Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NDP/Liberal Merger Is A Terrible Idea

I normally like what T.O. Star columnist Thomas Walkom has to say. He's a thoughtful analyst who comes from the left. But this idea of the NDP and the Liberals merging - an idea floated for a while but gathering steam now with the Tories winning a majority - is a terrible idea.
First off, as Walkom himself notes, the Liberals are not a left wing party. Walkom goes on to say that the NDP are also a centrist party. This is true to an extent - certainly the party leadership, obsessed with the calculus of elections and not offending anybody, downplays any notion of leftist politics. But that fails to capture the character of the NDPs base - something made clear by the character of its newly expanded caucus - single mothers, students, aboriginals, trade unionists, artists, etc. These people will tend to be much more radical than the party leadership. The Liberals certainly have a "left wing" but the character of most of their candidates is different - professionals, lawyers, etc. Most importantly, the whole social character of the party apparatus is different. The NDP is funded, staffed and led by people organically connected to the trade union movement and, to a lesser degree, the social movements. That doesn't make them perfect and many of them will be union functionaries whose main concern is getting elected and maintaining party cohesion at the cost of boldness and principle. But that is fundamentally different from the Liberals, which are a business party with organic links to the corporate world.
Any merger between the NDP and the Liberals will be at the expense of the NDP subordinating its trade union and social movement links to the interests of the Liberals business sector. It will land us with the David Miller coalition, where his campaign team was an alliance of corporate lawyers and businessmen with some union leaders. And, frankly, the Liberals already have that with many unions - construction unions in particular - operating within the Liberal party as junior partners. In this sense it's similar to the US Democrats. Having two parties in Canada dominated by business doesn't sound to me like a step forward.
However, the situation changes when we talk about Liberal voters. The vast majority of Liberal voters are workers and they have no ties or allegiance to the Liberal party machine. What is needed is not to try and incorporate them through some kind of unprincipled and deleterious institutional merger. No, what is needed is an aggressive campaign to win over working class Liberal voters to the NDP - to win them to the left - by posing a clear alternative. That this is possible is obvious from the present election - the NDP was clearly the left choice compared to the Liberals "centre" as Ignatieff and Harper never tired of saying. Millions of working people shifted left and voted NDP for the first time. It would be a disaster to surrender the ground that has been won to join the sinking Liberal ship and take on board its unpopular methods, leaders and policies. Hell, for one thing, the NDP would end up with Bob Rae back. That guy is poison to political parties (see my previous post). by presenting a real alternative to the Tories - not "constructive proposals" - both inside and outside of parliament, the NDP can truly unite the left by expanding the left - not by trying to shift the left to the centre and reduce the options for workers.

Walkom: NDP, Liberals must eventually work it out - thestar.com
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