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All Soap, No Box


 

There is probably a connection between the utter fatuousness of the campaign so far and the absence of any substantial policy platforms from any of the parties. Which invites the question: where are the platforms? After all, Jean Chretien with the Red Book, and Mike Harris with the Common Sense Revolution, both swept to power with convincing majority governments, buoyed (one presumes) in part by a clear and detailed agenda. In Chretien’s case it was policy-based, Harris was more ideological, but in both cases voters were given a clear statement of intent from the party at the start of the campaign.

Some thoughts:

1. The Red Book was effective for someone like Jean Chretien, who was a poor communicator of anything more complicated than “Canada is da best”. When faced with tough questions, he could just say, “read the Red Book.”

2. The Common Sense revolution was more a statement of ideological purpose, not specific policies. A such, it was most effective at rallying a conservative base, at a very specific moment in Ontario’s evolution.

3. Both documents were artifacts of the last years of mass communication, the web had not yet hit in 1993 or 1995. Detailed platforms are obsolete in the current media environment. As the Tories showed in 2006, it is better to feed the 24/7 news cycle in steady sucrotic drips.

What do you think?


 

All Soap, No Box

  1. Yeah, I mean Harper insisted on having this election because he would otherwise unable to advance his agenda in the House without a new mandate.
    It’s still early days yet, but was Harper really nervous about getting his $0.02/litre gas tax cut through?
    Or, was this whole election based on a false crisis manufactured by…(gulp)….Mr HARPER????

  2. “Steady sucrotic drips” notwithstanding, I think a platform document still serves a valuable purpose, especially if you get yours out first…as you said, it gives something for a party leader to point to anytime they’re questioned. More importantly, though, it basically gives them the news cycle for a day, and it’s followed by everyone reacting to it over the following days, rather than being able to set the tone and drive the agenda.

    And on a tangential note, RE: the platforms document representing the “last years of mass communication”…if I’m not mistaken, wasn’t the first Red Book a big deal because no other party had done something like that before? I seem to remember reading (I want to say The Fights Of Our Lives, but I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about that) that people scoffed at the Red Book because no other party had done that before…

  3. I’ve never seen a transitive noun before: Liberals have policies, Tories have ideologies.

  4. Let’s reflect onhow the last party leader who released a full platform in advance of an election did:

    John Tory – still seatless

  5. to expand:

    I got to listen in on the PC campaign manager conference calls during the last Ontario election.

    Local riding campaigns were panicking, “we have to make some big announcement to change the channel off of religious schools!”

    The campaign managers replied; “There’s nothing to announce. We released the full platform months ago!”

    Because of this every announcement Tory made in the election was something the media had already heard about and was old news.

  6. “Steady sucrotic drips” are effective in today’s media. But there needs to be some over arching theme that people can relate to. Not sure if anybody has done that yet (or will be able to).

  7. “Because of this every announcement Tory made in the election was something the media had already heard about and was old news.”

    We have to be careful not to appear to blame journalists for their own behaviour, CB, and I think you’re getting very close to doing that.

  8. I was pretty impressed (more with the style than the substance) with the Conservative’s top 5 priorities for government in 2006. I think they should repeat it.

  9. “There is probably a connection between the utter fatuousness of the campaign so far and the absence of any substantial policy platforms from any of the parties.”

    I have been wondering what they teach at journalism school now because it’s apparent that many journalists are clueless when they don’t have everything laid out for them and then they end up just exposing their neurosis.

    I think the fatuousness of the coverage of our campaign, and what happened to Palin, shows that journalists need to be lead or else they are all adrift and can’t think of original questions.

    Wells managed to ask a substantial question of the PM yesterday. Why can’t others? I would give my left arm to be allowed to ask these clowns questions but the best many of our journos can come up with is veg/fruit and puffin poop. It is a disgrace.

  10. “where are the platforms?”

    The two examples you cite are opposition parties looking for the top job. I believe our elections are referendums on the government and people need to be given an alternative before they will push out the old crowd.

    I wish Cons had unveiled a policy platform but it also makes sense for them not to. Chretien and Harris didn’t release Vol II’s when they were seeking second/third term in power. They just let people assume it would be more of the same.

    However, I think it’s a tactical error for the opposition parties to not have policy platforms. Otherwise, they are relying on the press to get their messages across and we are currently seeing where that will get them.

  11. The only thing I remember about the Red Book was the lack of actual action on 90% of what was in it after the election. Other than stupid things like cancelling Helicopter contracts.

  12. jwl – don’t you think that at least some of the puffin poop questions are basically just asking Harper to reconcile the contradiction between what he says and what he does? Because to me, that’s the real story.

  13. Why all the fuss over bird poop in the Conservative attack ad? I think it’s a big step up for the Tories–just dropping the stuff instead of throwing it.

  14. I was pretty impressed (more with the style than the substance) with the Conservative’s top 5 priorities for government in 2006. I think they should repeat it.

    I take your point on the style versus the substance Peter, but I don’t think the Conservatives CAN (realistically) repeat the “top five priorities” trope from the last election. After all, what would they do with the former “top” priorities that they didn’t actually get around to doing anything about?

    I’d love to know what the Tories’ top 5 priorities are for the 2008 cycle, but I’d be even more impressed if they’d finished dealing with their LAST five “top” priorities from 2006.

    So, I don’t think we’ll hear ANYTHING about the Tories’ top 5 priorities for 2008. No need to remind Canadians that their still waiting for action on some of the first five from 2006.

  15. Ian

    At one level, I don’t really care about ‘contradiction between what he says and what he does” because all pols do it. All they care about is power, not logical consistency, and it makes my blood boil when I think about what pols do/say to get elected.

    However, if it is something that bothers you, pick a topic more substantial than a cartoon to use as example.

    Wells asked a quite good question yesterday and it could have been turned into consistency question if he wanted to go that way. Harper wants to reduce cost of diesel, which could lead to increased use, but also has plans to reduce emissions to fight global warming. Why not ask how he squares those two competing actions?

  16. Why all the fuss over bird poop in the Conservative attack ad? I think it’s a big step up for the Tories–just dropping the stuff instead of throwing it.

    Hey, the bird poop stuff from the Tories really IS quite a step up. Sure, the bird poop stuff is inane and insulting, but they USED to have a picture up of the leader of the Official Opposition surrounded by bullet holes.

  17. Quote:”We have to be careful not to appear to blame journalists for their own behaviour, CB, and I think you’re getting very close to doing that.”

    I’m not blaming journalists for anything.

    You can’t blame them for not covering something that had already been covered weeks before.

    I blame the campaign strategists who didn’t hold anything new back for the campagn.

  18. FYI: Harris did have a bluebook when he ran for re-election. It was called the “Blueprint”. Though you’re correct in saying it was pretty much more of the same.

  19. “I blame the campaign strategists who didn’t hold anything new back for the campagn.”

    Thanks for the clarification, CB. I agree completely, journalists can’t be expected to write about a party’s platform just because it exists. It has to be delivered to them tactically – with a chess-playing-like level of strategy. This also allows us to talk about the actual platforms as an element of campaign tactics, rather than getting all bogged down in a policy debate.

  20. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. ha ha

    So tell me Style, why didn’t the media cover the Ontario PC platform book?

  21. I see two possibilities:
    – Tory doesn’t play chess
    – Warren Kinsella worked for the other guy

  22. I think that the 2006 Congressional Democrat’s ‘100 days agenda’ finds a helpful middle ground. It lays out a succinct platform of deliverable’s in a clear time frame that rallies the base and makes a statement about the direction your going to take your administration but leaves open space for continued announcements/policy positions to drive the daily news cycle.

    And it worked!

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