Monday, November 23, 2009

On misinterpretations

Note: See update below.

I'll go into more detail later about the strategic mistake behind Michael Ignatieff's demands on 10-per-centers. But before going down that road, it's worth noting that Ignatieff seems to have completely lost track of the issue he's supposed to be dealing with.

At the start of his letter, he alludes to the difference between householders and 10-per-centers, with the former presumably consisting of mailings from an MP to his or her riding, and the latter of mailings from an MP to another riding. Which seems to me to be entirely consistent with how the terms are normally used.

But how does one then make sense of Ignatieff's demands?
For that reason, I am urging you and the other members of the Board, to take the following steps:

1. Ten percenters should be limited to a Member's own riding;
2. The practice of ten percenter "regroupings" must be abolished; and
3. The name of the leader of the sending member's party must be included in any ten percenter and the leader must explicitly endorse the content of the product.
From what I can tell, if #1 was actually carried out as the parties actually understand the term "ten percenter", then the effect would be to abolish ten-per-centers entirely. Which would of course make the other two recommendations entirely moot.

More charitably, one can interpret "ten percenter" in the recommendations to actually refer to "householders". Of course, there's a reason why those terms are different: the "ten percent" wording itself is a reference to the proportion of a riding outside an MP's own which can be targeted with a mailing, such that it can't sensibly be applied to mailings within an MP's own riding. But at least one can then make sense of Ignatieff's demands if that's what his wording reflects: #1 would serve to abolish ten-per-centers as normally understood, while the latter two demands would place limits on the use of householders within an MP's own riding.

That would still raise serious questions as to whether we really want even more political communication to be focused on leaders rather than the connection between MPs and constituents. But it's particularly odd that one can't even get to that substantive issue without overlooking the fact that Ignatieff's letter utterly mangles the terminology used for MP mailings. And that might be taken as a sign that Ignatieff and his inner circle really don't understand just what it is that they're calling for.

Update: In comments, anonymous notes that while the controversy around ten-per-centers has generally involved their being sent into ridings other than the one held by an MP, there's no reason in principle why they can't similarly be sent into an MP's own riding. Which does mean that Ignatieff's set of demands makes at least some sense referring to ten-per-centers alone - though concerns about the content which might potentially go into an MP's own riding if ten-per-centers are limited to that audience seem rather far afield from the problems being raised now.

So, my mistake on that front. But as Ian notes in comments, there's still the substantive issue of the disconnect between MPs and constituents to be dealt with.

Update II: Should I be more or less embarrassed now that the National Post editorial board has made the same error? Yes, I'm thinking "more" too.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

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