With the UK election just 8 days away and the push here in Canada for Scheer to go by many, few may see little in common with Canada’s Conservatives and Britain’s Labour Party. After all both couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in their philosophies and proposals. Never mind the issues prominent in the British and Canadian elections are quite different too. But despite this, both share some surprising similarities. Both are taking on tired regimes where there is a strong desire for change. Both have conditions that a ripe for being elected, yet in the case of the Canadian Tories they lost an easily winneable election and unless there is a massive shift in the next 8 days or polls are spectacularly wrong, Labour will also lose an easily winneable election too. Both parties had leaders who are popular amongst the base, but a huge turnoff for the key swing voters they must win over in order to form government. Both parties likewise face a dilemma even in future leadership races in that the type of candidate who is most electable with the general electorate is likely too moderate for the base thus has little chance of winning the party nomination, while by the same token the type of candidate the party membership most wants is exactly the type who will ensure they continue to lose elections. This dilemma seems to be happening in the US too although to be fair Trump did win despite many thinking he was too right wing to be elected. And likewise with the Democrats still having not chosen their candidate, its a bit too early to speculate if party has swung too far left like it did in 70s and 80s to win a general election.
While there is no easy fix here, there are two possibilities. The best one, but very unlikely to happen is to return to delegated conventions. Today winning nomination is about who can sign up the most members and unfortunately those whose views that sit well to the right or left of median voter are most motivated to sign up and choose someone who shares their views as opposed to those whose views are more in line with mainstream public opinion. As such you will get this problem of continuously choosing leaders who are well outside the mainstream. With a delegated convention, you have long established members who have a strong interest in seeing the party succeed so they will choose a leader who they know can win, not one whose ideology is most like theirs. This may sound elitist, but with all the problems of populism, maybe we do need to make our politics a bit more elitist. After all we need politicians who are accountable and can sell their views and be punished when they govern poorly, but at the same time we also need good policies that move the country forward and sadly often what wins quick votes or can be sold in 10 seconds aren’t those. With Conservatives, the Progressive Conservatives used delegated conventions up until merger, but the Reform Party was much more grassroots and with Reform party wing playing a much bigger role in the merged party, that has unfortunately meant leaders tend to come from that wing even though amongst general public, the PC wing has strong appeal while most find the Reform wing a huge turn off. With Labour they used to use delegated conventions but after 2015 loss opened up more to grassroots and rather than getting a more electable leader, they just swung further to the left. Its the same reason in US GOP has swung way to the right and only reason Democrats have not is the much maligned super delegates and those were put in after George McGovern’s crushing defeat in 1972 to prevent party from swinging too far to the left.
However, even if this cannot work, its time to start to sell the idea to people involved in politics that it is the art of possible not ideal. And that none of us are going to get all the policies we want ever passed, so we have to focus what is the closest to our ideals that is realistically achievable. Surely even most hardcore right wingers would prefer a Michael Chong led Tory party over a Trudeau Liberal one even if many complain Chong isn’t sufficiently conservative. And surely most hardcore Corbynites would prefer a Blairite Labour party over a Johnson led Tory one. So the trick is to convince people this all or nothing approach almost always results in none and better to find someone who is closer to your views than the opposing party, but still moderate enough to win amongst general electorate. Indeed both parties are classic cases of danger when you let the base have too much control and that is ultimately bad for democracy as a healthy democracy needs a solid opposition who can defeat a government when they mess up or overstay their welcome.