Friday, November 8, 2013

My Review of the NDP Review of 2013 Election

The NDP review of the 2013 election was released today and it is "interesting" reading not so much for what it says, but it seems to say about the internal state of the NDP in BC.

Overall the review is not a good review of 2013 because it lacks concrete numbers to show what happened and what did not.   There were seats the NDP did win but at the same incumbent NDP MLAs lost.   Several indepth case studies on the local level may is likely to offered a better sense of why things went wrong.  In many ways a lot of the recommendations can be summed as "we should have done better" and some basic campaign 101 things.  Virtually none of the recommendations are measurable, which I have to assume is deliberate so no one can be held to account for failing to implement them.

There is a clearly a long systemic problem within the NDP but no one is willing address it.   The NDP could have looked back over the last 12 elections and quantified why they lost nine of those elections and even when they won the most seats in 1996 they lost the popular vote.  I will leave to others to figure out why the NDP seems unable to win elections in BC over the long term.  What is of the most interest to me is the sub text of problems within NDP that this review of the election loss sort of raises.

The review makes we wonder the following things:

  • Was there a conflict between Adrian Dix and Brian Topp and did Dix ignore Topp's advice at some points?
  • Was the party really interested in a serious review?  Were vested interests trying to make it a whitewash?
  • Are there serious internal divisions in the NDP?
  • Is the labour movement unhappy with the NDP?
  • How weak is the NDP at the local level?  Why is the public not willing to volunteer or join the NDP?
  • Why in 12 years since the party lost government has the NDP not be able to create strong message that resonates with the people of BC?

What we find on the first page:
Our Party has a laudable record as government in BC. We spearheaded major changes to BC’s labour laws, reformed land use planning and established a successful system of public auto insurance under the Barrett government in the 1970s. In the 1990s, during two consecutive terms as government, NDP governments improved access to post-secondary education, placed limits on class size in K-12 education and established a world class system of protected areas across the province.

The review panel feels obliged to defend how the great the NDP was in government.   There is something within the NDP that seems to make impossible for the party faithful to admit the NDP was been less than stellar.   The 2013 election review should be all about why the NDP fucked up the election but instead by focusing space on this sort of stuff it sets the tone for a review that will not ask the hard questions and will not make radical recommendations.

From page 3:
The Panel also received survey information from candidates who ran in the 2013 election; over 25% of those who ran for the BC NDP in the election provided us with information from their online survey. As well, several candidates also provided the Panel with written submissions that addressed their concerns about the 2013 campaign.

So why did most of the people that ran for the NDP in 2013 not answer the survey?  The Panel could, and should, have written it as "close to 3/4s of the candidates in the 2013 election would not answer the survery:.  Only several candidates provided written submissions.   The panel should have demanded a full written opinion of all 85 candidates and their campaign managers.  For the record they did get 71 campaign managers to answer surveys.  Still, why were 14 let off the hook?

Also from page 3:
While the Provincial Office and Staff were extremely supportive through all of our work, a number of documents, including the campaign strategy, were not available and others, such as polling and focus group reports arrived late and could not be reviewed. Having access to those documents in a timely fashion would have provided the Panel with additional background data on various aspects of the campaign as well as information used in the development of both the Party’s platform and the campaign’s key strategic decisions.

There was ample time to get these documents but clearly the Provincial Office did not have them.  There is something seriously wrong that there were no copies in the Provincial Office.   Someone has to have been trying to stop the panel from doing their work.   The Panel should have gone to the provincial council and announced that because most of the candidates did not answer and they did not access to crucial documents, the review would have to halted.  The Panel obviously balked at doing what a good review should do, making the people who screwed up the election uncomfortable and criticizing those that stood in the way of the review.

There are clearly people within the senior ranks of the NDP that used their influence to ensure the review was a whitewash.   These actions and the timidity of the Panel set the NDP up for failure in the future.

From page 5:
Many of the submissions and interviews noted that the platform was difficult to summarize into a succinct message that average voters and party supporters could easily understand and enthusiastically support. Compared to other election campaign platforms, it seemed to reflect the image of a party seeking re-election rather than an Opposition seeking to replace an incumbent government.

It is interesting that the Panel did not comment on the fact the 2005 and 2009 BC NDP platforms were even harder to summarize.   The NDP has been open to being defined of what they would like in government by others because the BC NDP has refused to clearly define what type of government they would be through a visionary platform released a year or two before the election.

On page 6 the Panel talks about the problems the NDP has had in raising money.   Last time I checked, between Adrian Dix becoming leader and the May 2013 election the NDP did better than ever in raising money.   Fundraising is where the NDP did succeed, this is not why the election was lost.   Yes the admit that 2011 and 2013 were good years, but why raise this as an issue at all when it was obviously least of the problems the party had in the election?

They also speak of the issue with the contact management software used by the NDP.   The type of software used is much less important than having a high quality of data going into the system.   The best data comes from local people who know the people personally and have knocked on the doors in their neighbourhoods.   First and foremost any contact management software has to work for the CAs.

Robocalls and professional phone banks are very weak ways to collect information on the voters, any database populated through those sources will have low quality data.  Nothing beats door to door and engaging locally and almost any software package can made to work to track that information.   To me the subtext here is that the NDP is no longer collecting good local voter information through volunteers engaging the public.

On to the recommendations
The Party needs to build strong and effective connections between all levels of the organization including the Table Officers, the provincial Executive, the Provincial Council and MLAs. Having that in place will ensure that future campaigns enjoy the full support of the Party’s key decision-making bodies.

This is I think the most telling recommendation of the problems with the NDP.   The fact they need to recommend this means there are clearly serious divisions inside the NDP that have caused problems for the party in trying to campaign.

The problem with only stating the recommendation is that there are people deliberately causing the divisions and they are not named.   The sort of division alluded in this recommendation indicates to me people are building empires and trying to make others within the party fail.  As long as the civil war is in private it will not go away.

The Party also needs to turn its attention to effective member engagement between elections, not just during the 28 day campaign. This emphasis will require better training of Local Constituency Associations, more effective deployment of organizers and ensuring Table Officers and Executive the building of a strong organizing infrastructure within the Party

What I have seen of the NDP over the last 30 years is a long term and consistent decline in active members of the party.  It has been a very long time since anyone could call the NDP a grassroots party.  The party seems to think people should be willing to volunteer out of a sense of obligation.

The Panel should have sought out people that were members of the party 10 or 20 years ago and ask them why they left.  The Panel should have asked why people in BC are not willing to join and volunteer for the NDP.   As long as the party is not interested in asking that, I am not sure how they will improve their lot.

The Panel should looked at membership numbers over the years and pointed out in public how low it is now as a portion of the provincial population.  An additional recommendation should have been a measurable number of members in each CA, something like requiring all CAs to have at least 250 members by December 31st 2014 and 500 by December 31st 2015.

It is the responsibility of the Campaign Manager to keep the team focused and effective. It’s also the job of the Campaign Manager to ensure that the Leader is following the plan developed by the campaign team. Where disagreements arise between the Campaign Manager and the Leader over details in the plan, it’s the Leader’s job to be the candidate and the manager’s job to run the campaign. Any confusion on those roles and responsibilities undermines the entire campaign effort. The 2017 campaign needs to have those roles clearly defined and agreed to long before the writ is dropped.

Another interesting recommendation.  The only reason I can see for this is if Adrian Dix did not let Brian Topp do his job.    So what action by Dix was in disagreement with Topp?

Union activists play a key role in both the provincial and local campaigns. The Party needs to ensure that its connection to the labour movement remains strong. Part of that connection can be facilitated by ensuring that training and election preparedness efforts are coordinated between the Party and its union support base. The 2017 campaign needs to reflect that coordination and work to ensure it remains a vital part of the overall strategy.

The labour movement provides an important level of support for the Party both before the writ period and during the 28 days of the campaign. The Party and its labour partners need to find ways to strengthen the effectiveness of labour liaison support during both periods. 

I assume the Panel found a feeling of disconnection with the labour movement vis a vis the 2013 election as well the labour movement was not active enough before the election.   I am not sure how to read this in terms of any internal NDP battles.

In the end this review is little more than window dressing and will fade away to nothingness within weeks.   The review does nothing to improve the NDP's chances of winning in 2017.  At this point the only way the NDP will win the 2017 election is if the BC Liberals collapse as a political party during the 2017 election.

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