Nunc Scio
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
  Welcome to 21st Century Politics, Folks
There's bound to be some partisan teeth-gnashing and finger-pointing after today's revelation that Stephen Harper approached the NDP over a two year deal to support the Conservatives crumbly minority.

Liberals are bound to point out the irony, and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives will get all jittery about the encroaching red menace. Both miss the point.

Ideological political parties are dinosaurs. We live in an age of low party identification and mediated politics. Successful parties are electoral parties- that is, the ones that are able to cobble together the most attractive collection of policies every four years. Hence the remarkable success of the Liberal Party. They're a little bit country and a little bit rock n' roll, so they attract the greatest number of voters across old ideological distinctions.

So, is Harper selling out? Is he playing a cynical game? Probably, but his attempts to woo the NDP aren't part of his rat-like politics. In approaching the NDP, Harpy is demonstrating a little political maturity. If he ever wants to form a majority, he'll need to oust the Liberals from the political centre. And that means playing nice with the lefties. Ending Liberal political supremacy means, essentially, becoming the Liberal party. And nobody is better at being Liberal than the Liberals.
It's hard to take serious the assertion that "Ideological political parties are dinosaurs" and then look at Washington...what is the current incarnation of the Republican party if not an extremely ideologcal, radical right statist poltical party? And their not-believable performances of moderation and short-term tactical manouevring notwithstanding, Harper's Conservatives are pretty ideological too. I seriously doubt that is going to change.

What is becoming more difficult to maintain in the rich and powerful countries is parties whose ideologies are counter to elite wishes, due to the ways in which elections happen, the increasing cultural impact of atomizing neoliberal individualism, decades of PR-based effort by elite institutions to shape public opinion, and so on. This has the impact of narrowing public debate and making it appear as if ideology is at an end, because only narrow variations on the dominant ideology have access to the public sphere.
Thanks for the comment, Scott. I think we need to make a few distinctions here, though. I think Bush's Republicans are a cynical crew- they don't really believe in anything except themselves. They ape religion and free markets to the masses, but its all PR. Christ is a useful way to mobilize a base, while the USA runs one of the most un-free market systems of corporate welfare in the world. Bush & Co. are master deceivers, so I agree with you PR point.

I think you're right- Harper's conservatives are quite ideological. That's my point. If they don't drop it, then their long-term prospects agains the Liberals are dim.

The rise of 'Electoral' Parties is well documented in political science literature. Its a complex phenomenon, driven by media, the rise of life-style politics and the 'personalization' of politics. A good place to start is Samuel Popkin's "The Reasoning Voter".
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Jack of all trades, master of none, Graeme is many things to many people. Unfortunately, none of them find him very life-affirming in any capacity. He is a freelance writer, broadcaster, amateur cryptozoologist and occasional political commentator late of London, England and now based in Toronto. Most of the time, he's confused. And a little hungry. But mostly just confused and somewhat uncomfortable writing in the third person.

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