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NDP strategist Brian Topp on what Jagmeet Singh must do to win in 2019

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NDP strategist Brian Topp

With a federal election looming this fall, mainstream pundits have already written off the federal New Democratic Party and its leader, Jagmeet Singh, relegating Singh to history's discard bin and declaring the party to have already returned to perpetual third-party status.

Maybe they shouldn't, suggests long-time NDP political strategist and former federal leadership contender Brian Topp in a lengthy article published Friday on social media. So far, Topp's post seems to have been completely ignored by mainstream journalists.

There is a route to victory for the NDP and Singh in 2019, just as there was for the party led by Jack Layton in 2011, when New Democrats almost grasped the brass ring, Topp argues in the 2,800-word draft, which he said he has submitted for publication in an upcoming edition of Policy Magazine.

Despite lack of media interest in Topp's formula for NDP success later this year, he deserves to be listened to. After all, he's worthy of constant scathing attacks by Conservative politicians and their media cheerleaders for his recent service as Premier Rachel Notley's chief of staff. Surely Topp is important enough to warrant respectful attention for his strategic pronouncements!

The Quebec-born Topp has had a pretty distinguished career as an advisor to such progressive politicians as federal NDP Leaders Ed Broadbent and Mr. Layton, Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, and Toronto Mayor David Miller. He ran the election war room for Notley's NDP in the May 2015 Alberta election -- a success that should counterbalance the spectacular defeat in 2013 of B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix, in whose campaign Topp played a similar role.

Describing the federal NDP as "a coalition of progressive-minded pragmatists and romantics," he argues his party must confront both the collapse of "third-way" social democratic role models in the democracies of the West and the "dangerous successor appeal" of populist neo-fascism to working class voters.

Alas for the NDP, he said, the track record of its romantics is "to unhelpfully agitate to make the NDP politically irrelevant and unelectable, and then to implicitly or explicitly argue for the election of the Liberals, since the Conservatives must be stopped."

And yet, as Layton proved in the election less than four months before his death in 2011, "when the New Democratic Party finds a way to weave its pragmatic and romantic threads together into something like a coherent offer it can be surprisingly compelling, just when you least expect it."

This is especially true, Topp noted, "when the Liberals have earned a stint in the repair shop, and the Conservatives have made the mistake of letting their real faces show." As is the case today, one could argue, with the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives by Andrew Scheer.

"In a campaign likely to be centred on an ugly and possibly uninspiring slanging match between Prime Minister Trudeau and a coalition of unattractive Trumpian provincial Tory Premiers fronted by their federal errand-boy, Mr. Scheer … perhaps there will be another golden opportunity for the New Democrats,” he wrote.

So how might this work, according to Topp?

Well, not by pretending to be Conservatives, as former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair did with his deficit policy in 2015. (Topp, who was defeated by Mulcair in the 2012 NDP leadership campaign that followed Layton's death, did not deign to mention Mulcair by name.)

And not by pretending to be Liberals. "If Canadians want Liberal government they will re-elect Prime Minister Trudeau and his team. Social democratic parties who try to go down this road are being crushed all around the democratic world -- losing their core working class voters to populist conservatives."

And not by ignoring Quebec. "Just as Quebecers (briefly) returned to their 2011 vote after seeing Alberta go orange in 2015, so it is true that voters in Ontario and across Canada are much more likely to support a federal NDP that can plausibly present itself as a national project, that brings French- and English-speaking voters together on a common agenda." (The inverse is also true, Topp warned. "It is hard to imagine voters … betting on an NDP federal government if they believe the NDP is about to hand back its Quebec breakthrough.")

And not by "focusing on the agendas of a kaleidoscope of NGOs and lefter-than-thou showboaters, however well-meaning." (Avi Lewis, c'mon down!)

Topp concludes: "Victory will be found here: Working class voters, in both official languages and on both sides of the Rockies, want a raise. They want 40 years of the Revenge of the Rentiers to end. They want the benefits of this economy tilted a little more to their benefit, for the first time in a long while. And they would like to know somebody in Ottawa cares about their jobs, their economic security and the future of their children."

Since Canadian working families are looking for economic and social justice, if the NDP offers it to them it will probably get their support. "If not, the mini-Trumpians … will give them a way to send the comfortable among us a message."

There's a lot more to Topp's thoughtful argument than this short précis provides. Readers are urged to give it a look.

This post also approars on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David Climenhaga

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