Enter Stage Gabbing

Meet Mr. Butskell

web posted April 1998

In the 1950s and 60s, the term Butskellism was used by The Economist (coined in February 1954) when it referred to a Mr. Butskell in one of its pieces. It was a compound of the names of British Conservative politician R. A. Butler and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell. The magazine that calls itself a newspaper used the term to imply the great degree of similarity between the policies of the two supposedly different parties and leaders.

Back in the April 1997 issue of Enter Stage Right I decided that we too would coin our own name for two politicians eerily similar in political rhetoric. We decided that Mr. Charestien would refer to the degree of similarity between Progressive Conservative Jean Charest and Liberal Party leader and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

It was fitting that this new term be used in light of the election platform released by the Progressive Conservatives. Where the Liberals adopted the conservative push towards a balanced budget (and actually performed the feat), the Progressive Conservatives of Charest adopted the liberal push towards more government intervention and spending. Both moved towards each other's platforms so much that the two ended up very alike.

The decision by Charest in March to resign as PC leader to run for the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party made me regret that hundreds of thousands do not read ESR so I could claim my rightful credit for creating the new name.

What was so surprising wasn't Charest's decision to switch parties to ostensibly save Canada from the Quebec separatists in the next provincial election, but that no one thought it odd that the leader of one party would quit to become the leader of another party. An alleged conservative leader is becoming a liberal leader and no one thought of asking the biggest question in my mind. So what's the difference between the two?

Of course, ask my lifelong Liberal father and he would have told you that there is no difference between the two, although he refers to the honesty of politicians in general with his statement.

The very fact that few pundits, the media or the public thought it odd (or cared) reinforces in my mind that the Progressive Party is no longer a viable force on the federal political scene. If no one cannot distinguish between the policies of the parties, then it is a collective statement that there is no difference. Voting for one is as good (or bad) as voting for the other.

In my mind, the Canadian (i.e. national) political scene can now divided into three basic parties. The left is occupied by the New Democrats, the center by the Liberals, and the right by the Reform Party. There is no longer room for the Progressive Conservatives at this table. Fold your hand PC members, either join the Liberals or the Reformers.

There is a lesson in this for American conservatives. Of late people like House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been undistinguishable from the average Democratic politician. With Clinton's theft of major components of the Republican platform, the two parties can actually be confused in a blind test. Do we really need to be reading the name Mr. Gington in the papers?

Thanks for reading,

Gord Gekko


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