Today's Travers piece provides a pretty fair analysis of where the Liberals find themselves. If you accept the premise that the Liberals suffered a setback last month- which seems pretty self evident at this point- then it's time to entertain ways to re seize the momentum. Within that reality, it's also important to point out that "panic" isn't part of the equation, because the Liberals are still relatively well placed to have a realistic shot at winning the next election.
I actually see this change in tone surrounding the Liberals as a positive development, thinking long term. While it's a sound historical truth that "government's defeat themselves", this thesis can render the opposition far too careful and timid for its own good. It's hard to resist the temptation to merely not make waves, let your opponent self destruct, particularly when you know the news of the day is almost guaranteed to reflect poorly on the government. With that in mind, it's not really a strategic criticism that the Liberals have largely chose this path. However, with recent developments, it's becoming very obvious that this approach might be inadequate, or maybe that it fails to maximize the odds in its passivity.
When everything is going you way, there's no sense that tinkering or a rethink is required. When you meet with certain setbacks, then the status quo strategy can be challenged and reaccessed. I would argue the Liberals are in the midst of a "rethink" as we speak, at least I hope and assume so. It's time to be more proactive, and really offer an alternative vision that is easily distinguishable from the Conservatives. To articulate a clear choice demands a boldness which has been lacking to date. The problem with being bold, it comes with inherent risk. However, it is worth acknowledging that "playing it safe" is also risky, especially now when we see more and more evidence that people will demand more from Ignatieff and the Liberals.
Ignatieff's speech last week in Britain serves as the philosophical underpinning for Liberal policy. It's far too theoretical, and frankly involved, to resonate with Canadians, but the vision gives a coherence if it also comes with practical, policy examples. What Ignatieff offered, was an approach that rejects the dogma of the right and left, but draws on both in a balanced and pragmatic way. A complex world doesn't fit nicely into approaches that are almost mathematical in their ridigity. The fact of the matter with many of the tired ideologies, you already know the answer to any question prior to the question- they often fail to incorporate inherent contradictory factors that don't lend themselves to positions of purity. What some would argue as "principled", I see as more intellectually lazy and often simplistic. The type of "liberalism" Ignatieff exposed brings with it the necessary ideological space to truly be pragmatic- a critic would say "mushy", but really I see it as freedom. In this way, the Liberals are free to meander as they see fit, as they react to events that unfold and the educated knowledge attained- a loose moral imperative that also incorporates the evidence when offering solutions.
The trick now for the Liberals is to move from the theoretical to practical, to put out ideas that show voters how Ignatieff will apply his approach. I would argue the standard lines aren't enough, the almost pandering policy positions to typical to resonate. In other words, promising the world to everyone, while simultaneously lacking the strength to oppose or offend any subset or interest, doesn't capture anybody's imagination, it's just more of the same and it will be viewed as such.
It's true, the Liberals could still win the next election by merely opposing, highlighting the shortcomings of the Conservatives. I would argue that approach is a 50/50 proposition, that's how I would catergorize the odds as they stand now, with the same approach moving forward. Not bad, but when you factor in what you want to hear, outside of partisan calculation, it seems a pretty pedestrian approach. We've got the impressive "mind" at the top, but it's wasted if we're hesitant in letting it roam. Recent events make safe less secure, so in the long run, it might just make for a far more compelling presentation come the next election.