Red, Right and Blue

October 26, 2015 1:49 pm

Canada has invited Prime Minister Stephen Harper to let the door hit him on the backside on his way out of Parliament. After years of being Tory blue has the country gone Liberal red in the face?

On the surface the recent Canadian election may suggest that we’ve just witnessed the political swing of the pendulum by which countries change rulers every ten or so years, very much like they do clothes, music, movies and food fads. So Canada had a Tory government for a while and now they’ve swung back to the Liberals? Not quite. There is an important distinction – Stephen Harper’s party weren’t Tories. They weren’t actually the Conservative Party. Beginning, middle and end this was the Reform Party in conservative sheep’s clothing.

picture by Raiomond Mirza

picture by Raiomond Mirza

Way back before they committed political identity theft the Reform Party with their anti-gay, anti environmental, anti-anything past the year 1910 agenda realised that they could never have broken out of their Western Canadian Oil/Bible belt. They could never have won a federal election as The Reform Party any more than the Tea Party could take the White House or Jean-Marie LePen could expand out of Marseille, or the current English Defence League could rule anything more than a few pubs in a few towns. UKIP is another matter though they too failed to take serious power in the recent UK election.

Therefore to scale up their operations the Reforms skinned the carcass and donned the grotesque trophy pelt of the gutted Conservative party that was on the verge of disappearing having been eviscerated down to a handful of seats.

In 2003 Reform re-branded as Conservatives and so, long before the term became commonly used by app developers (indeed long before there were apps) they simply “re-skinned”. However the truth is that yes, you can put a blue tie on a prairie oyster – still doesn’t change what it is. NB – a prairie oyster for Canadians can be a hangover cure drink or a bull testicle. One assumes the correct definition will be applied.

By the next election, enough voters were sufficiently angry at the scandal plagued Liberals who had been in power for almost a generation and the electorate simply bought into the voice coming from behind the Tory death mask. They kept doing it again and again and the other parties failed to present a serious challenge. It took ten years for the mask to shrivel and wear away. In the parlance of Marvel’s Captain America, Red Skull finally got sick of wearing the human face and ripped it off.

An early warning sign that Harper wasn’t a Tory should have been when Joe Clark distanced himself from a proposed merge with the Alliance (an interim name the Reform had changed into).

When is a Tory not a Tory? When Tory ex Prime Minister Joe Clark disowns him.

The definition of who is a Conservative vs a Liberal, or Republican vs Democrat or, in the UK, Tory vs Labour politician is certainly one that has obscured with the shifting socio-political sands of time. It has long been received wisdom that neither Conservatives nor Liberals actually win elections because they’re on the Right or Left; because they’re a Red or Blue. They’re simply in power because by election time they’re less intolerable than anyone else. Positioning a politician on the left/right – Communist/Facist political spectrum has effectively become more and more meaningless. Apart from swivel-eyed loons shouting “Zeig heil” was it ever really possible to do this? Did politicians used to be more easily pegged?

On the surface, probably, but not when you dug deeper. Margaret Thatcher’s father was also a politician and in the early 20th century he taught his daughter that the then “modern” Tories were actually what old Labour used to be while Labour itself had become radically socialist.

To read Thatcher’s own penned views on many issues, is, for someone like me, who grew up thinking she and Reagan were evil bigots, something of a revelation. The truth is she loathed racism (identified strongly with her Jewish constituency) was infuriated by the sexism she suffered and had many staunch supporters within immigrant communities. Although she was hardly burning bras and Mandela wouldn’t have been her biggest fan, these facts hardly fit the profile of someone who was conveniently cast as the poster girl for right wing leaders.

At the time of her funeral Harper was vocal in his praise of her achievements and claimed an intellectual lineage descended from her leadership. Notable then that In her later years she conspicuously abstained from saying anything nice about the Tea Party or Stephen Harper.

When is a Tory really not a Tory? When the Iron Lady doesn’t rate him.

So if Canada hasn’t really just deposed a Tory Prime Minister, have they actually just elected a Liberal one? That remains to be seen. The first impression is that although a distinct identity will likely emerge, right now Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal party and Canadian Prime Minister Elect is vicariously made up of different bits of other leaders.

To begin with, there is his father, the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one of Canada’s most famous liberal minded if intellectually intolerant Prime Ministers. As noted by Professor Emeritus Dennis Murphy, Concordia University Montreal “He does not have Pierre Elliot’s dismissive superiority complex but he does have his father’s cutting style and charisma. Several years ago a reporter asked if he really thought he could beat Harper. The reply came back ‘Just watch me’.”

Although his PR agenda somewhat strains to be “hip and down with the kids” and reeks of Tony Blair’s New Labour inviting Noel Gallagher to 10 Downing Street and Obama having Bono, Beyoncé and BB King around, this, in and of itself, is fine. If it didn’t bother Noel and gang, it shouldn’t bother anyone else. However, in terms of policy there’s not yet enough real substance available for consideration. This could be down to his advisors who look and sound like overpaid, jargon spouting media consultants and seem much more in step with David Cameron’s Tory corporate-driven administration.

It is worth noting that at this very moment the UK Tories have, in two strokes of breath taking hypocrisy and moral vacuity bemoaned the plight of Syrian refugees while denying them real shelter and then, on the other hand, glibly signed a multi-billion pound infrastructure deal with the Chinese government who, in terms of human rights make the Tea Party and Stephen Harper look like naked, dope smoking, Woodstock hippies.

While all this is happening, who is currently taking in the most Syrian refugees in all of Europe? The Germans, and just a few decades back they were far to the right of everybody.

So really, these days, who’s Red? Who’s Right and who’s Blue?

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