Sunday, January 28, 2018

History of political leadership again

Patrick Brown had an undistinguished tenure as federal MP, but his success in raising funds and selling memberships allowed him to become Ontario leader of the Conservative Party in one of those vote-buying orgies called leadership conventions. Now that he has been brought down by allegations of sexual harassment, the buzz seems to be that nobody actually liked him much anyway and the party might do better with someone else leading it in the June 2018 election.

But the extra-parliamentary party executive has decided to go ahead with another leadership convention, against the will of the caucus of MPPs -- you know, the elected and accountable representatives of the people. Who will buy the most votes this time? 

A rare glimmer of wisdom has come from one backroom Conservative, Thom Bennett of Ottawa:  
“I am at a total loss as to what the thinking could be that our executive would tell our elected MPPs — those soldiers who are putting their name in front of the electorate time after time — to screw off, we run this party,” Bennett wrote.
“The executive knows why they overruled our elected representatives — and it has nothing to do with letting the members have a say in the new party leadership."
In Britain, meanwhile, where pressure grows on Prime Minister Theresa May, senior MPs are said to have told her she has three months to improve her performance or be removed. There the procedure is clear and simple:
A formal vote of no confidence in May would be held if Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, receives letters from 48 MPs demanding a contest. He alone knows how many letters have been submitted, but Tories said this week that more had been dispatched in the wake of this month’s chaotic reshuffle, which left many MPs confused and frustrated.
Leader accountable to the caucus, caucus accountable to the voters. And caucus members actually know the candidates (in or out of caucus) and have some expert judgment on who might make a good leader. With their seats and careers on the line all the time, they have some incentive to do a good job. (Few of them supported Patrick Brown in his leadership run in 2015.)

Update, January 29:  Paul Wells dismisses armchair theorists
Armchair political theorists sometimes lament the fact that Canadian political parties lack a formal mechanism for replacing their leaders through a simple vote of their parliamentary caucus. Caucuses used to pick and depose leaders just like that, on short notice and with no appeal to the broader party membership.,,,
On Wednesday night, observers were quick to note there is no such mechanism, either formal or traditional, in the Ontario PC constitution for deposing a leader who doesn’t want to go. I believe we’ll soon be reminded no formal mechanism is needed. Politics is the art of the possible: leading a caucus that will not have you is not possible.
It's not clear who Wells is referring to, as almost no Canadian experts or commentators have ever supported caucus control of leadership selection and removal. (Peter Aucoin did halfheartedly; Andrew Coyne used to  Update: Dale Smith does!). Outside this blog, support for keeping leaders independent of caucus has always been virtually unanimous.

Wells has put out of his mind such minor figures as Jean Chr├ętien, staying on as prime minister when his caucus was united behind Paul Martin, and Brian Mulroney, unable to accept his time was over until it was much too late for his party to rebuild and forcing all his MPs to lose their own seats for his convenience.

But the political orthodoxy is with Wells, and with the Ontario Tory apparatchik who said:
"This is a democracy, and we must all have a say in who we vote as our leader."
But it is not democracy when the electorate is self-selected and purchases its votes. And it is not accountability when the electorate that chooses the leader dissolves as soon as the vote is taken.
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