Thomas Mulcair, who seems to have the old leaders of the NDP shitting their pants, came to Ottawa the other night to meet supporters in a pub. He arrived to applause from the faithful, made his way around the room, shaking hands, and eventually came to the table where I was sitting beside the wall, having withdrawn to the least noticeable spot available. He shoved out his hand towards me, which I had to shake, and asked me my name. I told him. He said, “Were you a journalist?” I admitted to the heinous crime. “I was delivering the Montreal Star when you were writing in it,” he said. And moved on.
So at least I know he has a prodigious memory.
The ridiculous statement made recently by Ed Broadbent, attacking Mulcair with what might be called some viciousness, in this context, seems to confirm that he is the front-runner in the race. He is obviously a very smart guy, he has presence, gravitas, and seems to be the kind of guy who could take on Harper and beat him. What more would we need in a leader?
Well, there is the old, troubling problem that always faces social democratic parties, which is, faced with the implacable hostility of the media and the Wealth Owners, do they turn themselves into their political enemies in an effort to get elected? The history in the English-speaking world is clear enough: without doing that, social democratic parties have seldom had the popularity to get elected.
The great triumph of the British Labour Party in 1945 was one such occasion. But the fact was that this party, founded in 1905 by the trades union movement with the purpose of defending the rights of workers, had in its forty years of existence fallen under the control of a group of university-educated nobs who tended to lack the iron in their souls that a really revolutionary political leadership really needs to get things done.
Here, a brief history lesson might be of advantage in helping to judge Mulcair. The British Labour Party always had a radical left-wing made up of the solid core of the more radical workers and their representatives, and of left-leaning intellectuals. In a country like England, the so-called “embrace of the duchesses” was never far away, always a potential menace, and Ramsay Macdonald, when he had the opportunity in 1931, showed that he had fallen for it, betrayed the movement, and besmirched the name of democratic socialism for a generation.
Brave souls laboured on in the run-up to the war, and when Labour swept all before it in the aftermath of the war --- which most Englishmen thought was fought for social democracy --- the government they formed under Clement Atlee contained quite a number of people who had already quit the Labour Party at least once, formed themselves into a coherent left-wing group, and HAD BEEN READMITTED to the party. So, their most effective minister, Aneurin Bevan, a Welsh miner, pushed through their national health service against overwhelming odds and in 1960 died as a genuine working-class hero, a man of remarkable gifts; their chancellor of he exchequer was Stafford Cripps; others, such as Harold Wilson, later a Prime Minister, were in prominent positions.
In Canada the history has been somewhat different. Canada, even those sections of Canadian society with progressive prejudices, never has had the advantage of a huge working class of politically active people. The CCF was a rural protest movement. (I am not denigrating that: many years later, when I was on a book tour across the country and taking phone in messages from listeners, I can testify that the most intelligent bunch of callers I ran across were in Regina, whose farmers were still fully aware of global politics, and knew what they were talking about, a legacy of the CCF movement’s success.)
When the CCF sensibly merged with the union movement to form the NDP in the 1960s, the imperatives of democratic socialist parties that had shown up in other countries (the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand all had exhibited the same characteristics) became evident in Canada. The Lewis family followed Tommy Douglas in establishing a dominant position in the party, and one of the bad effects of this was that when a group of brilliant intellectuals and leftists rose in the party to challenge them, the son, Stephen Lewis, at that time head of the Ontario DNP, drummed them out of the party. AND THEY WERE NEVER ALLOWED BACK IN.
Thus, Canada’s NDP, from the point of view of the left, was emasculated at a fairly early stage.
I mention all this because of the hand-wringing that the left --- myself included --- is engaging in over the possibility that this former Liberal, Thomas Mulcair, might ruin the leftist credentials of the NDP. From my point of view, they already lie in tatters. It hardly seems worth it, to agonize over the possibility that he might change the party and drag it to the right. He could scarcely drag it further to the right than such leaders as Harcourt in BC, Blakeney and Romanow in Saskatchewan, Schreyer and Doer in Manitoba have already done.
Even so, they were, and are, better than the other parties.
So my message is that we should accept Mulcair if he is elected, and work with him to get rid of Harper, come what may, and, as they say, the devil take the hindmost.
The essential thing is to change this government. A Mulcair-led government would be so much better than this Harper mob that the mouth positively waters at the prospect.
I have some worries about him myself. For example, he is said to be likely to follow a sort of Harper-Obama line in abasing himself to Israel, although to any modern progressive it is undeniable that the once-admired state of Israel has turned into a harsh apartheid state that is cruelly oppressing its subject peoples. No doubt where we should belong in such a confrontation.
Even so, I will shed no tears if Mulcair wins the race and emerges as our new leader. At least he is someone we can rally round in our effort to change the government.