27 September 2006

Iggy's Game

I was perusing Cerberus' endorsements page, as I sometimes do, and I read (for the nth time) about how much support Michael Ignatieff has among the caucus, etc. Ted was of course quite pleased about this, because he supports Iggy, and he quite reasonably concluded that this support is crucial because it means those who have the most vested in the outcome have determined that Iggy is the man to win; Iggy is the man to work for and with.

It seems to me, however, that this misses an important element in this kind of race. Economists will hopefully forgive me if I describe this as being the game theory element. The leadership is a game, and the MPs in particular have a great deal vested in its outcome, but that does not mean that they will pick the right person. Actually, because they have so much vested in the outcome, they are probably among the least likely to select the best decision, just as the jailed thief can be expected to turn state's when faced with the Prisoner's Dilemma. Why?

MPs not only participate as interested ex officio leadership delegates. Their jobs are also on the line. This has at least two aspects:

1) they may lose their job as MP if they elect a poor candidate that drags them to defeat
2) they may gain a prestigious job if they support the winning candidate

So, they want to avoid bad and seek good, what's the problem? The first proposition requires them to avoid choosing losers. Go figure why so many support Rae (but it's still far less than support my candidate, Gerard Kennedy). Avoiding losers is not the same as picking winners. The second proposition relies on their preferred candidate winning the leadership and giving them a sweet job. For this to work, you not only have to pick the winner, but you have to do it in an demonstrable way so that you, of all supporters, are one who is picked for a plum position.

It will not seem surprising, then, that many MP's will look at the race early, pick the candidate they think is most likely to win at that time, declare for that candidate early, and work hard for them to secure their advantage. This is not an advantage for the country or for the party, this is an advantage for them personally, as opposed to other MPs - including those MPs who support the same candidate. If you consider that the number of MPs already supporting Iggy exceeds the largest cabinet in the country's history, you'll see what I mean about cementing your place. Of course, any candidate will have to take at least some star MP's from other camps, including other contenders that drop out and support them.

It's been a very long time since the party had anything even vaguely resembling competitive leadership race, and I think there's only a couple of MP's that would remember it. So if you were an MP, and you thought in March that it was obvious the elite wanted to crown Iggy the new king, you would have been an idiot not to jump on the bandwagon. You would do it quickly, and loudly. So, I think the fact that about 2/3 of the caucus didn't do that says a lot more than the fact that 1/3 did. I think - and this is complete speculation - I think that a lot of that caucus support is very soft, and is comprised of people who decided to support Iggy loud and clear for their own personal advantage, and not because they thought he was the best candidate.

That's a little slice of Game Theory, and if there's any substance to it at all it must mean that Iggy's support is far, far softer than it seems. Every MP who made a gamer's choice will face a tough decision on the floor at the convention, when they have the chance to publicly jump to another ship, and perhaps earn themselves that plum job in addition to a leader they think can win.

As always, I remain optimistic ;o)


Blogger Demosthenes said...

Very insightful breakdown, and it shows the biggest problem with Ignatieff's support: it often feels as if it's a mile wide, and an inch deep.

With Rae having such a strong showing, it raises the question of how many of these people will remain Ignatieff supporters.

September 29, 2006  

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