There seems to be some sort of consensus building, that the honeymoon is over for Ignatieff. I don't put much stock in pointing to a certain poll which shows waning personal popularity in Quebec, because when you are being relentlessly attacked by all sides that's a natural initial development. However, back to the more broad theme, if the honeymoon is truly over it's probably a positive, thinking long term.
Up until this point, the Liberals have had the latitude to simply play it safe. I appreciate the wisdom of this strategy, primarily because when indicators are on the upswing, there's no need to be particularly "daring" in your approach. Reasonably positive press coverage, several encouraging frames, rising in the polls, evidence of organization renewal, the coffers filling, the government imploding, the economy tanking- it's a wise call to just keep plugging along, without being too provocative.
The trick moving forward, seeing the terrain change on the horizon and reacting proactively. I would argue now is the time for a strategic rethink, because you can see enough signs of a changing mindset to realize the status quo won't do. There isn't anything particularly worrisome at hand for Ignatieff and the Liberals, but minor qualms can become major problems if things aren't addressed while still in the "festering" phase.
First and foremost, while I don't endorse releasing a full platform before the election, the Liberals would be wise to start putting out substantive arguments that demonstrate how we differ from the present government. Simply relying on the old adage "government's defeat themselves" takes much for granted, and I'm not sure traditional conventions really hold in today's environment. As one columnist aptly pointed out, despite the upheaval, there is no obvious "kick the bums out" sentiment in the land. Rather, there is a certain level of disenchantment, and if the Liberals can seize the initiative and give people a compelling alternative, that strategy may well win the day.
There's no better way to demonstrate a government in waiting, then to show how you would do things differently, in a way that's consistent. This reality means no concurrent "sucking and blowing" messages for instance- no demanding more money for this and that, then criticizing deficits as problematic. If there is one issue where the Liberals need to present some firm policy, it's on the economy- a Liberal path to get Canada back on track, and the bottom line back in black. The Conservatives have given the Liberals a large opening on the economy and fiscal management- no bold ideas, no vision and more importantly no realistic plan to address structural problems. The only way we seize on this opening, if Liberals treat Canadians like adults. You can be timid and fear soundbite counter attacks which renders you inconsistent, or you can look mature and responsible with a frank plan for the future. The only way we really take hold of the economic file, if Liberals are willing to stick their neck out, otherwise we are just malcontents that essentially mirror the Conservatives superficial arguments.
There are a host of issue available to differentiate, and in so doing you address many potential problematic narratives developing. Who is Ignatieff? You want to flesh out the leader, arm him with ideas, not lofty words, but practical solutions. You want to look like a PM, then display the leadership to make tough calls. With cynicism at an all time high, without precedent for reference, it's easy to see how some basic honesty will play like a breathe of fresh air. Only when the "honeymoon" ends will people consider getting out of their comfort zone, and for that reason if the Liberals and Ignatieff are taking a few hits, it's really a welcome development.
To date, I think the strategy has been fairly spot on for the most part. That said, the difference between ultimate success or failure is the ability to predict and foresee, rather than react and attempt to undo. I sense a slight change in the air, certain conditions conducive for future storm development. Let's hope people that actually matter have that same feeling, because in the end I think it will save the Liberal Party many headaches in the future. "Play it safe" was once potent, but being nimble and agile is the key requirement now methinks.