Andrew Coyne’s latest column is about this year’s Manning Centre conference. I attended last year’s gathering, here are a few thoughts:
-I was impressed, even as a lefty, by the sheer dynamism of last year’s conference. Everything was positively dripping in ideology, as it should be at something like this. So I think his complaints about it being taken over by “party conservatives” are a little exaggerated.
-One thing that I repeatedly observed last year was a widespread belief that right wing governments have retreated from “true conservatism”. This attitude is reflected in Coyne’s column, as he actually attaches the words “planned economy” to BC Premier Christy Clark with only minimal hyperbole. The view that the Party in Power™ has abandoned the True Path™ is one found in most populist or revolutionary movements which succeed politically. In holding this view of the Harper or BC government, movement conservatives are rather amusingly in sync with the Trotskyists who held the Soviet Union to represent a deformation of workers internationalism.
-Something else I repeatedly observed last year was an almost complete ignorance about the left among movement conservatives. Most would not be able to recognize, and would probably be unwilling to acknowledge, the difference between liberals and social democrats and/or democratic socialists even though these two poles are invariably represented by different political parties and have very disparate historical origins. I know this column isn’t about the left, but Coyne too shows little interest in even trying to understand the ideological foundations upon which his opposites rest. This is a problem not limited to the right, mind you.
-I share Coyne’s irritation with how conferences like this one have become totally saturated with “activist training” sessions, concerned with the effective use of social media and the like. The Manning Centre has doubtless trained plenty of effective activists and this is an important part of its mandate. But the gathering of a movement should be about ideological debate and contestation, not Facebook or Twitter. I hope the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit, which I’ll be attending later this month, achieves a better balance between seminars/debates and training. Movements need to be effective at communicating and organizing, but they become hollow without ideology. Activists need to be more than effective Twitter warriors or campaign staffers. They need something to believe in.
-It’s both amusing and instructive that the “good guy” of Coyne’s column is British politician Iain Duncan Smith, one of the most hamfisted and least effective leaders the British Tory Party has ever had and the frontman for its campaign to degrade and demonize the extremely poor. Inept, mean-spirited, and fundamentally concerned with the overt defence of aristocracy and class privilege: This, apparently, is what “true conservatism” looks like.
-The tensions between a party and a movement are real. Overlooking or ignoring them serves nobody, and Coyne is right to privilege latter over the former in this context. I had some thoughts on this after last year’s conference, which you can read here: http://maisonneuve.org/post/2014/03/13/party-vs-movement-manning-centre-conference/ (*I’d like to scream from the rooftops that the phrase “host of ideological shards” wasn’t of my creation. It’s been a year since I’ve revisited this piece, but you still can’t have a “host of shards”. Mixed metaphors don’t serve movements either.