Tom Mulcair was in fighting form this week. Doing what comes naturally, the NDP Leader flayed the Liberal government with his finest prosecutorial style, the one he had used as leader of the opposition so effectively against the Harper Conservatives.
Behind and around him, New Democrat MPs leaped to their feet and clapped, for Question Period is at heart a show. This was the Tom Mulcair they had thought would lead them to power. When the election dashed that hope, a bunch of the MPs and half the party kicked him like a wounded dog.
Of all the spectacles of contemporary politics, the saddest is now reserved for Mr. Mulcair. As effective as ever in the Commons, the applause of his colleagues rings hollow throughout the chamber and across the country.
He asked for a mandate to carry on as leader, the election disappointment notwithstanding. He worked hard for the renewal of his mandate. No one of consequence (forget the few labour union leaders who have little influence on anybody) came forward to oppose him.
Instead, he fought shadows and bitter memories of what might have been. For all his efforts at political self-preservation, only 48 per cent of delegates at the NDP postelection convention supported him. The second that vote was announced, he was political road kill.
Mr. Mulcair ought to have resigned on the spot. Instead, he announced he would carry on as leader, sort of, for no one lacking half the party's support can credibly be considered a serious leader.
A special place in political purgatory is thus reserved for Mr. Mulcair: a leader in name only, rejected by the majority of his party, unwilling to leave in the short term but unable to stay for the long term, someone to rally the troops in the Commons but leave them flat in the country.
It might be argued that Mr. Mulcair is somehow doing the party a favour by remaining. De facto, he is now an interim leader, so he spares the party the need to choose someone else to fill that role.
Maybe, but as long as Mr. Mulcair remains he will be the public face of the party. Sadly for him, his is not the face the NDP party wants, although it has no one else for the moment it does want. Sadly, too, because for all the recriminations, the latest Nanos poll, for what polls are worth at this stage of the electoral cycle, has the NDP share of the popular vote about where it was in the previous election.
Worse, but predictably, a challenge has arisen not just to Mr. Mulcair, but to the party itself in the form of the Leap Manifesto, a concoction of nostrums so intellectually implausible and politically unattractive that it calls to mind British Labour Party MP Gerald Kaufman's description of his party's 1983 election manifesto as the "longest suicide note in history."
The Leapistas, like the old Wafflers of bygone years or the authors and believers of the New Politics Initiative or the followers of the Socialist Caucus, wish to wrench the party to the far left.
The Leapistas and their precursors have always been within the NDP world, sometimes in the party, often hovering around the margins, a grouping of people with absolutely no idea how to run a modern economy, deeply skeptical of most elements of the globalized world, hostile to free markets except of the organic-market variety on Saturday mornings, quite anti-American, committed to saving the environment at the expense of crucifying the economy.
Every leader of the NDP, starting with David Lewis a long time ago, has managed, sometimes with difficulty, to stifle these dreamers and wreckers, but when the party is weak, they flourish, as they are now doing.
The Leapistas are a natural reaction to the failure of the pragmatism in Mr. Mulcair's search for power, a pragmatism that with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight proved fatally wrong but which at the time struck many New Democrats, including some of those who knifed him, as the party's best hope for winning the largest number of seats.
Now that reality put paid to that prospect, the NDP has the worst of all worlds: a leader who is not really a leader, and facing another debilitating internal fight for its soul between realists (hello Rachel Notley of Alberta) and Leapistas.