The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or something like that.

By which, of course, ITQ means the triumphant — and in some circles, no doubt much-welcomed — return of the Noble Brotherhood of Anonymous Liberals, several of whom managed to spare a few minutes out of their busy days doing — oh, whatever it is they actually do when not having cosy off-the-record chats with reporters —  to wring their hands over the implications of the latest Strategic Counsel poll, which shows the party’s support sitting pretty much exactly where it was this time last year under Stephane Dion:

Some of Mr. Ignatieff’s own advisers admit he has yet to offer a clear, defined political identity to grab them.

“They don’t know who this guy is, and what he stands for,” said one, who only spoke on the condition that he not be named.

Most Liberals are wary of filling the gap by putting out detailed policy platforms, fearing it will make the same kind of target that Mr. Dion’s Green Shift plan did, when it was released months before the campaign.

But they also fear Mr. Ignatieff hasn’t given tentative voters any sense of his identity, and how it differs from Mr. Harper’s.

One Liberal strategist noted that Jean Chrétien’s winning 1993 campaign included policy details, but what mattered was the core message that he stood for jobs and growth.

“It was, ‘Buy me, and this is what you get. Jobs and growth,’ ” the strategist said. “If you buy Liberal now, what do you get?” […]

His most noted stand, Mr. Ignatieff’s call for national, lower qualifications for employment insurance, has some of his MPs fearing it will backfire.

“Eight per cent of my constituents are unemployed, but 92 per cent are working,” said one MP. “And they don’t think that warmly of employment insurance.”

Aren’t they helpful?  Really, if there’s one thing a party leader can count on, it’s the astonishing ability of his unnamed advisors and strategists to point out the obvious in the pages of a national newspaper at the exact instant when it’s very possibly too late to do anything about it. They’re downright uncanny that way.

As for the substance of the story — the eerie similarities between the polls from 2008 and 2009, that is — it’s probably worth noting that the Liberals were also running neck and neck with the Conservatives during the summer of 2007, before the Green Shift was even a twinkle in Stephane Dion’s eye. (Note to linkclickers: Yes, that particular poll is actually from October, and shows the Conservatives far ahead, but it includes rolling monthly numbers from 2006 onwards.)  In fact, the two parties spent most of the summer in a virtual — and, on more than one occasion, actual — tie.

Which suggests — well, ITQ doesn’t know what it suggests, really, much less what it actually means. Maybe that summer polls tend to produce deadlocked results, regardless of the leaders? (Then again, we’ve not had the chance to test that with anyone other than Stephen Harper for the Conservatives, so maybe not.)

That doesn’t mean, of course, that those unnamed Liberals quoted by the Globe are wrong to fret over the conspicuous absence of any sort of comprehensive policies coming out of the now fully Ignatieffied OLO, or to worry that his standoff-turned-stand-down over employment insurance reform could result in an unpleasant electoral outing this fall, should it come to that. But perhaps next time that the leader seems to be on the verge of galloping off in the wrong direction, perhaps – and this is just a thought, mind you – they might want to bring it up before he saddles up, and not under cloak of anonymity weeks — or, depending when you start counting, months — later, after everyone else has already come to the same conclusion.

Really, if there’s one inexplicably stupid move that exemplifies the missteps made by Team Ignatieff since they took over last January, it was his decision to sign up for the employment insurance working group.

In a single move, he let the Bloc and the NDP off the hook by backing the government on the final confidence vote of the session, in exchange for a deal that no one, with the possible exception of Michael Ignatieff himself, viewed as anything other a vain attempt to save face after once again picking a hill he was, as it turned out, not actually willing to die on. In fact, as it turned out, even straight capitulation, with no blue ribbon strings attached, might have been a wiser course of action, since at least then he wouldn’t then be facing yet another confidence vote when Parliament gets back this fall, which would trigger an election that, by all indications, he still doesn’t feel quite ready to fight.

ITQ can’t quite buy the notion that, at no point during the week or so that led up to that final faceoff — or the 48 hour period when he was scurrying back and forth from closed-door meetings with the prime minister — there wasn’t a single moment during which one of these strategists, or advisors, or even MPs could have brought up the fact that this would almost certainly end badly, even if it did temporarily let him escape the corner into which he had so carefully painted himself and his party, and — ideally — offer an alternative plan that didn’t, for want of a better term, suck quite so very much. Isn’t that why they’re on the payroll?

Anyway, that’s her advice for the Liberals: Figure out what went wrong in that instance, and try to make sure it never, ever happens again. It may not be much better than what the Globe’s anonymice had to say, but at least she’ll sign her name to it.

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