A tale of two parties in two countries part II

Back in December 2019, I wrote the following A tale of two parties in two countries – afiscalconservativepointofview . Since then both Labour and Tories have changed leaders and both new leaders be it Keir Starmer in UK and Erin O’Toole in Canada have made efforts to moderate party, yet both parties still struggling in the polls. This shows how fixing problems with a party is not something one can just paper over, it takes time.

Reason neither are seeing dividends in polls is partly due to COVID-19 and people focused on other things. But more importantly, it comes down to brand image. Both Labour in UK and Tories in Canada have a negative brand image with the majority of the public. Bad brand image is not something you change overnight, it takes time. More importantly points to the danger that when you let a party slide to point where its toxic with much of the population, it becomes a very deep hole to dig out of it. If you were to ask Brits and Canadians to identify Labour and Tories respectively in one word; its probably fair to say most would give something negative not positive. Just like with firms, companies with strong brand image tend to be more profitable while those with negative go under eventually. Now yes one can be rehabilitated but takes lots of work and means taking the long view not short view. Both O’Toole and Starmer are trying to appease both sides; appeal to moderates while keeping base happy and that just won’t work. People want to know a party stands for something and trying to please all sides just pleases no one. As people are cautious especially in those tough times, they are going to prefer to stick with the devil they know than take a risk on the one they don’t.

Both also have problems with more radical base. As long as more radical elements are making a lot of noise on social media, people will rightly fear party has hidden agenda and won’t buy moderation is genuine. As such both parties need to expunge the more extreme elements. Yes it may lead to a short term dip or even split, but long term that is the only way either has a chance at returning to office. In long run, rabid base hates the other side so much they may complain about moderation, but when push comes to shove, they will vote for it over their opponent. Many in Labour go on assumption since they have big lead amongst millennials, they will win as older voters die off. But that is at least a decade away and also no guarantees millennials will continue to support Labour as they age. When Tony Blair was prime-minister; Tories were in low 20s amongst 18-30, but that same cohort is now in 40s where Labour and Tories are neck and neck so its not impossible millennials will follow same trajectory. In Canada, demographic trends are even less promising for Tories unlike Labour. However, many Tories say once bills come due, people will switch. I am not so sure about that. Yes people may be concerned about big deficits but aren’t going to switch if they fear alternative will be worse. Even if we get to situation like Greece was in about a decade ago, not sure even that would guarantee Tories winning. Otherwise both parties need to change and not assume future events will automatically work in their favour.

It does seem despite being in different countries and of different ideologies, both parties still in same pickle a year and a half later. How things will go is hard to say, but my guess is neither is forming government anytime soon.

4 thoughts on “A tale of two parties in two countries part II

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head that trying to please everyone pleases no one. If a political party can’t bring itself to take a stand based on visible principles and values that I can support, why would I vote for it?

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    1. Exactly and I think problem both Tories in Canada and Labour in UK face as much of their base is too far outside mainstream so risk a split if they try to pivot towards middle, but if try to pander to base remain too extreme to be electable. But that means still have to make a choice and then make case why right choice. I would advise both to go towards the middle as more voters there and all governments overstay welcome so at least if close to middle you might not win right now, but could once public fatigues of current government. Whereas stay on fringes and never win.

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  2. I think UK’s Labour Party is much closer to power. While they are unlikely to win a majority anytime soon, they don’t need that. If the optics of working with separatists is not too far-fetched, they could work with the SNP and Lib Dems to form a minority Parliament. The UK Conservatives only have the DUP really to help them, and that’s at most 10 seats. That said, it does require Labour working to get seats in traditionally hostile places such as the more affluent London suburbs, which have long been Conservative bastions but also voted to remain in the EU. Biden was able to win those areas (key to beating Trump) though.

    Canada’s problem for the Conservatives is that the centre and centre-right have hollowed out. They only represent a fairly small portion of the population, with a little over half to the (mainstream) left of those groups and about a quarter to the right of those groups. Also, some of those may end up slipping into the far right (i.e. either into white supremacist territory, or into separatist territory) and they would be undesirable voters. As it is now, they need to win everything from the centre to the right and even a bit of the far right to get a majority, which is nearly impossible, and there is almost no math that lets a Conservative minority govern today. If the right slips too much farther into extremes, there won’t be enough of the electorate left in the mainstream centre and right to get into power even with a perfect result, while luring the (then larger) far right would guarantee more of the vote slides over to the Liberals (not to mention that would set off alarm bells on the left and motivate them to vote).

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    1. I think that is probably true although both parties still in bad position but Labour’s path to power is somewhat easier than our Tories. Long term what Tories need to pendulum and political makeup to change which can happen but those things take time, thus why I am quite confident they won’t form government in next decade. At same time more extreme elements are loud on social media, but small in numbers and declining. True centre and centre-right have hollowed out, but not all gone to hard right, a lot have shifted leftward and so main thing for Tories is pull enough centre-left back to centre or centre-right over time which is not easy.

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