As I write this, New Democrats are voting on a fourth ballot for no very obvious reason. Basically Brian Topp is doing Jack Nicholson’s “Sure I’ll tell you, but you gotta ask me nice” speech from A Few Good Men. He knows Tom Mulcair is the next leader, but he will not lift a finger to make it easier, and indeed he’ll make many thousand New Democrats do a little extra work to make it official. (If he ends up winning the leadership on the fourth ballot, I’ll sure look silly. Oh well.)
Once again we see that personality is the most salient factor in political division. Topp and Mulcair could, one strongly suspects, have sat together in a caucus for 40 years and never voted differently on any issue. Not that they agree on everything, but all politicians are flexible and if bound by the requirements of ordinary politics, they could have filed off the sharp corners of any differences.
But neither can stomach the fact of the other. Mulcair sees no legitimacy in a pretender who has never stood for election before. Topp was a New Democrat for 25 years before Mulcair decided it’d be fun to try. It’s the sort of thing we used to see between a succession of Liberal rivals: Trudeau and Turner, Chrétien and Turner, Martin and Chrétien.
If Mulcair flames out, Topp will look prophetic, but even then he will still look mule-headed and prophetic. He is complicating a new leader’s arrival in the post, and he would tell any other New Democrat you shouldn’t do that. It won’t matter long. The party is much likelier to rally around a new leader than to stay dangerously divided.
I know one person at another campaign who was a bit mystified by the frame Topp chose for his run. He ran as the candidate of NDP orthodoxy against assorted moderators and modernizers. Which is odd, because he was the most important strategist for Jack Layton, who substantially moderated and urbanized the NDP. And he worked for Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert, who were not exactly Trostkyists. He could have run as the candidate of continuity in pursuit of further gains, not as the guardian of a rear-guard action against these fool youngsters with their fool modern ideas.
But of course I can’t guarantee that he would have done any better.