Sunday, January 30, 2011

On defensive maneuvers

It hasn't been much of a secret that most of Stephen Harper's political strategy has been based on relentlessly directing anger within his party toward the Libs. But while there's some indication that the Libs are responding with a garrison mentality of their own, let's note that they figure to be best served by looking for some allies rather than matching the Cons' constant attacks on all comers.

Here's John Ivison on the Libs' apparent strategy:
(T)here is a more cunning plan, according to people in Mr. Ignatieff’s inner circle — a two-election strategy, where the Liberal leader faces off against a rookie Conservative leader a year or two down the line.

The Liberals would like to win an election this year but are realistic enough to have much more modest ambitions. The party currently has 77 seats, based on winning 26% of the vote at the 2008 election.
(M)odest gains do seem attainable. In the event the Liberals did hold Mr. Harper to a reduced minority, they cling to the reasonable expectation that the Conservatives might be in the market for a new leader.
So what's the problem with that theory? Effectively, it relies on Stephen Harper voluntarily stepping down as the Cons' leader rather than finishing the job that's been his singular focus for the past two decades - even while he continues to control the government apparatus. But there's precious little reason to think that a leader who's built up a full-on messiah complex about the need to keep anybody else from forming government will suddenly reverse course based on the mere loss of a few seats.

But might Harper face internal pressure to step aside? Not only is there little reason to think there will be much of a push from inside the Cons toward that direction, but all evidence is that the Cons themselves will want Harper to stay on and cling to power as long as possible. Just remember the message Harper got from his party when he nearly single-handedly torpedoed his own government (p. 180 of Lawrence Martin's Harperland):
Harper was more despondent than the others at the PMO. Some had expected him to be geared for battle. But it was the opposite. He was resigned to defeat, prepared to give up the government. Staffers had never seen him like this, pale and shaken. He told them, in so many words, that it was over, that the government would fall.

His team tried to dissuade him from this defeatist course. The argued that they had to find a way to hang onto power...The staff worked on changing his mood and convincing him to fight it out.
Indeed, there's no indication at all that anybody within the Cons aside from Harper was willing to cede any power. And while there were a few trial balloons about a change in leadership in hope of appeasing the opposition parties, those came to nothing.

So all indications are that the Cons are bent on hanging onto power at all cost, and that even at Stephen Harper's worst they're willing to put total faith in his ability to hold it. That is, until events prove otherwise.

With that in mind, a reduced Harper minority government doesn't figure to get rid of Harper or substantially improve the Libs' chances two elections down the road.

Instead, the one factor that figures to have any hope of shifting the Cons off their current destructive course is a change in government. Which should serve as reason for the Libs to work toward that end from a strong starting position - rather than hoping that treating their potential allies in Parliament the way the Cons have treated them will somehow allow them to wait out a leader who doesn't look to be going anywhere as long as he holds power.

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