Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Shockingly Routine

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Monday September 25, 2006 at 2:28 pm)

Some saw Liberal leadership candidate Joe Volpe’s latest scandal as evidence of his campaign’s lack of ethics and his personal unsuitability for leadership. Those folks just haven’t been paying attention. These conclusions have been hard to question since early June.

What the emergence of details of “phoney” memberships attributed to Volpe in Quebec and the subsequent allegations of similar abuses by the Ignatieff campaign in Toronto prove is how meaningless the party’s earlier pledges to clamp down on the abuses which characterized previous races were.

If the system were working (or even capable of doing so), it wouldn’t take complaints by those improperly enrolled to draw the party’s attention. It’s simply implausible to suggest that the party can ensure payments come from the private individuals alleged without contacting them directly and personally through impartial party staff.

There are just two problems with such a scheme. There’s no reason why those contacted couldn’t lie, especially if they’re drawn from the large group of potential members who don’t care about the party but have a load of fun at the sponsored drinking events. Enrolling the dead might be more problematic, but a fake contact could always claim the missing member was “out of the country”. Without a serious tracking effort, these meagre efforts would stymie any attempt to validate memberships.

And those attempts are the other problem. Most impartial party officials, like unicorns, were drowned in the Biblical flood. If you don’t believe in the Bible, what makes you believe in impartial political officials? Most full-time operators get their posts by being connected with power brokers in the party. Many are elected in circumstances similar to the leadership process (and often connected with it). That’s just one reason to doubt Quebec riding officials’ claims that abuses were limited to a single candidate’s campaign.

Simply put, it’s no surprise that rules are being broken. The party has become experienced at thundering speech, signifying nothing. And that’s just what’s been done to deal with underlying problems. Even if those problems could be solved, the system encourages a “race to the bottom”, where the advantage to be gained by breaking the rules means that no serious candidate can risk not doing so.

All of which goes to show why another purported violation is about as meaningful as the word “impartial” to the leadership race. Polls of members and membership lists don’t much matter when the members really don’t have control. Masses of undead voters and disinterested, easily-bought instant members can do that. The fact that Ignatieff is tied for first place among “members” doesn’t mean he can’t still produce a share of elected delegates wildly disproportionate from that of his top competitor.

The party’s claim that it must protect members’ privacy rings hollow for similar reasons. The distribution of that information through the party is too broad to reasonably believe that any degree of privacy can be maintained. Volunteers and hired call centres alike will have access to name and contact information — and neither is scrutinized heavily by the party. Merely making leadership candidates responsible for leaks isn’t going to stop them from relying on either; and it’s hard to believe that, in such circumstances, they will realy be in a position to control abuses.

The real reason why the release of lists is such a serious violation is that it might compromise the party itself. What might the media discover, given the means to verify the party’s alleged memberships and the guts to unveil the abuses that the party’s purportedly democratic process allow to violate its essential quality?

But would the public care? Probably not. Unethical behaviour in politics is something they consider routine; and it is, despairingly, to them that it falls to demand more.

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