorial page, where they had this to say about the NDP’s dismal showing:

There may be a message in this for NDP Leader Jack Layton, who spends at least half his time bashing the Liberals, not the Conservatives. Indeed, Layton has echoed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mockery of Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and his party for abstaining on confidence votes in Parliament. And the NDP has even gone so far as to join the Conservatives in blocking a Liberal move to have a parliamentary committee hold hearings on the Cadman affair. Why? Because the NDP fears such hearings might benefit the Liberals. Perhaps voters in the by-elections were telling Layton to pay a little more attention to the governing Conservatives and their right-wing agenda and spend a little less time attacking the Liberals.

I think the strategy from the NDP braintrust is obvious: they don’t feel they will gain their votes from attacking the Cons., but from going after the Liberal left-wing vote. While they claim to be the “real opposition” to the Cons., most of their time has been spent attacking the “Official Opposition” rather then the government. Their advisers are quoted in the papers as not wanting to support a H of C committee inquiry into the Cadman bribery allegations because rather then investigate an issue that could prove extremely damaging to the government, they’d rather not give Dion and the Liberals a solid issue to run on.

That obviously didn’t work on Monday, as voters who wanted another choice then the 2 main parties went and voted Green instead, and rejected the NDP strategy. Its time for the folks in the NDP to reconsider that strategy. The NDP’s highest-ever seat totals in Parliament was reached under the leadership of Ed Broadbent, and he achieved that by attacking the governing Mulroney Progressive Conservatives, and not going after the John Turner-led Liberals.

Mr. Layton and company would be wise to follow that example, and I think the voters on Monday sent that message too.

UPDATEA11:30am: I was asked by a commenter if I could find the article where the NDP says they dont want the Cadman issue helping the Liberals, and here it is:

An NDP adviser explained: “Damaging Harper and the Conservatives on ethical issues like the Cadman mess mainly helps the Grits, and that’s not in our gameplan.”

28 comments to Toronto Star: NDP strategy of attacking Liberals not working.

  • Shorter Shorter SHORTER NDP bloggers:

    "We want to do what Reform did. It won’t work. Crap."

  • As I said before observant, in the West the NDP is not fighting with the Liberals for the same voters, they are fighting with the Conservatives.   Just look at the stats for the last 20 years, in BC and Sask, in particular.     

  • catherine

    Observant, I would distinquish between where votes go and party leaders attacking each other. 

    Greens do attract Conservative votes too, although probably not as many as Liberal and NDP votes combined.  Some people claim the NDP didn’t really try in these by-elections, so their votes may have been reduced for that reason.  If so, it would be difficult to make any general statements about leakage to the Green party. 

    The main attacks on the NDP from the Liberals and Greens are the claims that the NDP spends too much time attacking Liberals and should focus more on Harper.  I agree with that statement, although the NDP will see it differently.  Is this the "attack" on the NDP you were referring to, or something else?

  • Observant

    I beg to differ slightly … in that the NDP are under attack from the Liberals and Greens now, and the recent by-elections demonstrate the NDP vulnerability.

    Liberals want to recover all those soft lefty votes that went from the Liberals to the NDP in the last 2 elections and essentially lost the election for the Liberals. Then PM Martin made a last ditch attempt to convince that vote to stay with the Liberals and he failed miserably.

    Greens are getting the ‘green’ vote from the Liberals and NDP and nothing much from the Conservative side … and this makes sense.  In any next election, the Greens will divide the Liberal and NDP votes and allow the Conservatives to have a shot up the middle.

    Now with Bob Rae on board with the Liberals, he will be appealing to the lost Liberal voters to go ABC and vote Liberal, presumably with him as leader … otherwise he will just hide in Toronto Centre and let Dion go down the crapper.

  • catherine

    Another blogger got me looking into Layton’s attacks on the Liberals, and I noticed that Layton  doesn’t just attack Liberal MPs, he actually slurs liberals, per se (such as in the NDP slogan "liberals don’t stand for anything" used in the US to mean anyone right of the Republicans).  He also  uses right-wing venues, such as the National Post (where he once shared a page with Conrad Black and David Frum) or Stephen Taylors blog (where he started by saying he would rather talk to a conservative than a liberal).

    I don’t think Layton’s slurs on Liberals are just aimed at trying to shift left-leaning Liberal votes, he also seems to be trying to help Harper.  And in more ways than simply blocking the Cadman affair from being investigated. 

  • It’s time for the NDP, which has lost all principle and relevance to just pack it in and do what was done n 1961. I remember. Call a founding convention for a New Party, as they called it, a new voice for the left and start over.
    And yes,  elements of what’s called the Greens should be included. And maybe some Liberals would take a look.
    Somebody could start a Mulclair for leader movement right away.

  • In 2004 the combined support the two conservative parties in BC dropped more than 21 points and the Liberals share of the popular vote went up only slightly (27.7 vs. 28.57). So where did that support go. Most of it went to the NDP. At the same time as Alliance/new Conservative Party lost its status as a Western protest party the Federal NDP partly regained its status as one stopped being weighed down by its provincial brethren. As a result, for the first time since the 1988 election Federal voters returned to the NDP in droves. That is just one reason why Jack Layton’s Ontariocentric attack the Liberals strategy is so hopelessly misconceived. The Grits and NDP are not battling for the same voter in most of BC. The Conservatives and NDP are.

    When questioned about their attack the Liberals first strategy, the NDP retort is always to say that they vote against the government.  The thing is this meaning nothing at all.  So long as the Liberals are abstaining, it does not matter a lick how the NDP votes.  What matters far more is what they say in public and what they do in committee and it clear to everyone that they focusing on the Liberals and not the Conservatives — just ask to the party strategists.   

  • Ti-Guy, four bielections don’t make a trend.

  • mushroom

    Sean,

    Not in Sask.  Don’t think the Greens’ libertarian economics do well in that province.

  • Ti-Guy

    I fail to see what the NDP is doing wrong in terms of its actions.

    Canadians, apparently, don’t see it that way.

  • ALW

    Liberals: complain loudly about the government, then refuse to vote against it.

    NDP: complain loudly about the government, and constantly vote against it.

    I fail to see what the NDP is doing wrong in terms of its actions. Substantively, they are doing everything right, like, you know, behaving like an actual opposition.The little narrative, Scott, that you and others are trying to peddle is that the NDP is somehow being punished by voters for attacking the Liberals, which is nonsense. It’s entirely possible that the NDP’s failure to earn votes is due to other factors – namely, having extremist policies, and having its "anti-establishment" mantle stolen from it by the Green Party.
    At any rate, it’s a sad day when the best the Liberals can do to deflect from their own worries is point out how pitifully the NDP is doing.

  • Ti-Guy

    We all think the NDP spends way too much time attacking the Liberals instead of the real enemy which is the Conservatives.

    I can think an even shorter "shorter" than that.

  • When the NDP ignores the Cons and goes after the Liberals more often then not,  and its bloggers have spent even way more time the past 2 years attacking Liberals , it was unrealistic not to expect the chickens will occasionally come home to roost when that strategy fails to pay off.

  • Shorter Liberal bloggers today: We all think the NDP spends way too much time attacking the Liberals instead of the real enemy which is the Conservatives. And just to demonstrate how serious we think the problem is, we’re going to spend our time attacking the NDP instead of the Conservatives.

  • Jay

    Really, Scott? Kevvyd? You don’t see Liberals attacking the NDP at least as much as the reverse? (Right here, for instance?) You see no irony that "NDP wrongly attacks Libs" has become the dominant Liberal attack on the NDP? Never mind that Dion is the one making Parliament debate twilight zone motions condemning the NDP. I think this Liberal caucus needs to be targeted more and protected less. Not to "win votes" for anyone else. But to shame these weak MPs into acting — now and as a precedent for next time.  On this note, though I’m a Dipper, I credit many Libloggers for demanding better of late. You’re made of better stuff than your federal caucus. Because the bottom line is that Dion has been rubber-stamping Harper’s central goals. More war in Afghanistan. A frozen environment file. Monster tax cuts that gut our capacity to invest in social programs. These changes will resonate for decades, constraining whoever forms government after the election that Dion is endlessly "feeling out." 

    Kevvyd: Yes, Harper’s an easy target. And Greg Weston’s "anonymous sources" aside, I see Layton going after Harper hard. But Dion’s crew promised to oppose Harper’s goals too — and if anything, I think progressives should be more pointed about shaming those Liberal MPs into doing their jobs and stopping the free flow of Harper’s agenda. 

  • ALW

    Gah!  Why don’t you allow HTML tags Scott! :p

  • ALW

    I don’t think I need to point out I’m not a Dipper, but just to play devil’s advocate…
    …what is the NDP supposed to do? They <i>are</I> attacking Harper – a lot. Check out the NDP website – there’s more there going after Harper than after Dion. Furthermore, <i>the NDP is voting against the government</I>. They aren’t voting against the Liberals – they’re asking the Liberals to help them hold Harper to account. So should it be any wonder that they’re pissed off with Dion for waving the white flag?
    Here’s the thing for all the vote-splitting complainers: vote-splitting happens for a reason, most often because mutual disdain for an enemy is not sufficient to overcome policy differences. This is why strategic voting usually fails: lots of voters provincially in the mid-90s disliked Harris, but not so much that they were all willing to vote Liberal to stop him. The same applies to the federal PCs and Alliance versus the Chretien Liberals prior to the merger that created the CPC.
    The reason that principled New Democrats can’t stomach backing the Grits to stop Harper is (1) they don’t see enough of a difference between the Grits and Tories to justify it and (2) they’ve been stabbed in the back so many times by the Grits, who say one thing and then do another, or treat NDP support as spare bag of votes they can exploit when they want to, that there is a lot of genuine animosity there. It’s like the old saying goes: if it was strictly about policy, Tories and Dippers would loathe each other more than they loathe the Grits. But because the Tories and Dippers each profess (sometimes honoured more in the breach than in practice, I grant) to commit themselves to a set of principles, even if those are unpopular with some people, and stick to their guns, there is at least a certain level of grudging respect afforded between the CPC and the NDP.
    Tactically, it also makes no sense for the NDP to frame Harper as a maniac – because they know that if voters are too spooked, they will rally to the Liberals as the only viable alternative. This is why they’ve constantly referred to the Harper agenda as "wrong" for Canada, but not "scary". They want voters who are annoyed with Harper, not scared of him. And by lumping the Grits in with Harper – an opportunity which has presented itself because of Dion’s repeated rollovers – they kill two birds with one stone.
    So on it’s face, this strategy makes sense. So why hasn’t it worked? Well first, they have the Greens eating into their "vote parking lot" constituency, that 5%-and-slowly-increasing segment of the population, which isn’t ideological but its just disillusioned with the "establishment" parties – the Tories and Grits – and so votes for the next best alternative. Second, <i>their policies still suck</I> – but I don’t know why this is a surprise to them. They’ve lost something like 23 elections in a row. Finally – and this is the real wake-up call for every opposition party – <i>not that many people are that upset with the Harper government</I>. Sure, somewhere in the range of 60 to 65% of the country won’t vote for him. But they still don’t think he’s such a grave risk that they’re willing to throw their lot behind a single, anyone-but-Harper movement.
    And of course, we can always leave it to the <i>Toronto Star</I> to plead with the NDP not to attack their precious pet Liberal Party.

  • the Green’s are not "left", progressive yes. And mushroom, are you suggesting the Greens are a worry for the NDP in Sask? if so, I would re-check your information.

  • mushroom

    I’ve remembered the 88 election well.  Rick Salutin and Gerry Caplan told me in one of my uni lectures that the NDP blew it by letting John Turner get back into the game.

    Broadbent spent the first part of the campaign, which was managed by someone from Washington (are we seeing this again), focusing on issues that they had strength on ie. health care, women’s issues.  By doing so, he let Turner ran away with the Free Trade issue and managed to lose major seats in Toronto.  It was tactical voting that gave the NDP a hold of Sask and BC, something they will have to fight hard on against the Greens.

    The same thing is happening again.  Layton is in danger of ceding key issues ie. the environment and Tory corruption to the Grits.  Why are the NDP focusing on a re-negotiation of NAFTA and ATM fees as key election platform issues?  How many "beer and popcorn" voters do Layton hope to attract, when Hillary’s failures and Lizzie May’s successes showed that the progressive left voters have moved on. 

  • FYI Scott, out West the NDP focuses almost exclusively on the Cons, and for good reason. In Ontario they will naturally go after the Liberals as that is their sparing partner in most ridings. So just be careful in applying such logic across the board.

    Dismal would apply only to Toronto-Centre, but even that is a stretch. In none of the 4 ridings contested on Monday did the NDP gain more than 25% of the vote in 2006. Are the questions to be answered by the NDP in T.O., you bet, but does "dismal" apply across the board, not even close.

    I am not to sure why the NDP should play the game according to what the Liberals want. Regardless of which side they are being attacked from, if the Liberals are unable to articulate to voters a good reason for giving them their support than they obviously don’t deserve those votes. What has happened to the Big Red Machine? Its a sad commentary on the state of the party if its worried about what the "fringe" and "irrelevant" NDP is doing.

  • Alan: Quoted anonymous NDP adviser is up in my update, stating it isnt in the NDP’s best interest to damage the Cons over Cadman, as it helps the Liberals.

  • Wups! That was an early submit…

    The NDP strategy — and it may be the best one they have — is to hope for a continued minority government in which they hold the true balance of power. This means stealing Liberal voters.

    The problem is, by attacking Dion so much, they potentially divide the vote, giving Harper a majority. Also, resonating criticism of the Liberals can even cause right-Liberals to leak to the Conservatives.

    The NDP need to do a better job attacking the Libs and Cons together, and present themselves as a governing party, not a permanent opposition. I’ve been critical of the Ontario NDP for this same reason.

    Or, they could disband as a party… 😉

  • The new found confidence of Liberals is interesting BUT it certainly DOES NOT absolve them for the sin of propping up the Harper government every bloody day in Parliament.
    Sheeeesh!

  • Ti-Guy

    I haven’t looked for insight with the NDP critique of political liberalism for two years now, just like I stopped paying attention to The National Post’s cultural liberalism long ago.  Relentless attacks don’t tell you anything useful.  You don’t learn anything and it’s dreary to boot.   Online, all it’s done is encouraged swarming by angry Dippers.  I couldn’t care less what they have to say anymore.

    And although I’ve never been a committed NDP supporter, I"ve never been hostile to the party.  Now I am.

  • I think that the NDP are saying one thing and thinking another.

  • Alan: I don’t have the quote at the moment, but it was widely reported in the papers – I’ve seen blogs refer to it.. and the Toronto Star is obviously referring to that where it says in its editorial I quoted that the "NDP fears such hearings might benefit the Liberals".

    If you insist on me finidng the exact quote or newstory about this before you believe it to be true, I’ll endeavour to see see if I can get a link for you.

  • Alan

    Scott,
    You stated in your blog that "Their advisers are quoted in the papers as not wanting to support a H of C committee inquiry into the Cadman bribery allegations because rather then investigate an issue that could prove extremely damaging to the government, they’d rather not give Dion and the Liberals a solid issue to run on."  Do you have a reference for that?  It was my understanding that the official line from the NDP is that this is a criminal matter, and that a committee inquiry wasn’t really necessary/useful to determine if something actually happened.

    As an NDP supporter, I personally feel that the NDP goes after the Cons far more often than the Libs (although the same can’t be said for many of the NDP bloggers).  I certainly agree with you though that the thinking is that it would be easier to gain votes from the Libs than from the Cons.  Of course, the Liberals have been ‘borrowing’ NDP votes for quite some time, so isn’t turnabout fair play?

  • Scott,
    I write this as a card-carrying Dipper – it tears me apart to watch Jack Layton spend my donation money picking at the Liberals in a hope to gain a few votes. At best, he can fight his way to second-place, but what then – he might one day be Opposition leader to a Tory majority – a pyrhic victory at best.

    It’s no secret that I don’t like Dion, I think he’s weak and ineffectual (at best) and openly dishonest at worst (about the environment), but there is no point in attacking him when the power lies with Harper. Attacking Dion because it’s easy is looking under the streetlight for your lost keys because it’s easier to see than in the dark spot where you dropped them.

    Besides, the authoritarian Harper and his cabal of tools is an easy enough target.

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