When I checked out my Facebook news feed the other day, I knew Michael Ignatieff was in trouble.
No, I’m not Facebook friends with the Liberal leader, so I have no idea if he posted any sort of news – troubled or otherwise – in his status update.
But here’s what I saw after I logged onto my Facebook account:
An online video of Stephen Harper playing piano and singing the Beatles’ classic song “With a Little Help from my Friends” at the National Arts Centre, accompanied by internationally famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
I saw it more than once. It was posted multiple times in my news feed by multiple Facebook friends. My more partisan friends added more partisan comments. My less partisan friends added comments such as “Wow!”
It wasn’t only my friends who were watching and posting the video. A day after the Prime Minister did his best Ringo impression in a surprise appearance at an NAC gala chaired by his wife, the video was the number-one most watched YouTube video in Canada.
Two other video versions of the same performance were in the Top Ten.
Although Tory bloggers began spreading it around the Web, the video’s non-partisan appeal helped it go viral.
And over a couple of days, the virus spread from the Internet to the weekend news programs and to the front pages of the daily newspapers, with photos of the PM’s performance alongside largely favourable reviews.
In the last federal election, a Conservative ad agency put Harper in a fuzzy sweater vest, sat him in a comfy old armchair, bathed him in a soft, warm light and shot a series of campaign ads of him talking softly about his values as a piano tinkled in the background and strings soared.
The ads didn’t really do their job – which was to soften up Harper’s mean-guy image and help win him a majority government – and they were largely abandoned by campaign’s end. Stephen Harper just doesn’t credibly feel like a sweater vest kind o’ guy.
But a relaxed and surprisingly talented PM singing a Beatles’ tune on stage at a music gala? Well, that’s a different story – and fodder for the kind of political advertising that money can’t buy.
On the Maclean’s magazine website, Scott Feschuk joked that in the wake of Harper’s tuneful triumph, “…Jack Layton is tuning his guitar, Elizabeth May is figuring out how to deliver her speeches via karaoke and Michael Ignatieff is… I don’t know, what would Michael Ignatieff play? The lute? The equiviconium? The underwhelm-o-spiel? I fear a four-hour one-man play may be the price we pay for Harper’s Beatles cover. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Ignatieff is Michael Ignatieff in Michael Ignatieff.”
How do you compete with a singing, piano-playing, crowd-pleasing Prime Minister? That’s what the Liberal leader must have been thinking when the story broke.
In the coverage of the Singing PM, it did not go unremarked that on the very weekend that Harper jammed with Yo-Yo, Ignatieff was at a Liberal Party meeting in Quebec City, trying to get out of a political jam created by Liberal MP Denis Coderre.
Coderre had recently resigned as Ignatieff’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in a very publicly damaging way, blasting the advisers around the Liberal leader who had influenced Ignatieff to reverse a riding candidate decision of Coderre’s.
The details of the spat are less important than the fact that Coderre had been so public about it, opening the door for further sniping – anonymous and otherwise – from Liberals on both sides of what seemed to be an increasingly divided party.
Ever since Ignatieff emerged from a relatively quiet summer to announce that Liberals no longer planned to support the Conservative minority government, his party has been plagued with negative headlines and poll numbers that put it in the territory it was in when Stéphane Dion led it to one of the worst election defeats in its history.
Indeed, Tories are now musing about achieving the majority government that eluded them in the sweater vest era. The only thing keeping us from finding out whether that is possible is that the NDP is now supporting the government to keep the minority parliament going.
The NDP reversal may have saved Ignatieff’s bacon. The Liberal leader’s decision to try to provoke an election is looking increasingly suicidal.
It’s one thing to run against Sweater Vest Guy. It’s an entirely different matter to run against the Fifth Beatle.