Do you know why some politicians are known simply as Raj or Alison while others are known as Mr Harper or, in a fit of frustration…Stephen Harper? Bear with me and I’ll tell you.
This weekend I met Raj Sherman, the ER doctor, former Tory MLA and leader of the Liberal party at the Liberal AGM. Raj had just finished his “support me as leader” speech and was working his way through the crowd. We chatted briefly and, like many in the crowd, I was impressed.
Raj’s “support me” speech was sincere, pragmatic and self deprecating—he characterized his 118 vote margin in Edmonton Meadowlark as a “landslide victory”. He was gracious, thanking the incumbent MLAs and all of the candidates who’d run and offered a personal apology to anyone he may have let down along the way. He emphasized the hard work that lay ahead in order to rebuild the party from the ground up.
The speech hit all the right notes and was brief to boot. Brevity is a welcome thing when you’re grinding through the administrative minutia of an AGM. It wasn’t so much what Raj said but how he said it that was so engaging. He was energetic, sincere and focused. He mixed in elements of humour and humility. He connected with the audience.
Raj was a little nervous about the leadership vote but he and his team came well prepared. Buttons and pamphlets entitled Support Raj Vote NO were scattered on the tables. This was wise given that the leadership vote is stated in the negative (rather like “yes we have no bananas”) so a vote in favour of Raj’s continued leadership required the voter to circle NO, not YES, on the ballot. The fact that Raj found a way to convey the need for a negative vote to produce a positive outcome demonstrates he understands how voters think.
Raj was endorsed with a 94% vote in support of his leadership. Admittedly the 250 to 300 votes cast is a fraction of the total Liberal party membership, however, these people cared enough about the vote to travel from all over the province to attend the AGM. If they wanted Raj out, he’d be out.
True to form, Raj was not afraid to show some surprise at the overwhelming vote of confidence. He admitted to being speechless and made comments about a grown man blushing. He then moved to the heart of the matter—the Liberal party was facing a long hard road, the going would be tough, but the party had to rebuild from the ground up. Raj would be there every step of the way. If someone wanted to invite him to meet their friends, he’d come—as long as he was given some food and a place to stay.
And you know what, I believe him.
Which brings me back to the question: why are some politicians referred to by their first names? Because the voters “…feel that the candidate speaks to them and is in touch with their personal concerns.” *Raj understands the critical need to connect with the voters, to live by the Warren Beattymantra “People forget what you say, but they remember how you made them feel”.*
So far we’ve seen the energetic, charismatic, sometimes all-over-the-map politician. Now that the Liberal party has validated Raj as its leader we can expect to see a leader who’s prepared to push his agenda a little harder, to be more shrewd and more focused when grappling with those other “first name” politicians, Alison and Danielle.
If this comes to pass the Liberals will have finally found the right combination of conviction, compassion and charisma to make some real inroads in Alberta’s political landscape. Over to you Raj.
*Words that Work, by Dr Frank Luntz, p 82.