What’s next for the NDP?
It’s a question that I hope many of us are already asking. For me, after Mulcair, there are many obvious lessons the party needs to learn. As usual, I’d like to move past policy questions (whether the party needs to be more left-wing, neoliberal “drift”, socialism in the constitution, etcetera). I will leave these questions to the general membership, and move on to the issues that I believe leadership candidates need to engage.
First is that the party’s organizing capacity has dwindled over the last five years, instead of grown. The party’s first experience forming the Official Opposition resulted in an overemphasis on performance in the House of Commons and an erosion of its development on the ground. We need to seriously consider how, despite record volunteers and donations, this didn’t translate into the momentum necessary to retain the party’s seats, let alone expand the party’s presence (especially in Quebec). The organizational structure of the party, at the riding level in particular, lacks the strategies and tools necessary to achieve this.
Second, which follows from the first, is what is the overarching strategy of the party? Is it, as Layton imagined, a vehicle for “social change” primarily and electoral success second, or is its role to win elections by appealing to the existing social preferences of Liberal and Conservative voters? And more importantly: are these two goals incompatible? I would argue they are not, and that the Orange Crush of 2011 (and the Red Tide of 2015) prove that they are not: that large groups of new, disaffected, and “somewhat likely” voters can be engaged by appeals outside of the existing political discourse. But it is incontrovertible to say that 2015 saw a pullback from Layton’s vision of pushing the envelope on social values, back to placing well-established policy initiatives at the forefront.
Third, and I hope this ties the above two together: how will the party renew itself, in vision and structure, to appeal to the millions of first-time voters who cast their first ballots for the Liberals specifically to stop Stephen Harper? In 2019, those voters will be considering a second foray into federal politics, and the vast majority of them will vote again. I believe the future of the NDP hinges on this point. If we do not have a concrete strategy to engage these new voters, the party is doomed. This means digital: the party’s existing social media and mobility outreach strategies are in the former case inadequate and in the latter, nonexistent. This needs to change, and I would expect to see ideas on how this will change from all participants.
If the 2017 leadership campaign is just a policy debate, instead of a critical look at the party-form itself, the NDP should get used to its old role as the conscience of Parliament. Or as I like to describe it, a thinktank for the other parties to steal their platform material from. If we seek to be a party outside of the House, a movement and a party, then we need to go deeper.
I have some ideas of my own here, but first I’d like to challenge others to do the same. What can we do to overcome these three issues I’ve identified? What others have I missed?