This, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the National Post
, is an interesting analysis of (Conservative) political leadership. I'm not certain I believe it, not completely, anyway, and the parts that I do believe are applicable, I think, to all political movements throughout the Western world:http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/10/02/john-ivison-conservative-backbench-has-lost-its-fear-of-stephen-harper/
Conservative backbench has lost its fear of Stephen Harper
Oct 2, 2012
Is there a common thread running between Rob Anders’ wild-eyed musings about how Tom Mulcair hastened Jack Layton’s death and last week’s abortion vote, in which a majority of Conservative MPs voted for a motion their leader had urged them to oppose?
I’d argue yes – the trained seals on the backbench are biting back and we are likely to see more unsanctioned behaviour in future, as MPs relish their new-found freedom.
So what the Sam Hill is going on with the party that brought you Canada’s first Orwellian government?
Groupthink is still alive and doing what it’s told, not least earlier this month, when 11 MPs and a senator used exactly the same lines at the same time, albeit in different places, while highlighting the government’s War of 1812 initiative.
But the narrative of Stephen Harper as Big Brother, so beloved of certain commentators, is becoming increasingly anachronous.
Simply put, I think MPs on the government side of the House who have been around since 2004, 2006 or 2008 are thinking about their legacy and resolving that always voting at their party’s call, and never thinking for themselves at all, is not how they want to be remembered.
There are no whispers of regicide in the Conservative caucus. Mr. Harper will remain Prime Minister until he or the voters decide otherwise. He remains respected for leading the party into majority government but he is not loved and, crucially, he is no longer feared. From Mr. Anders’ unique analysis to the willingness of a majority of the Prime Minister’s caucus to defy his wishes, it seems Mr. Harper’s power to chill his backbench has waned.
There is a widespread feeling on the backbenches that they have been taken for granted. A number say they are fed up being told what to do by “kids in short pants,” young enough to receive their briefing notes in phonics.
There have been rumblings from a number of Conservative senators, upset at being treated as a rubber-stamp by the Prime Minister’s Office, that they will start to send poorly thought out legislation back to the House.
Now it sounds like a group of Conservative back-benchers are talking about flexing their own muscles by voting against government legislation, if they don’t approve of it. “We haven’t decided on any particular bill yet,” said one MP.
The abortion vote was not, perhaps, a real manifestation of the disquiet on the backbenches. In fact, it proved to be a safety valve that allowed MPs to blow off some steam. The real danger to the Prime Minister would have been to whip the vote, storing up trouble for the future.
We’re not even talking here of the regular grumbling endemic to back-benches everywhere. A number of Conservatives are upset about the new rules for MPs that will require parliamentarians to contribute 50% of their pension in the future. But this kind of blatant self-interest is not what appears to be motivating the outbreak of independent thinking on the back-bench.
Rather, there is a sense that the Prime Minister and the select band of courtiers around him have gone too far in concentrating power in the PMO.
A micro-management strategy, designed in the early days to control the role of the individual MP and Cabinet minister in the interests of presenting a co-ordinated message, is deemed to have had its day. Cabinet ministers, who have become used to receiving mandate letters that detail priorities, with no leeway for ministers to promote projects they may feel are deserving, are typical of the short leash on which all Conservative MPs have been kept.
A number of MPs I spoke to argue they should now be trusted to act more independently, even if they use that freedom to voice whatever offensive and unlikely conspiracy theory comes into their heads.
After seven years of the opposition and their cheerleaders frothing at Mr. Harper’s “totalitarian rule,” it’s possible that the democratic deficit may ultimately be addressed by a most unlikely source – the bobbleheads on the government’s own backbench.
Some points of departure:
1. Prime Minister Harper's "Orwellian" and centralized
style of government is nothing new in Canada ~ Trudeau and his Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Pitfield, were far, far more "Orwellian" and power was more, even, in my opinion, dangerously concentrated at the centre; (The Clerk should be non partisan and should act as a policy "check" on the PM's political instincts, Pitfield was inside the PMO, in fact the PCO and PMO were, nearly, indistinguishable.
It was a dangerous time for our Westminster system, we got very close to a US style "spoils" system without the Constitutional framework to check and balance it.)
2. Backbenchers have, traditionally, been "nobodies" when they are off the Hill, and backbench revolts are regular features of all Westminster style governments, in Australia, Britain and here, in Canada; and
3. My, personal, sense is that Harper is less "feared" than he is simply "remote." I think that Stephen Harper is the least "liked" PM since Mackenzie King ~ even men that many despise were noted for being good at managing their own team; not so Stephen Harper: he appears indifferent to the personal wants and needs of his team.
But: it, caucus leadership, is an issue and will be after the 2015 election when the Conservative leadership/succession can be discussed openly.