Henry Kissingers explanation of why university office politics can be so vicious Its because the stakes are so small applies to the B.C. Conservative Party, too.
The party has been getting lots of attention lately, to the point where youd think the outfit actually matters.
It doesnt. It looked as if it was going to turn into a factor in the 2013 election. But the impression has been eroding day by day. There were more bewildering developments Wednesday that suggest the Conservatives have a lot more chaos to get through before people can take them seriously.
Going back years, its never been more than a small rump group of disaffected voters who couldnt find a home anywhere else.
John Cumminss arrival as leader in 2011 looked like a breakout move and thats when it started getting the attention. But the story of a small party on its way to something big peaked last spring, when MLA John van Dongen quit the B.C. Liberals and joined Cumminss team.
Its been all downhill since then. The media attention now is just based on completing the rags to riches to rags narrative. Small party finds its messiah, soars to 20 per cent in the polls and starts getting taken seriously and taking itself seriously.
Then the leader and the lone MLA find they cant stand each other, factions develop and they all get preoccupied dealing with each other.
The coverage on the upswing was based on enthusiasm for something new and different.
The attention on the downswing is based on the fact people like watching train wrecks.
B.C. Conservatives are now in their natural state confused, discounted and grappling with their most consistent problem going back years: themselves.
People wonder about a core reason why they have so much trouble getting along and hanging together. Its not Cummins, or van Dongen, or the revolving cast of characters who have come and gone over the years. The best explanation Ive heard has to do with the members themselves.
A huge majority of politically active people in B.C. can be comfortable in the Liberals, the NDP or the Greens.
So the Conservatives have only a small group of individuals from which to draw. Theyre disaffected and out on the margins by preference. Being part of a big, cohesive team goes against their nature.
Some of the dissidents appear to be longtime members who mistrust the chances for a breakthrough that Cummins used to represent.
They think they own the party because they more or less have for years. The fight has been getting nastier because theyve had control of the little club for years. Practically anyone who raised their hand at a meeting could become an official. Turning control over to a leader and paying him $4,000 a month seems to rankle them. Maybe because it feels too mainstream.
Cummins managed to get 70 per cent support for his leadership last month. Not great, but good enough. The consensus held scarcely 30 minutes before van Dongen quit the party in response and the scheming started anew.
The unhappy Conservatives just like the NDP mutineers two years ago ignored that show of support for the leader and continued the plotting up to Wednesdays public demand for his head.
His supporters met dissidents Wednesday afternoon to head them off. Cummins called them background noise.
Theyre like the pebble in the can. It makes a lot of noise, but theres not much there.
He counts 14 resignations from the party versus 381 recent new sign-ups.
But a handful of rebels later turned up the volume by demanding his resignation, citing his general handling of the party.
Cummins is no stranger to internal fighting. During a career as a maverick MP with three different parties, he broke with his own party on MPs pension entitlements, fishing rights, native treaties and development plans in his home riding.
He got himself tossed in jail, fined, thrown off an important parliamentary committee and generally sidelined.
In his new career as a leader responsible for building a team, hes learning what dissent and trouble-making feels like from the other side.
© Copyright 2013