When a world figure dies, so much is written about them, I rarely feel compelled to join in on the avalanche of tributes and commentary.
The occasion of the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is one of those moments, She was unquestionably one of the giant figures of the latter half of the 20th century.
I have noted, however, among some writers and other figures in her country, and in mine, an attempt to denigrate Mrs. Thatcher, almost all of this out of political spite.
The words “divisive,” “controversial,” “headstrong,” “vindictive,”and “unwomanly” are among many terms employed pejoratively (some of these terms otherwise might not be considered negatives) in this petty spite. In fact, her most famous unofficial title, “The Iron Lady,” which she bore proudly, was originally penned by her sworn enemy, the Soviets, because of her long opposition to communism.
Margaret Thatcher, like all politicians, made mistakes. Some of her policies did not work out. But to have played a vital part, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War (1945-90), and in defeating totalitarian communism, places Baroness Thatcher in some very exclusive and important company. Completely on her own, she stood down attempts by the chronically dysfunctional Argentine government to annex the Falkland Islands, and helped restore a waning British self-identity.
The United Kingdom was once the greatest naval power the world has even known. It was for a few centuries the world’s greatest colonial power. At the outset of the 20th century, however, Britain was in decline, militarily and economically. By the end of the 20th century that decline had significantly increased. What has remained, however, on that small island is a legacy of language, law, and courage unmatched perhaps by any other national experience.
Even now, the UK remains outside (a Thatcher policy) the collapsing Eurozone, and holds its own with the major European powers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Just as scholars, analysts and other commentators (including myself) are dissecting and reconsidering the careers of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the heroes of the previous generation in the West, two great men who were, as all of us are, flawed and made mistakes, there will be time enough to analyze Margaret Thatcher’s time on the political stage.
The “death parties” and other “celebrations” of her death in the U.K. are childish and unbecoming of the British people. The denigrations of her contributions, at the moment of her death, are quite petty, especially by those men and women who fancy themselves as liberal advocates for women and feminism, but can’t allow that an English woman could accomplish so much for what she cherished and believed.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
The leaders of Italy and France essentially “blackmailed” Frau Merkel into reversing her decision to stop the bailouts, and one more time, a stopgap
“plan” has been put into place to stave off the day of European reckoning. A new and inexperienced conservative prime minister in Spain, and a
disappointingly weak conservative prime prime minister in Great Britain, have gone along, having their own hands full with local economic problems. Troubled economies in Greece and Portugal are doing nothing really to correct their own problems.
Having begun various programs of austerity, European leaders are now being pressured to reverse themselves to promote “growth.” In this case, the word “growth” is a euphemism for repeating the old policies which have caused the continental economic crisis. Its assumption is the discredited notion that an economy can spend its way out of its problems while, at the same time, increasing taxes on the rich.
Lest I be accused of simply pointing an American finger at the Europeans in their time of crisis, I need to cite the unfortunate role of the American president, Barack Obama, who has pressured the Europeans to adopt the “growth” approach and reject austerity. Mr. Obama, of course, practices in the U.S. what he preaches for Europe, and the result has been a lagging economy, high unemployment, slow growth and general pessimism about a recovery that does not ever seem to arrive. Mr. Obama’s motive is also informed by his belief that if the “growth” band-aid is not applied, the troubles of the European economy could hurt his own chances for re-election by further depressing American trade with Eurozone member nations in the near term.
The outlook section of the Christmas Day Sunday edition of The Washington Post offered another one of their “Five Myths about —-” op-ed pieces. I have found most these op-eds to be reasonably accurate and politically unbiased. Yesterday’s subject was former British Prime Minister (and American Conservative heroine) Margaret Thatcher. “Five Myths about Margaret Thatcher” is consistent with what I had heard from both British acquaintances and from some of the senior Reagan staff who knew her well. One of the most important attributes cited was her gift for choosing her battles wisely and avoiding those she could not win. This knack was a key contributor to her overall success. It is also something to which contemporary American conservatives and Republicans might want to pay close attention. This was an important attribute of Ronald Reagan’s and was one of the foundations of his success in politics and as president; he used his political capital wisely. The Post op-ed closes with a nice succinct discussion of Thatcher’s political philosophy and those who would falsely blame her (and Reagan) for the financial crisis of 2008. In debunking the myth that “Thatcherism” caused the global financial crisis, it closes with the observation:
Thatcher stood for thrift, sound money and balanced budgets, powered by private enterprise. The uncontrolled explosion of debt in Western economies that followed her time in power would have appalled her.
Well said. It should appall each and everyone one of us. Following is the complete article:
Five myths about Margaret Thatcher
By Claire Berlinksi, Published: December 22
1. The Iron Lady never backed down.
Not true. Her genius was her gift for choosing her battles wisely and avoiding those she couldn’t win. In 1981, for example, the National Union of Mineworkers — Britain’s most powerful union — threatened to strike. Despite urgent warnings from her advisers, Thatcher had made no preparations to withstand a conflict with the miners, and she capitulated immediately to their demands. She spent the next three years preparing to take them on: Her government stockpiled coal, devised schemes to smuggle strategic chemicals into power stations, changed the trade union laws and infiltrated MI5 spies into the miners’ inner circle.
When another strike loomed in 1984, she was ready. Previous mining strikes had ended after only weeks. Not this one. Over the course of a year, as Britain waited to see who would break first, Thatcher proceeded to crush the strike with a brutal, calculating ruthlessness that stunned the public. Neither labor nor the unions ever recovered.
2. Thatcher was prim, dowdy and moralistic.
Not at all. As a number of her colleagues told me, she has a ribald sense of humor and was quite unconcerned when her ministers got themselves into sordid adultery flaps. One of her civil servants, for example, remembered desperately trying to finesse a compromise between Thatcher and her chancellor, the Cabinet minister responsible for the economy, during a dispute over the budget.
His delicate diplomacy was upended when Thatcher came back to No. 10 Downing St. from the House of Commons, apparently quite drunk, and discovered her chancellor holding a secret strategy meeting. She strode in uninvited, kicked off her shoes, tucked her heels under herself and declared, “Well, gentlemen, let’s just settle this now, shall we?” She “held court like a queen bee,” the civil servant said — and thus was it settled in her favor.
Afterward, the others could be heard muttering among themselves, “Phwoar, wasn’t she sexy tonight?” French president Francois Mitterand is said to have called her Brigitte Bardot with Caligula’s eyes.
3. She was against European unification.
Yes, she is known as the great Euroskeptic. But the peculiar truth is that for most of her career, she was a passionate advocate of European unification. In 1975, she led the Tory faction of the “Vote Yes” campaign in referendum to determine whether Britain should stay in the Common Market, the precursor to the modern European Union. The Single European Act of 1986, which revised the Treaty of Rome to expand the power of the European Economic Community, as the Common Market was then known, was her initiative.
Thatcher was an ardent Europhile, in fact, until the issue of the single currency came up. That, she believed, would require one European economic policy, leaving Britain without access to the key economic instruments of a sovereign government.
In October 1997, then-Labor Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that the Treasury would set five tests to ascertain whether the economic case for joining the euro had been made. Thatcher might as well have written the test. The case was never made. History has obviously proved her right.
4. No one would meddle with Britain if she were still in power.
It is often said that if only Margaret Thatcher were in power, Britain wouldn’t be in this mess — “this mess” being whatever has just gone wrong. When the British Embassy in Iran was stormed recently, many in the British media rushed to insist that this would never have happened if Thatcher were in charge. GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann have invoked her legacy to imply their ferocity when asked how they would formulate policy toward Iran.
But in 1979, President Jimmy Carter asked Thatcher for “the strongest possible remonstration or action” to pressure Iran, asking Britain to reduce its diplomatic staff in the country. Thatcher responded that she did not believe it “wise to make a political point of any reduction, partly because we doubt whether the Iranians would be much impressed and partly because of the risk of retaliatory action against those remaining.” In 1984, Moammar Gaddafi loyalists opened fire on demonstrators from the second floor of the Libyan Embassy in London, killing a young British policewoman. The shooters were permitted to leave the country. They were not arrested and tried, despite howls of outrage from the British media.
Why not? Because Thatcher feared reprisals against British citizens in Libya. This is precisely the sort of thing that would never happen if Thatcher were still in power, except that in this case, Thatcher was in power.
5. “Thatcherism” caused the global financial crisis.
This is among the most muddled ideas about Thatcher. It is true that failure of regulation was a significant factor in the 2008 financial collapse and it is true that Thatcher promoted deregulation. As leader of the Opposition, she once interrupted a droning speech by a fellow Tory about the “middle path” the party must follow. She extracted a copy of free-market thinker Friedrich von Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” from her briefcase, held it up before the audience, then slammed it on the table. “This,” she said, “is what we believe!”
But the deregulation she pursued had nothing to do with the lack of oversight that contributed to the meltdown on Wall Street. Before Thatcher, commissions of civil servants decided, for example, what sorts of cars Britons should drive. That was the kind of regulation she ended. She was a passionate proponent of regulation that makes free markets function properly — otherwise known as the rule of law.
Thatcher supported stringent bank regulation. Consider the 1986 Financial Services Act which, contrary to its reputation, closed loopholes in investor protection laws, boosted the enforcement power of regulators, and applied the same investor protection standards to a broad range of securities and investment activities.
Thatcher stood for thrift, sound money and balanced budgets, powered by private enterprise. The uncontrolled explosion of debt in Western economies that followed her time in power would have appalled her.
Claire Berlinksi, a journalist in Istanbul, is the author of “There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.”
This photo seems to have gone viral in recent weeks as evidence of the tack that Democrats plan to take against Gov. Romney should he clinch the GOP presidential nomination next year. The photo speaks for itself, and features a young-ish Mitt Romney showing off the fruits of his labor:
Of course, in times like these, Republicans tend to fret over accusations of Aristocracy. How, after all, can the average middle income, middle aged American, struggling to make ends meet, be expected to connect with a fellow who, as a mere youth, was seemingly rolling in dough? If only there were evidence from a recent national election in a Western nation that voters will rally behind an upper-class conservative leader despite tough economic times.
Oh, wait, there’s totally evidence from a recent national election in a Western nation that voters will rally behind an upper-class conservative leader despite tough economic times:
The fellow pictured second from the left in the upper row in the above photo is none other than British Prime Minister David Cameron, immortalized as a member of the Aristocratic Bullingdon Club during his days at university. This photograph was disseminated as part of a classist campaign against Cameron during the last U.K. general election. Look how well that turned out for Labour. The reality is that the public is not in the mood to reject someone who can fix their pain simply because of his inability to feel it.
It’s no secret that I’ve long believed that the sweet spot for conservatives in the U.S., when it comes to cultural cues from a candidate, lies in the urban North, and that a candidate who emanates from a blue state, urban, working class background, would be in the ideal position to capture both culturally red voters and culturally blue persuadables. When Republicans put up a candidate like Rick Perry, voters east of the Missouri River and north of the Mason-Dixon line feel as if they’re being asked to vote for someone from the cast of The Wizard of Oz. But candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Chris Christie bring with them that same self-made status without being culturally foreign to voters in the North, or voters who are products of an urban environment.
Unfortunately, Republicans lack such a candidate this time around, as Christie chose to demur on the race for 2012, and as Pawlenty dropped out early, opting instead to endorse Romney. That leaves Republicans with a limited range of candidates from which to choose, and Romney, for various reasons, remains the best of the bunch. Would Republicans be better off with a nominee who gave off a more gritty, Yankee working class vibe? Of course. But such a candidate no longer exists in the Republican field. And as Cameron’s 2010 election showed, an Aristocratic demeanor is hardly a death knell for a conservative party leader during times like these.
Always fascinating is the manner in which British and American political trends seem to flow in tandem, a dynamic that seems resolute to continue unabated. Despite President Obama’s attempt to form a “special relationship” with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, manufacturing similarities between the two in order to provide a sense of validity to Obama’s own failed presidency, the reality is that President Obama is much more similar to ousted Labourite Gordon Brown than Cameron. Obama and Brown both emanated from the unreformed Old Left in their respective parties, and like Prime Minister Brown, I suspect that President Obama’s bid for re-election will not end well for the current White House occupant. Barring any major changes in the dynamics of the race for the Republican nomination over the next couple of months, an Obama loss will mean a Romney presidency, and that will give both the U.S. and the U.K. a very similar type of leader, one who, for better or for worse, breaks both from the revolutionary style of his party’s base and from the policy orientation of the opposition party.
The path that took the nations of the Anglosphere on both sides of the Pond to this moment has been similar for everyone involved. The Anglosphere’s rejection of Continental European models of social democracy three decades ago led to the rule of Reagan and Thatcher, who did their best to steer the Anglosphere onto a trajectory somewhat different from the rest of the Western world. Both were followed by tepid and somewhat embattled successors in George H.W. Bush and John Major, each haplessly reigning in the shadow of his predecessor. Then came the great NeoLiberal moment, with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair promising a Third Way for the Anglosphere that would marry economic freedom with domestic largesse, the latter financed via loose credit. George W. Bush then came onto the scene and continued the NeoLiberal domestic policies of buy-now, pay-later, adding to the credit card a series of adventures in the Middle East, efforts which were supported and endorsed by Blair.
By the late 2000s, though, the NeoLiberal-NeoConservative dream had been decimated from within, as easy credit turned into bad credit, resulting in a financial collapse, and as the denizens residing in the sands of Arabia stubbornly refused to trade Sharia for Snooki. This collapse in both economic confidence and geopolitical prowess took down both the Houses of Bush and Clinton and left the Anglosphere with two leftists who just happened to be in the right place at the right time: Gordon Brown and Barack Obama.
The notion that the Anglosphere longed to return to a pre-Reagan/Thatcher political model though was soon upended, as was demonstrated by Brown’s quick exit from 10 Downing and President Obama’s brief honeymoon prior to losing public confidence and giving Republicans their largest House majority in many decades. Were Congress able to call a vote of no-confidence in the Executive Branch, Obama would already be gone. And as things currently stand, the candidate who will depose Obama on behalf of the Republican Party bears many striking similarities to the current British Prime Minister who ended Brown’s reign and brought the Tories back to power.
Both Cameron and Romney emanate from upper-income backgrounds, a fact that was used against Cameron in his bid for Prime Minister and that has and will continue to be used against Romney as well. Both bring with them the sense of Noblesse Oblige that prevents them from taking on entitlements in the manner that more middle class conservative politicians such as Reagan and Thatcher were able to pull off. With the exception of Romney’s brief flirtation with the world of v-chips in personal computers during his 2008 campaign, neither Cameron nor Romney seem particularly angry at modern culture, and both are sufficiently urbane as to avoid the knuckle-dragger image that scares away urban and suburban educated swing voters.
Interestingly, both Cameron’s campaign last year and Romney’s campaign this year have involved reassuring voters that they will protect their nations’ most popular entitlements. Cameron specifically ran an ad campaign promising to “cut the deficit, not the NHS,” referring to the British National Health Service, something of a third rail over in the U.K. Meanwhile, Romney, when contrasting himself with Gov. Perry in recent weeks, has deemed himself the candidate who wants to “save Social Security.” In a way, both Cameron and Romney are running campaigns that give validation to core elements of the 20th Century welfare state of their respective nations, breaking from the more revolutionary elements of their parties that are seeking a more transformational endeavor.
Whatever one thinks of this approach, the reality is that David Cameron is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the leader of the Conservative Party, and that Mitt Romney will probably be the next President of the United States and the leader of the Republican Party. What lies ahead is anyone’s guess though. The fact that Labour now leads Cameron’s Tories in polls of British voters shows the difficulty that any conservative leader will face amidst continued economic malaise and unpopular spending cuts. The moment President Romney takes office, his demise will become the primary goal of such diverse figures as Hillary Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all of whom will be humming “Hail to the Chief” as they prepare for the race for 2016. It’s certainly possible that both Cameron and Romney will succeed in their efforts to chart a new, center-right approach to governance in their respective nations that is neither a diet version of their left-wing opposition nor a storm-the-palaces approach as desired by those on their right flank. It’s also possible that such a strategy will end up pleasing no one, angering everyone, and paving the way for the return of Labour and the Democrats to the helm of the Anglosphere later in the decade.
While the dog days of the race for the presidency creep along here in the States, over in Merry Old England, riots have been dominating the news. British conservative and proud curmudgeon John Derbyshire weighs in on the events that are taking place in his native land:
Why does the British government not do its duty? Because it is the government of a modern Western nation, sunk like the rest of us in trembling, whimpering guilt over class and race.
Through British veins runs the poisonous fake idealism of “human rights” and “sensitivity,” of happy-clappy multicultural groveling and sick, weak, deracinated moral universalism — the rotten fruit of a debased, sentimentalized Christianity.
When not begging for forgiveness and chastisement from those who rightfully despise him, the modern Brit is lost in contemplation of his shiny new car or tweeting new gadget; or else he has given over all his attention to some vapid TV production or soccer team.
I treasure my faint, fading recollections of Britain when she was still, for a few years longer, a nation.
Today Britain is merely a place, a bazaar. Let it burn!
Derb’s usual tongue-in-cheek cynicism notwithstanding, the old Brit does make a very good point about the manner in which the Anglosphere has become decadent. And by decadent, I don’t mean that, gasp, someone, somewhere might be engaging in sexual activity in a manner which garners the disapproval of another. Quite frankly, viewing sex as the primary focus of morality is highly superficial and totally misses the point, or at least misses my point. When I refer to the decline of the Anglosphere into decadence, I am talking about the manner in which Anglosphere cultures are losing the core values that brought them to the pinnacle of the globe in the first place. These values include things like personal responsibility, recognizing that actions have consequences, thrift, strength of character and of will, and the willingness to dedicate one’s life to something greater than oneself. Another of these values is the search for truth, and the realization that, as the great Briton George Orwell put it, to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. It was that search for truth that made the Anglosphere the primary propagator and defender of individual liberty for a thousand years.
The great Lady Thatcher once observed, “In my lifetime, all our problems have come from mainland Europe and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world.” Today’s politically correct world would have branded her a bigot for such a statement, but there is more than a kernel of truth that lies therein. From the Magna Carta on down, it has been the Anglosphere that has been pushing the world towards an organization of societies that leads to greater recognition of and fealty to the primacy of the individual, and the submission of the collective to the individual, not the other way about. Indeed, were it not for the Anglosphere, the 20th Century would likely have been the point at which the globe was swallowed up by the competing ideologies of Communism and Fascism, which had so enticed the peoples of Asia and Continental Europe.
It is important to remember that there is nothing “natural” about human liberty. The most natural order is the law of the jungle, where man responds only to his passions and urges and the strong enslaves, captures, and kills the weak. To recognize individual dignity and rights takes the development of morality and ethics, something that separates man from beast. And despite our many millennia of humanity, it remains true that most of human history has been a story of domination and not freedom. It has not been the norm throughout history for humans to organize their societies in a way that unleashes human freedom. That the Anglosphere has been the primary proponent of such a method of organization for the past few centuries is to its credit.
And all of that, I think, is why someone like Derbyshire sees a debased culture in one that values Snooki over stoicism. As Derb points out, the contrast between the Britons of old and the modern-day Englishman admiring the shiniest of his new gadgets is telling, and the same can be said of our own society across the pond. The reality is that we here in the States have lost much of our drive to be the pinnacle of civilization and are instead placated by objects that shine and glisten, not unlike our primate ancestors from which we descended and evolved. If Western civilization is at some point lost to the bowels of history, the decline will have come not from without, but from within.
Conservative British MEP Daniel Hannan, who became a YouTube sensation after blasting [now-former] Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his spendthrift ways, to the man’s face, (and an MEP whom some see as a potential future Prime Minister of Britain) sees a presidential candidate worth supporting in Gov. Gary Johnson.
Hannan came out in support of Johnson in his latest Telegraph column, who calls the two-term governor a “sea-green incorruptible who is surely the most anti-government candidate ever to have sought the GOP presidential nomination,” and places Johnson in the same category as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Chris Christie.
Hannan sums up his seal of approval thusly:
The fragility of the US economy is perhaps the gravest threat to world prosperity. Heaven knows the White House needs someone who can balance the books. Well, my American friends, if you’re looking for a president with the gimcrack charisma of a Blair or a Clinton, stick to the incumbent. But if you’re looking for someone who has shown that he can cut government spending, ecce homo [Latin: “behold the man”].
And if, by some chance, you missed the speech that made Hannan an international conservative hero, you must see this:
Right now there is a fascinating battle going on in the Badger State. To keep it brief, the Wisconsin Teacher’s Union is locking horns with the Republican dominated legislature and Republican Governor Scott Walker. The Democrats have literally fled the state, heading to Illinois and schools have been shut down in many districts as teachers and other union supporters descend upon Madison to protest a piece of legislation aimed at reforming the state’s pension system and ending collective bargaining for the unions.
So far, Governor Walker and the Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature are holding firm. And good for them. The way I understand it, the Governor is essentially saying that it’s time to change the way the state of Wisconsin deals with their public service unions. The Governor is probably looking at what happened to his neighbors in Michigan and other Midwestern states that caved to the unions and is deciding that he doesn’t want that fate for his state.
This is a pivotal moment early on for Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Republican Party. They can’t capitulate to the thuggish tactics used by the unions. Here in Florida a couple of years ago, the teacher’s union made their students (from preschool up) write letters to their state legislators asking to “save my teacher” and “let me keep my education” to try and bully them into not reforming the system. This has got to stop. Times are tough and the teacher’s union, along with the whole education system, is going to have to suffer through the cuts and reforms like everyone else.
We’ve seen unions do this before, across the pond in Great Britain. Back during the Thatcher years, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), led by a radical communist Arthur Scargill, went on strike against the Conservative Government’s pit closure program. For an entire year, from 1983-1984, there were protests, pickets, and pitched battles in Britain between strikers and police. Back in the 1970’s, the NUM’s strike had broken the back of Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour Party was in their pockets anyways. So a miner’s strike was a pretty formidable thing. But Margaret Thatcher stayed firm. The Lady wasn’t a turnin. Eventually, she triumphed. The NUM’s strike collapsed. Since then, a union strike has never again reached the point where it threatened the stability of the British Government. Margaret Thatcher had conquered one of the most powerful unions in Britain.
Our Republican Governors, from Chris Christie to Mitch Daniels to Scott Walker, appear to be following in the footsteps of the Iron Lady. Knowing that their state’s need reform, these three Governors are taking on their states public sector unions. As with the British Miner’s, the public sector unions aren’t going to play fair, nor are they going to be nice. However, if our leaders do just what Thatcher did, stand firm and not give in to their demands, we’ll win. This could be the tipping point in Northern, unionized states. If Christie, Daniels, Walker and others beat the unions now, they might well break the back of the public sector unions in their states. Considering how important the unions are to the Democratic efforts in those states, this could have serious electoral consequences in the future.
It’s high time someone smashed these unions and now is the chance. So Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature, go for it!
…and Why He Needs to Learn it for 2012.
A charismatic candidate, with the ability to reach out to minorities, and a stated desire to move beyond the party leader idolized by the rank and file. A “big society” conservative, unwilling to talk about the issues nearest and dearest to the firebrands in his base, but forced to do so by circumstances. A party leader seen as the most electable alternative—particularly in head-to-head match-ups with his opposition—who eventually triumphs, but at a high cost.
If this saga, that of British Tory Party leader David Cameron, sounds familiar, it should. History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme, and in early 2011, it looks like David Cameron’s story might just rhyme with the 2012 presidential candidacy of Mike Huckabee.
The similarities between Huck and David are legion, and they represent both positive and negative qualities that these candidates share. Both have made minority outreach, and softening the image of their party, a hallmark of their political careers. Of course, they went about it in slightly different ways—I don’t expect Huckabee to announce he’s not a global warming skeptic or back off from his conservative immigration stance—but the pillar both men seemed most ready and willing to abandon from the old party orthodoxy was economic conservatism. Both were also quick to announce the death of the old Reagan and Thatcher consensus within each party, a fact which helped differentiate Huck from his competitors in 2008, and was more successful in gaining Cameron the victory in his party leadership struggle. Both Huck and Cameron have “base issues”. Rank and file Tories were suspicious of Cameron’s new “big society” project, and many conservatives within the Republican Party remain wary of Huckabee’s lack of fiscal conservatism. Neither man was particularly experienced on foreign policy, but for Cameron, who can simply find his party’s brightest light on foreign policy issues and make him or her foreign secretary, this is less of a problem. Huckabee’s weakness on this issue will have to be overcome with good foreign policy staff work, and the selection of top-shelf surrogates.
More centrally, however, I think there’s a philosophical continuity between Huckabee and Cameron. Cameron calls it “big society” conservatism; Huck doesn’t have a name for it. At it’s core, this philosophy, I think, tries to go beyond the dynamic of individual-versus-government, and speak up for the mediating structures (church, family, community), which sit between these two polar opposites. Rick Santorum, in his controversial book It Takes A Family, makes a similar argument. There have always been conservatives like this in the Anglo-American tradition, but in the fusion of conservatism and classic liberalism, communitarian conservatives have tended to get lost in the shuffle. This is probably a shame, as the sort of virtuous free society envisioned by libertarian individualists almost certainly requires such mediating structures to function.
But Cameron and Huckabee (and to an extent George W. Bush before them), have a unique take on communitarian conservatism. Since government, they argue, has done a great deal to wreck these mediating structures, it is up to government to fix them. And both Huckabee and Cameron are comfortable using the power of the federal government directly to create the conditions which foster such communitarian regeneration, in ways which make limited government advocates nervous.
Ironically, I think Huckabee may face some of the same challenges in his 2012 race which Cameron did in the 2009 British elections. First, of course, Huckabee would have to (A) decide to run and (B) win the nomination. For Cameron, these two hurdles did not exist, since the British parliamentary system picks it’s party leader long before elections are called (those bemoaning the length of American campaigns and the “permanent campaign” often forget that, in countries with shorter campaign seasons, party leaders are chosen by parliamentary cadres, card-carrying members and/or back-room wheeler dealers). Assuming Huckabee can overcome these two uniquely American hurdles, he still must face the factor which almost sank David Cameron: circumstance.
It is almost a truism, and no less accurate for all that, that candidates almost never get to talk about the things they want to, when running for office. This was certainly the case for David Cameron, who was forced to pivot from the big society programs and kinder gentler Toryism which were his hallmark, to an aggressive deficit-cutting, immigration-curtailing candidate reminiscent of the Thatcherism he sought to move beyond. Likewise Huckabee, who is not an economic conservative or limited government advocate at heart, will likely be forced to take on the mantle of austerity when he runs in 2012. Even if the economy improves temporarily in 2011, there are enough potential economic crises on the way to keep economic issues at the heart of our political debate. What, for example, happens when twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans start defaulting enne mass? Or, what if candidate Huckabee is faced with a massive foreign policy crisis?
Mike Huckabee can, potentially, learn from David Cameron’s successes and failures. The Tories, after all, did manage to throw out labor, all be it somewhat underwhelmingly, and they did so with a high number of minority MPs newly elected. Cameron broke into long-time Labor and LibDem strongholds in his win, but also failed in certain key ridings. For Mike Huckabee, the biggest lesson is: be prepared to transcend your base. For Cameron, this was the moderate reformist wing of the Tory party, while for Huckabee it is the conservative evangelical element within the Republican Party. But Huckabee, like Cameron before him, may be limited by his inability to demonstrate to fiscal conservatives and defense hawks that he is, fundamentally, one of them. Huckabee could also benefit from a little philosophizing. There’s an argument to be made that strong communities foster individual liberty, and if Huckabee wants to unite the party without substantially changing his politics, he needs to make it. Finally, the biggest lesson from Cameron’s travails is also the simplest, and as a Baptist minister, Huckabee should appreciate it. There is a famous passage in the Old Testament (in the book of judges I believe), which stated that the Men of Issachar “new the times”. For a presidential candidate, “knowing the times” is an essential ingredient for success. No candidate can prepare for all eventualities, but it is possible to have a smart, flexible and effective policy staff, which can provide rapid-yet-thoughtful responses to developing crises. For a candidate not generally associated with policy wonkishness like Huckabee (or Cameron), such a group is essential.
I don’t know whether Huckabee will be the nominee, and I’m not particularly sure I want him to be. While I am sympathetic to communitarian conservatism, I’m not sure a nation with an economy in crisis is in the mood to be receptive to it, and I am a bit concerned—regarding both Huckabee and Cameron—that their desire to use government to undue the previous mistakes of government may back-fire. But, on the off chance that Huckabee is our nominee, I think it’s important for him to learn from—and improve upon—the electoral fortunes of another big-society conservative across the pond. And, he’d better learn his lessons well, because whatever else you can say about Barack Obama, he’s at least a hundred times more effective a politician than Gordon Brown.
(Note: this is a bit off the beaten path for the 2012 focus here, but I was inspired by Dave Gaultier’s excellent post of a couple of days ago. I claim no particular expertise on minority outreach; these reflections are drawn from working for Bush-Cheney’s 72 hour program on Hispanic outreach in 2004, living in a part of Washington DC demographically dominated by minorities for the past three years, and studying comparative politics).
There’s been a lot of talk recently about GOP minority outreach, as happens every so often. In this case, the talk has been largely spurred by an editorial written by former Florida governor Jeb Bush about the need for Hispanic outreach. Yet as is so often the case, this talk mostly revolves around the proposition that all the party needs to do is follow the speaker’s own beliefs, and minorities will flock to the party. Social conservatives point to high levels of opposition to abortion, while economic conservatives talk about minority small business ownership. Self-proclaimed moderates bemoan the party’s drift to the right, which is causing Republicans to become an old, white, rural party, in their estimation.
All of this talk has one common element: it misses the point. The problem, as it so often does, cuts to a Pygmalion project tendency among people of all political persuasions. There is a common assumption that everyone—or at least all the reasonable people—secretly think like I do, and, if the unreasonable people just understood things better, they would think like me too. As politically-minded people with fixed opinions about things, we are all guilty of this, to one extent or another. However, the problem often goes much deeper. Because we—and all of our friends—often make decisions about which party and candidate to support based on complex policy calculations, we assume that everyone else will make decisions based on the same criteria. Thus, the key to attracting minorities is to create the correct precisely calibrated set of policies to attract them.
Studying politics, particularly comparatively, I’ve found a different phenomenon is more often the case.; by and large, local issues trump national concerns in the minds of voters. Let me give you an example from British local counsel elections., which illustrates this point dramatically. A BBC reporter spent a day before one of the recent local counsel elections shadowing a candidate of the Fascist, self-admittedly racist British National Party as he campaigned in a neighborhood largely inhabited by Afro-Caribbean immigrants. This reporter was baffled by the fact that some of these immigrants were voting for a party which used hatred of immigrants as a national-level rallying-cry. How could this happen? In shadowing the BNP candidate, the BBC reporter rarely heard questions asked about the BNP’s views on immigration, or the often racially-tinged pronouncements of their party higher-ups. Instead, as one of the local residents put it: “we’re voting for you because you’re the ones who took care of the rat problem.” The BNP’s national policies couldn’t have been more inimical to these Afro-Caribbean immigrants; Tom Tancredo is a La Raza advocate by comparison. Yet, because the BNP showed up, and governed competently, the locals were willing to vote for their local counsel candidates.
Now, just to be abundantly clear (this is the internet and people do like to take things out of context, so I want to be specific), I’m certainly not advocating we copy anything from the obnoxious BNP, nor do I think the situation of the Republican Party and the BNP are in any way analogous. However, I do think this anecdote is an example of a phenomenon of interest to Republicans. The lesson is simple; national-level policy is not particularly important. The crux of a successful minority outreach strategy can be summed up in five words: show up, then govern competently. This, of course, begins with “showing up”, which, it would seem, is harder for Republicans than you might think. The fact is, in many minority neighborhoods, the residents have never been visited by a Republican canvasser, let alone a Republican candidate. Urban parties, or parties in predominantly minority areas, are often very poorly resourced, if at all. At most, Republicans will make a push in these areas a couple of weeks before a presidential election, and hence way too late to counter a life-time of Democratic messaging.
Minority outreach is not going to be quick and easy, and it will take time. This needs to be a priority over multiple election cycles, not just for the 2012 cycle (it’s probably already too late for that). And, when Republicans do show up, it won’t be enough to talk about big, complex, national-level problems, and bombard these newly-contacted potential voters with information about how our policies are better than Democratic policies for them. First contact should come from local Republican parties and candidates, interested in solving local problems. Fix the sewers, curb the influence of gangs, reform the prison system in order to bring down recidivism rates for non-violent offenders, and reintegrate non-violent offenders into society, find creative, conservative policies which, at the local level, will help poor minorities stay in their homes amidst increasing gentrification. Help their kids get a better education, and real, good-paying jobs. The problems will very, but the method is simple. Show up, listen to the concerns of local people, then show them how you can solve the most pressing issues they have at a local level better than the Democrats. A good example of how this can be done (and a much less obnoxious example than the BNP) comes from the British Tories, and their excellent think tank, the Center for Social Justice. Not all of CSJ’s solutions are directly transmissible to the US, nor should they be. However, they focus their policy work not on national-level issues, such as NHS reform, but on revitalizing broken urban communities. That, not these broad, national policy issues, is the immediate focus which minority outreach will require of our policy-oriented thinkers.
But what about national elections? What about policy questions? First, minorities won’t trust Republicans with national policy until we’ve demonstrated our competence on a local level. Second, if local candidates have governed successfully, and want to move up to national-level offices, chances are they’ll vote the interests of their constituents in a uniquely Republican way. Through watching these successful Republican politicians, we will actually gain a picture of those areas of agreement and disagreement between minority communities and Republicans. What I suspect we will find is, like any other group in the history of politics, minority groups are not monolithic on matters of policy. Some will be social conservatives, some fiscal conservatives, some moderates, and some will lean left no matter what outreach Republicans conduct. This is why arguments that x policy will make minorities flock to the Republican Party in droves, or that Y policy will make minorities into Democrats for generations, are ridiculous. Surely, if the BNP can convince people to vote for them, on a local level at least, in immigrant communities by showing up and governing competently, the Republican party can do much much better by doing the same. It won’t be quick, easy, or emotionally satisfying to the Pygmalion project politics in which we all indulge. On the other hand, it has the virtue that it just might work.
For those who don’t follow British politics, Nigel Farage is a member of the European Union Parliament and former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – and he’s all over the news today for a tirade against EU President Herman van Rompuy.
Now, Farage has a valid question when it comes to Van Rompuy, the relatively unknown Belgian Prime Minister who recently became the EU’s first president when the office was created by the Lisbon Treaty. However, I think this speech (while entertaining) does more to make Farage look like a buffoon than it does to damage Van Rompuy – especially considering that he said all of this to Van Rompuy’s face. But either way, I think this may be a “Dean scream” soundbite that we keep hearing for a while – both from Farage’s friends and enemies.
Will replace that video with the full speech if it becomes available.
I suppose the idea of having your pint served in a non-threatening vessel is a good thing. But for government to mandate new glasses is a little absurd (though the test video is pretty cool).
Wouldn’t it be easier to mandate that we give people their beer in plastic sippy cups? It works for toddlers, they’re absolutely unbreakable, and you wouldn’t even lose the beer if you drop it!
New Years Eve predictions seem to be all the rage right now. Everybody wants to predict what Sarah Palin will do next, where the economy is headed, or how far President Obama’s approval rating will fall. However, most years are defined by the people who surprise us – especially in the internatonal arena. For instance, in December 2008, names like Mir Hussein Moussavi and Manuel Zelaya meant nothing to U.S. readers
So, for my New Years post, I decided to pick a few global newsmakers whose names we may learn for the first time in 2010. These aren’t the sure bets, like David Cameron’s near-certain election as Britain’s Prime Minister, but rather the people who could come from nowhere to change the world. Each has a big opportunity on his or her plate, but whether they boom or bust will depend almost entirely on how they chose to exploit their openings.
1. Shaul Mofaz – Israel – Number-Two Man in the Kadima Party (For Now)
Most of the people on this list made the cut because of the political movements they are building – Shaul Mofaz is on it because of the political movement he could kill. A former cabinet minister under Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, Mofaz is now the number-two man under Tzipi Livni in the centrist Kadima Party. More importantly, he is the leader of Kadima’s right wing and was Livni’s rival in last year’s party leadership vote. With Prime Minister Netanyahu trying to split Kadima and lure defecting legislators into his Likud Party, Mofaz has launched an all-out attack on Livni and is demanding that Kadima hold a leadership election immediately. He’s also split with Livni over her decision not to bring Kadima into a unity govenrment with Netanyahu. If he fails in his bid to oust Livni, do not be surprised if he splits Kadima himself, founds his own party, and takes half of the Kadima caucus with him.
2. Nick Clegg – United Kingdom – Leader of the Liberal Democrats
2010 will finally be David Cameron’s year in the U.K. Gordon Brown is legally obligated to schedule elections, and Cameron’s Conservative Party is almost certain to seize power. However, there may be a more interesting subplot in the battle for second place. Recent polls have shown Brown’s Labour Party dropping so far that they are almost even with the third-place Liberal Democrats and their charismatic young leader, Nick Clegg. Clegg is widely seen as a more liberal version of David Cameron, and if Labour cannot pull out of it’s death spiral after the election (which I don’t expect them to), his Lib Dems could emerge as the dominant force on the British left.
3. Yoshimi Watanabe – Japan – Founder of “Your Party”
In 2009, the Tokyo air was thick with the smell of hope and change. Leftist Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party (DPJ) ousted ex-PM Taro Aso and the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – a bureaucratic monster which had governed almost uninterrupted since the 1950s. However, buyer’s remorse is already taking hold as Hatoyama racks up record amounts of government spending. His popularity has taken a nose dive – aided buy a corruption scandal which broke over Christmas – and recent polls show that voters are fleeing both the Hatyama’s DPJ and the once-mighty LDP. almost half of the electorate is supporting neither party, with elections to the nation’s upper house looming in 2010. The man best positioned to fill the gap may be Yoshimi Watanabe, who broke from the LDP in 2009 to found “Your Party”. Watanabe is the probably biggest wild-card on this list, as his new party won only five out of 480 lower house seats in last year’s election and polls have yet to show him moving up. However. with a platform centered on firing 100,000 bureaucrats and reducing the number of seats in the legislature, Your Party could be in position to ride an anti-establishment rocket. Watanabe seems to have the right message at the right time, but the question is whether he can catch fire.
4. Keiko Fujimori – Peru – Likely Presidential Candidate
One would think that Peru got it’s fill of the Fujimori family in the 1990s, when dictator Alberto Fujimori suspended the nation’s democracy. However, it seems that time heals all wounds, and many Peruvians remember Fujimori as a man who brought stability and stamped out the communist “Shining Path” rebellion. Now, his 34 year-old daughter Keiko now seems poised to mount a major campaign in the 2011 presidential election. Of course, the election isn’t until April 2011 and she’s currently running second among the potential candidates – behind conservative Lima mayor Luis Castañeda – so her election is by no means guaranteed. However, simply by getting in the mix, spritely young Keiko Fujimori could restart talk about the authoritarian far-right in a part of the world which has been generally gravitating to the far-left.
5. Salva Kiir – Sudan – President of South Sudan and First Vice President of Sudan
Salva Kiir is a veteran of the South Sudanese fight against the oppressive Sudanese government. But as the head of the military wing of the larger Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), he was never meant to lead the political charge toward freedom. That job was supposed to belong to SPLM rebel leader John Garang, who became President of an autonomous South Sudanese government after a 2005 peace agreement. However,Garang died in a 2005 helicopter crash after only a few months in office, and the quiet, unintellectual Kiir inherited his titles. Now, the South stands ready to vote in a 2011 referendum on complete independence – but the terms of that referendum are still being worked out with the government of North Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. Should Bashir try to keep the South from leaving, it will fall to Kiir to ensure that his people do not fall back under the control of the dictator’s genocidal regime. He may lack Garang’s charisma – but he will have to find his own mojo should he find himself in confrontation with Bashir. If he can shepherd the process safely to conclusion, the soft-spoken soldier will find himself the unlikely father of an independent South Sudan.
DaveG has an awfully quirky way of using terms. After months of being obsessed with “technocrats,” whatever those are, he has now decided that “neoconservative” refers to the ideology of the conservative revival under Thatcher/Reagan and “neoliberal” refers to the political Third Way epitomized by the Clinton/Blair politics that followed it.
Those terms, actually, are already taken; neoconservatism refers to the welfare-state-friendly, hawkish ideology propagated by men like Irving Kristol; “neoliberalism” is a derogatory term used by leftist opponents of globalization and free trade.
Since DaveG thinks that Obama represents “paleoliberalism” — that is, traditional, New Deal-style liberalism — but does not quite define paleoconservatism outside of “what Ross Perot did,” I’m going to assume — perhaps against my better judgment — that he means by paleoconservatism the same thing that everyone else does: the Buchananite ideology that holds forth to the tenets of nationalism, traditional morality in the public square, isolationism, and populism. Paleocons usually support protectionism and heavy-handed religion in schools, oppose the Iraq War, and call for closed borders. To paleocons, America’s glory days are behind her.
It looks like the hypothesis goes something like this: we’ve tried everything else and people aren’t accepting it, so it’s time to try out the fourth option: the Old Right.
If this is what DaveG means, then he is utterly, almost embarrassingly wrong. Paleoconservatism — unlike New Deal liberalism — is a dead ideology. Even if it is true — and sadly, I think that it is — that Americans are becoming wary of free trade, that doesn’t mean that they’ve become xenophobic, nativist, or ready to bar gays from being schoolteachers. It doesn’t mean that they’re ready to withdraw from the Middle East overnight. It doesn’t mean that they’re willing to accept — not in 1992, and not twenty years later — the kind of rhetoric that filled Pat Buchanan’s notorious 1992 RNC speech.
So there’s that little problem.
But even if Americans did believe it — or were ready to take a chance on it — who on Earth would lead this movement? Pat Buchanan is busy defending Adolf Hitler and comparing Israel to Nazis, Tom Tancredo isn’t as much of a paleoconservative as people think (and he’s running for governor, anyway [Well, regardless, if I have to explain to you why he couldn’t win…]), Ron Paul is looney tunes, and Lou Dobbs is…well, Lou Dobbs. So where’s the man for the moment? All of DaveG’s other revivals were led by charismatic figures — Reagan, Clinton, Obama. Where’s the paleoconservative leader?
There’s also no evidence that the Thatcher/Reagan model can’t work again. Americans are ready once again for someone who is socially conservative but not abrasive, a true-blue capitalist who can truly defend it from a moral and practical standpoint, and an American exceptionalist who doesn’t sound like he wants to hoist the red flag and start slitting throats.
But alas, that faces a similar leadership problem.
Talk to Alex Knepper at email@example.com
Today, November 9, 2009, is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It was one of the greatest events of history.
The wall both literally and symbolically marked the division between tyranny and freedom.
It was erected on Sunday, August 13, 1961, to prevent people living under the Soviet-controlled Communist regime in East Germany from fleeing into free West Berlin. About 1500 people a day had been migrating westward.
Within 24 hours West Berlin was sealed off from the so-called Democratic Republic of Germany.
At first it was a fence consisting of barbed wire, spread over some 96 miles.
In 1962 an inner wall was built. The 100 yard gravel area between the fence and the wall was booby-trapped with trip wires, and mined.
In 1975 a stronger, higher, thicker wall made of concrete and reinforced with mesh fencing and barbed wire was constructed. It was known as the ‘Grenzmauer 75’. Soldiers stationed in some 300 watchtowers had a clear view of the space, and orders to shoot down anyone attempting to cross it.
Over 100,000 people tried to escape to freedom. Some 5,000 succeeded, mostly in the early years before the ‘Grenzmauer 75’ was built. Later, successful crossings were made through tunnels. Two families succeeded by hot-air balloon, and one man in a light aircraft. At least 136 people were killed in the attempt, most famously 18-year-old Peter Fechter, shot on August 17, 1962, as he tried to climb the wall. He lay for hours in the space between the wall and the fence, crying out for help while he bled to death. The East German border guards waited for him to die before they carried him away.
Twenty-five years later, on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan of the United States stood on the west side of the Brandenberg Gate beyond which the wall ran, and said to the Russian leader in a famous speech, ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’
The speech was symptomatic of the firm stand he maintained against the Soviet Union.
Two and a half years later the wall was brought down.
Its fall heralded the collapse of Soviet Russia and its evil empire. It marked the end of the Cold War and the victory of the free world, led by the United States of America.
The conquering hero of that stupendous victory was President Reagan. How he won the Cold War is the subject of volumes, but win it he did.
Of inestimable help to him was Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain.
A few days ago Mikhail Gorbachev, George H. W. Bush who was president of the US when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, and Helmut Kohl who was Chancellor of West Germany at the time, met on the stage of a Berlin theatre to commemorate the fall of the wall.
Margaret Thatcher, who had not wanted the reunification of Germany but nevertheless played a decisive part in defeating the Communist tyranny over Eastern Europe, was not included.
The president of the United States, Barack Obama, has refused to attend any of the celebratory ceremonies in Germany. His excuse is that he is ‘too busy’.
Jillian Becker is editor-in-chief of The Atheist Conservative
Here is the full text (from the Telegraph):
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Over the years I have been a prosecutor, and recently as the Director of the FBI, I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors, since only the prosecutor handling the case has all the facts and the law before him in reaching the appropriate decision.
Your decision to release Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice in this case. I do so because I am familiar with the facts, and the law, having been the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi in 1991. And I do so because I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of “compassion.”
Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice. Indeed your action makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation, the conviction by jury after the defendant is given all due process, and sentence appropriate to the crime, the terrorist will be freed by one man’s exercise of “compassion.” Your action rewards a terrorist even though he never admitted to his role in this act of mass murder and even though neither he nor the government of Libya ever disclosed the names and roles of others who were responsible.
Your action makes a mockery of the emotions, passions and pathos of all those affected by the Lockerbie tragedy: the medical personnel who first faced the horror of 270 bodies strewn in the fields around Lockerbie, and in the town of Lockerbie itself; the hundreds of volunteers who walked the fields of Lockerbie to retrieve any piece of debris related to the breakup of the plane; the hundreds of FBI agents and Scottish police who undertook an unprecedented global investigation to identify those responsible; the prosecutors who worked for years–in some cases a full career–to see justice done.
But most importantly, your action makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988. You could not have spent much time with the families, certainly not as much time as others involved in the investigation and prosecution. You could not have visited the small wooden warehouse where the personal items of those who perished were gathered for identification–the single sneaker belonging to a teenager; the Syracuse sweatshirt never again to be worn by a college student returning home for the holidays; the toys in a suitcase of a businessman looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife and children.
You apparently made this decision without regard to the views of your partners in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the Lockerbie tragedy. Although the FBI and Scottish police, and prosecutors in both countries, worked exceptionally closely to hold those responsible accountable, you never once sought our opinion, preferring to keep your own counsel and hiding behind opaque references to “the need for compassion.”
You have given the family members of those who died continued grief and frustration. You have given those who sought to assure that the persons responsible would be held accountable the back of your hand. You have given Megrahi a “jubilant welcome” in Tripoli, according to the reporting. Where, I ask, is the justice?
Robert S. Mueller, III
Please see my website The Atheist Conservative and read my article ‘A Lonely, Brave and Saintly Politician?’
Jillian Becker is editor-in-chief of The Atheist Conservative and former Director of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism in the UK
My latest column is at Pajamas Media:
British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan appeared on Glenn Beck’s show to opine on ObamaCare. His advice: “Don’t do it.”
He called the NHS “a 60-year failure” and pointed out that Britain had adopted its health care system in the midst of World War II when rationing was in vogue — not only for health care, but for food and gasoline. That America was considering a move towards socialized medicine in peacetime was unbelievable to Hannan.
Across the pond, the reaction from Conservative Party leadership was chilly, to say the least. Conservative leader David Cameron called Hannan “eccentric” and stated that “’no one should be in any doubt, for the Conservative Party, the NHS is our number one priority.” Meanwhile, critics on the left were far less kind, calling Hannan “unpatriotic.”
Now one can wonder what has happened to Great Britain to turn it into a nation where loving one’s country requires loving every bureaucracy that operates within it. However, there’s a larger scope to this row. Cameron and Hannan ultimately represent two archetypal visions of conservatism that are in conflict not only in Britain, but in the United States as well.
Hannan favors ending the National Health Service and creating a system of private accounts. The idea may seem like common sense to American conservatives, but Britain’s National Health Service is the third largest employer on the face of the Earth. That Hannan believes such a bureaucracy should be dismantled is a radical concept.
However, Cameron sees that the Conservative Party’s easiest path to victory in the next election is to accept the status quo regarding the National Health Service. And anyone who thinks otherwise is, at best, “eccentric.”
Thus, we see the fundamental conflict within conservatism on either side of the Atlantic. Hannan and those who identify with Hannan-style conservatism have a clear vision of what government should be like, what functions it should have, and what it shouldn’t do. Cameron conservatives are pragmatists who seek to keep the world the way it is. They’ll oppose the introduction of bad government programs, however once those bad government programs are established, they will accept them as a fact of life and even defend them.
If you need evidence of this, look no further than the U.S. Department of Education, a gift from the Carter administration. Ronald Reagan opposed it, as did the GOP platform. Everything critics said about the Department of Education at the time it was created was correct. In fact, in 1994 the GOP promised to eliminate the Department of Education. However, due to repeated failures at the 2000 Republican Convention, opposition to the existence of the Department of Education was pulled from the Republican Party platform. In 2008, even Ron Paul was silent about getting rid of the Department of Education even though it still does not educate children after thirty years of existence. Its only useful function is to release statistics throughout the year that indicate its total lack of effectiveness.
It is incomprehensible why some people’s hearts bleed for terrorists when they are punished for committing their atrocities. The fuss made over those Taliban monsters, all too cushily accomodated at Guantanamo! Now Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, convicted of blowing up the Pan-Am plane over Lockerbie in Scotland on December 21, 1988 , killing 270 people (259 in the plane, 11 on the ground), has been released from prison, after serving a mere 8 years of a ‘minimum 27 year’ sentence, ‘on compassionate grounds’ because the wretch is dying of cancer. What moral right has this Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, whose decision it was, to forgive him any of his punishment time? It may make MacKaskill himself feel good, but 270 people dying a terrible death, and the lasting grief of those who survived them, is an exorbitant price to pay for him to have a feeling of personal virtue. To make the disaster matter so little is to mock the victims, the living and the dead.
And there is even more that is sickening about this story.
If al-Megrahi was guilty of planting the bomb on the plane (some doubts over his guilt have been argued not entirely unreasonably, but he was found guilty in a court of law and I thought at the time of the trial that the evidence was convincing), it was certainly not his own plan. Nothing of that sort could possibly be plotted in Libya without the say-so of Qaddafi. We’re talking about a dictator. There are no free-lance terrorists in a country like Libya. When there’s a Libyan terrorist strike it’s because Qaddafi orders a Libyan terrorist strike. Not just allows it. Orders it. And Qaddafi himself will suffer no lasting consequences.
What ‘negotiations’ – read ‘conspiracy’ – went on behind the scenes between Qaddafi and British diplomats?
What message does the release send to other plotters of terrorist atrocities?
To look into these events is to look into a moral sewer. Come to think of it, ‘moral sewers’ is an apt description of the British Foreign Office and the left-wing parties that govern Scotland and the United Kingdom.
The strongest moral condemnation of the release that Obama could bring himself to utter is that it’s a ‘mistake’. But that’s no surprise. We know what he feels about Islamic terrorists. We know for whom his heart bleeds.
Jillian Becker is editor-in-chief of The Atheist Conservative. She was formerly Director of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism in the UK
Tory leader David Cameron is known to be a fifth cousin of Queen Elizabeth.
However the Daily Mail claims David Cameron may be a direct descendant of Moses.
I wonder if Cameron agrees with Cecil B. Demille’s comments on freedom from the state in his introduction to the Ten Commandments.
The entire European Union Parliament is being elected at the moment – and that is interesting – but I’m personally glued to the British results broadcast on the BBC. British politics is a mess right now due to an expenses scandal in Parliament, support for the ruling Labour Party is collapsing, and all hell is generally breaking loose. And tonight – the craziness has reached a head. A lot of the news is good, but some of it is actually scary.
On the good side, the Conservatives are wiping the floor with everyone, topped the polls in the Labour heartland of Wales for the first time in history. Many results are yet to come in, but Labor is currently fighting for second against the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a Euroskeptic party that sits decidedly to the right of the Conservatives. By the end of the night, I would not be surprised to see Labour in third or even fourth (depending on the performance of the Liberal Democrats, who currently sit fourth).
However, there is also some news – as the racist British National Party (BNP) has won it’s first ever seat in the European Parliament. The BNP has benefitted from the wave of anti-establishment sentiment (which is also carrying UKIP), and while UKIP is mainstream protest vote, the BNP is unfortunately picking up the people who want to flip the finger to the all of the mainstream parties. And while I am all for throwing bums out, I am certainly not for electing parties who only allow whites to join (which is BNP policy).
The BNP breakthrough may also provide a lesson to those of us in the U.S. who are interested in our own experiments in anti-establishment sentiment – the “Tea Party Movement”. We should be more than happy to embrace the mainstream of this movement (independent, Glenn Beck-style libertarians – who I would say are our equivalent of UKIP). However, we need to be very vigilant in making sure that we don’t allow hard-core wackos to ride the wave. Otherwise, we will wind up dealing with our own versions of the BNP.
Luckily, as we have a two party, first-past-the-post system – we will never see racist fringe parties elected here (the BNP made it through via a “proportional representation” system where seats are allotted based on percentage of the vote). However, we still should be watching out for nut jobs who wish too use “tea parties” and other such events to gain legitimacy.
Picture this happening. No, it’s not a real news story, but think about it for a minute. Because this is exactly what the UK is going through right now.
Washington (AP) – With polls showing President Obama’s popularity plunging and the Democratic Party headed for a massive defeat in Tuesday’s midterm election, sources inform the AP that embattled Attorney General Eric Holder will resign his office on Wednesday. Holder has come under fire in recent days for using taxpayer funds to pay for his sister’s Georgetown townhouse.
Holder may be only the first of many post election cabinet cuts in the wake of massive corruption scandal that has already ended the careers of three cabinet member and numerous Congressmen on both sides of the aisle. A high ranking White House official told the AP that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner may also have billed the taxpayers for personal luxuries, and is likely to be dismissed Wednesday. Another White House source says that the President is considering replacing Hillary Clinton at the state department, but Clinton has publicly stated her desire to remain on the job, and is rumored to have told her closest aides that she will challenge Obama in the 2012 Presidential Primaries if she is fired.
Now, British politics are different from our system in many respects – but that is roughly what’s going on. Numerous members of Parliament are in hot water for billing taxpayers for personal extravagances, a lot of them have announced their retirements. Now, news has leaked that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will be resigning after Thursday’s European Parliament Elections – where the ruling Labour Party is expected to be badly beaten and may even slip to third place.
However, the carnage may not end there. Chancellor Alistair Darling (equivalent to our Treasury Secretary) may also be taken out as a result of the scandal, and Gordon Brown is said to be thinking of replacing Foreign Secretary David Miliband. If this happens – all of the UK’s “big three’ offices would change hands.
However, Brown may have to watch his back if he takes out the young and dynamic Miliband, who was once tipped as the future of the Labour Party and has stated his desire to keep his position. As the heir apparent, the young Foreign Secretary is likely the only one holding back an all out mutiny in Labour – and if he flips, I’m guessing that all hell will break loose. However, Miliband has plenty of his own problems in the expenses scandal, so it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to remain the Crown Prince of Labour.
Indeed, those currently calling for Brown’s head are not calling for Miliband to take over, but are instead suggesting that the Prime Minister hand his Job to Health Secretary Alan Johnson.
In short – UK politics are going to hell in a handbasket, and frankly I’m laughing my head off. Normally I would feel sorry for someone in Gordon Brown’s position, but this time I think it’s poetic. Brown spat in the face of the British by refusing to call an election after he succeeded the resigning Tony Blair, and now his arrogance is coming back to bite him. The unelected pretender had hoped to hold off elections until his poll numbers went up – but things just got worse. Now, instead of merely losing an election to David Cameron’s Conservative Party, he is likely to be positively humiliated in next year’s election – assuming his own party allows him to remain in charge until then.
Nice going, Gordon!
I think any conservative who wonders what a smart populism on the right might look like should read the recent editorial by David Cameron in the Guardian.
Cameron is proposing devolving power to localities, to individuals and away from bureaucrats. He embraces the British equivalent of school choice along with many other concepts involving greater personal choice and responsibility.
Cameron’s advocacy of localism, and decentralization is quite eloquent.
While I obviously have my fair share of differences with Mr. Cameron I think Republicans from every part of the party should observe what he is doing and saying.
Thatcher arrived in Britain before Reagan was elected in America. Perhaps Cameron presages a new style and substance on the right.
Only time will tell.
Gangs of youths threw petrol bombs at police in Northern Ireland on Saturday after a prominent republican was among three people arrested over the murder of two British soldiers. The troubled province’s police chief, meanwhile, warned that hundreds of dissidents, whom he described as “very dangerous,”were aiming to derail its fledgling peace process.
“We’re now reaching the point where, within one to six months, we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state,”
Turkmenistan has accused Russia of causing an explosion on a gas pipeline by giving less than a day’s notice before abruptly cutting its imports.
The secret prisons are now empty, Panetta said, and the agency has not taken any new prisoners since he became director in February. The CIA is now preparing plans for the prisons to be permanently shut down. An intelligence official said the facilities have to be cleaned of any potentially sensitive materials before they can be closed.
The Botswana diamond cutting industry that has been subdued to the global economic crisis is about to get some support from the USA government through its Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), to the tune of US $ 250 million, sources said Friday afternoon.
In a recent post, Matthew Miller voiced his opposition to the movement by David Cameron and other British Tories to regain power on the other side of the pond by becoming “heirs to Blair.” Matthew seems concerned that American Republicans may begin to emulate this strategy, leading to a leftward shift overall in the political goalposts and yet another step towards the death of the West.
To be sure, I have no desire for the West to do anything other than thrive. The evolution of the West, from Classical Civilization to the Renaissance to the Enlightenment to the current American experiment, has illuminated the world in ways that remains rivaled by the totalitarian East, the mysticism-based tyranny of the Middle East, and the series of banana republics that comprise the economically-languished developing world. And while Cameron-ism may be a bridge too far for American right-of-center folks, would it really be so bad, taking into account the events of the last fifteen years or so, for Republicans to reassert themselves as the Heirs to Clinton?
While I was strongly opposed to the Clintons during the 1990s, the Bush and now Obama Administrations have led me to develop an affinity for Clinton and Clintonism in a way I once never thought possible. The Clinton crowd leaves behind an economic legacy that puts to shame the disaster that was the Bush Administration and the closeted leftism that is President Obama. During the Clinton years, the growth of government was modest, entitlements were made more market-friendly but still remained intact for the public good, trade became freer, the budget was balanced, the economy was strong, and the government ran a surplus that could have been used to begin paying down the national debt. Had the Clinton agenda continued to run its course, we would have had such atrocities as a Social Security lockbox, removing Social Security funds from the general revenue, both preventing massive tax increases on the population to pay benefits to future retirees and forcing the state to tighten its belt in other ways, such as the minimization of pork, which would have been even more minimal had the Clintonian line item veto remained constitutional.
Now, of course this agenda was in large part the product of Clinton-Gingrich compromises that the former president slyly took ownership of. But it’s also true that the 2008 version of Clintonism seemed to sound a lot more sensible than Obama’s flashy new leftism or the low-tax populism being pushed by the Republicans. During Hillary’s primary campaign, we learned how the New York senator would have fought for lower gas prices for Americans by taking on OPEC. Something tells me that President Hillary Clinton would never have genuflected to the disgusting House of Saud the way our current president did, an event that the right-wing media foolishly refused to tackle due to its emasculation over Wright, Ayers, and all of the other culturally-charged issues during last year’s presidential race. In fact, no one could deny that Hillary was the grown-up on foreign policy in her debates with Obama and other Democrats last year. And on economics, Hillary’s surrogates were sounding downright…conservative. Her husband, with his usual charm and tact, explained that while we are a country burdened with massive debt, most of the individual debt is due to investments such as mortgages and student loans, and that while more debtor protection is needed during a time such as this, this sort of debt is fundamentally a good thing because it means our society is becoming more educated, people are acquiring appreciable assets, and that all of this will lead to long-term growth as long as we can make it through this rough patch. Similarly, Ed Rendell was on the airwaves stumping for Hillary about a year ago saying that free trade remains a good thing and that the solution to outsourcing is better education and job training so that businesses can hire the kids on the streets of Philly to be computer programmers instead of importing highly-skilled foreign workers into the U.S.
Had a prominent Republican explained economics this way, the Left would have attacked him for being foolish and heartless and the Right would have excommunicated him for daring to suggest a further governmental role in education or creditor/debtor relationships. And why wouldn’t they? The Obama Administration wants to get on with nationalizing the economy and the stale Republican leadership in Congress responds to Obama’s deficits with righteous indignation and then responds with a budget calling for — wait for it — more tax cuts. Stick a fork in this party. At least Mark Sanford stays consistent: the problem with Obama’s budget is debt, not taxes.
The Republican Party seems to exist primarily to go through the motions, hoping to win back power by default and continue tending to its sacred cows. But that’s no way to reach majority status. The president’s approval rating remains in the 60s, which is also where the Republican Party’s unfavorable rating has settled. That’s a one-party state. The only way out of that is for Republicans to present a domestic and foreign policy alternative to Obama-ism that is consistent with Americans’ present-day attitudes and concerns. The American Exceptionalist mild hawkishness and high-tech New Economy vibe of Clintonism was getting high marks from even conservatives a year ago during the primaries. Would it really be so bad for Republicans to take this route? Is the Mississippi River populism of Huckabee truly more “conservative” than this strategy?
Assuredly the right-wing commentariat will accuse me at this point of a veiled call for a socially liberal GOP, despite my silence on social issues for the entirety of this post. But that’s not what I’m doing at all. Indeed, I am not at all sympathetic to Clinton’s judicial appointments, and I believe that Alito and Roberts are probably the two best things to come out of the horrid Bush years. And given the vibrancy and energy behind the pro-life movement in this country, the GOP needs to continue to be the pro-life party, though there’s no reason for litmus tests or absolutism. But it’s also true that I see gimmicks such as abstinence-only education and Justice Department investigations into adult pornography as just that — gimmicks unworthy of taxpayer time or dollars and areas where government should have no say or control over the lives of individuals. A revived Republicanism that drops the hokey culture warrior schtick in favor of a philosophy of individual freedom is one that would be welcomed by me and lots of others. As for the notion that without calls for teaching religion in science class, nothing would distinguish Republicans from Democrats in the minds of culturally conservative voters, I beg to differ. There are TONS of cultural issues where Republicans could run circles around Democrats based on the sensibilities of the average American voter. The problem is that Republican strategists largely reside in conservative echo chambers that exist against the backdrop of very liberal cities such as New York and DC — a cocoon within a cocoon, if you will. As such, they’ve lost the antenna they once had, when Rush dominated the airwaves during the first two years of the Clinton Administration, helping bring Newt to power.
Where oh where were the talking heads when President Obama bowed to the Saudis? Don’t conservatives realize that this is exactly the sort of thing they should pounce on: the submission of the American president to a regime that funds Islamist terrorism, jacks up our oil prices, and prevents its citizens from exercising their individual freedom? These sorts of things are precisely what offend broader American political and cultural sensibilities. Why not latch onto it? Because it’s not a wedge issue that divides the country exactly in half? Is that the only game the Republicans know how to play in this post-Rovian world?
The British Tories may or may not defeat the hapless Gordon Brown on their merits. And Tony Blair may or may not be the right model for them to emulate in the U.K. But here in the U.S., I can envision futures far worse for the Republican Party than a judicially conservative, inclusively pro-life party with an economic and foreign policy that has its roots in the Clinton-Gingrich years.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warned Monday that governments should not pursue dogmatic solutions to the financial crisis at the risk of the most vulnerable, saying that is what the Nazis did.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, he said Hitler’s movement was based on a system of principles that “worked quite consistently once you accepted that quite a lot of people that you might have thought mattered as human beings actually didn’t”.
Williams, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, said that in the current climate, “what looked like a principled defence of some of our economic assumptions… seems more ragged and vulnerable than it once did”.
Translation: defending the free market = Nazism.
Before anyone thinks that this guy might just have made an unfortunate aberration should remember this gem, from just about a year ago:
Dr Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.
For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.
He says Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.
“That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a western democracy,” he said.
“But [AK: Yes, there’s always the ‘but,’ now isn’t there? I think we know who the butt is in this article…] I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that.”
Defending the free market at a time like this is akin to Nazism, but the sharia, guidelines that are antithetical to modern values as can be, is worth implementing to foster social cohesion. Do I even need to provide commentary on this one?
Alex Knepper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aides to George W.Bush, former Reagan White House staff and friends of John McCain have all told The Sunday Telegraph that they not only expect to lose on November 4, but also believe that Mr Obama is poised to win a crushing mandate.
They believe he will be powerful enough to remake the American political landscape with even more ease than Ronald Reagan did in 1980.
The prospect of an electoral rout has unleashed a bitter bout of recriminations both within the McCain campaign and the wider conservative movement, over who is to blame and what should be done to salvage the party’s future.
Mr McCain is now facing calls for him to sacrifice his own dwindling White House hopes and focus on saving vulnerable Republican Senate seats which are up for grabs on the same day.
Their fear is that Democrat candidates riding on Mr Obama’s popularity may win the nine extra seats they need in the Senate to give them unfettered power in Congress.
If the Democrat majority in the Senate is big enough – at least 60 seats to 40 – the Republicans will be unable to block legislation by use of a traditional filibuster – talking until legislation runs out of time. No president has had the support of such a majority since Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election. President Reagan achieved his political transformation partly through the power of his personality.
A private memo on the likely result of the congressional elections, leaked to Politico, has the Republicans losing 37 seats.
Ed Rollins, who masterminded Ronald Reagan’s second victory in 1984, said the election is already over and predicted: “This is going to turn into a landslide.”
A former White House official who still advises President Bush told The Sunday Telegraph: “McCain hasn’t won independents, nor has he inspired the base. It’s the worst of all worlds. He is dragging everyone else down with him. He needs to deploy people and money to salvage what we can in Congress.”
The prospect of defeat has unleashed what insiders describe as an “every man for himself” culture within the McCain campaign, with aides in a “circular firing squad” as blame is assigned.
More profoundly, it sparked the first salvoes in a Republican civil war with echoes of Tory infighting during their years in the political wilderness.
One wing believes the party has to emulate David Cameron, by adapting the issues to fight on and the positions they hold, while the other believes that a back to basics approach will reconnect with heartland voters and ensure success. Modernisers fear that would leave Republicans marginalised, like the Tories were during the Iain Duncan Smith years, condemning them to opposition for a decade.
Mr Frum argues that just as America is changing, so the Republican Party must adapt its economic message and find more to say about healthcare and the environment if it is to survive.
He said: “I don’t know that there’s a lot of realism in the Republican Party. We have an economic message that is largely irrelevant to most people.
“Cutting personal tax rates is not the answer to everything. The Bush years were largely prosperous but while national income was up the numbers for most individuals were not. Republicans find that a hard fact to process.”
Other Republicans have jumped ship completely. Ken Adelman, a Pentagon adviser on the Iraq war, Matthew Dowd, who was Mr Bush’s chief re-election strategist, and Scott McClellan, Mr Bush’s former press secretary, have all endorsed Mr Obama.
But the real bile has been saved for those conservatives who have balked at the selection of Sarah Palin.
In addition to Mr Frum, who thinks her not ready to be president, Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s greatest speechwriter and a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, condemned Mr McCain’s running mate as a “symptom and expression of a new vulgarisation of American politics.” Conservative columnist David Brooks called her a “fatal cancer to the Republican Party”.
The backlash that ensued last week revealed the fault lines of the coming civil war.
Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin’s critics as “cocktail party conservatives” who “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: “There’s going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?”
Mr Frum thinks that Mrs Palin’s brand of cultural conservatism appeals only to a dwindling number of voters.
He said: “She emerges from this election as the probable frontrunner for the 2012 nomination. Her supporters vastly outnumber her critics. But it will be extremely difficult for her to win the presidency.”
Mr Nuzzo, who believes this election is not a re-run of the 1980 Reagan revolution but of 1976, when an ageing Gerald Ford lost a close contest and then ceded the leadership of the Republican Party to Mr Reagan.
He said: “Win or lose, there is a ready made conservative candidate waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is not the new Iain Duncan Smith, she is the new Ronald Reagan.” On the accuracy of that judgment, perhaps, rests the future of the Republican Party.
I wonder how many old Tories were calling IDS the new Thatcher in the wake of the rise of Blairism.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with liking Sarah Palin. But to proclaim anyone to be the new Ronald Reagan misses the point entirely. There was only one Ronald Reagan, and that was the man himself, and that’s what makes him special. Republicans who yearn for the political environment of 1980 are just as silly as Democrats who think that if we erect barriers to trade, we can all work in the economy of the 1950s again. The world has changed since 1980. There’s no Soviet Union to run against. Most Americans today don’t feel that government is the main impediment to living a halfway decent middle class life. And Americans no longer fear that a liberal government is forcing social change on them, as American society is changing from the bottom up. Reagan and Thatcher were candidates whose ideas fit the issues of their time, but three decades later, the Anglosphere is facing different sorts of problems that require a different sort of response and a new set of ideas. British Conservatives took more than a decade to figure this out, and I suspect Republicans will too.
Starting on November 5th, however, it’s war.
In Part 2 I’ll now describe how David Cameron went about the process of modernising the Conservative Party. Some Race42008 readers may be hesitant about pursuing the initial Cameron approach that I will now describe. In truth, I was hesitant at the time about a leader who seemed intent on ignoring areas of policy so important to many Conservatives, myself included, in favour of positioning on new areas – the environment, public services and ‘social justice’. This is not a recipe for certain success; but the GOP should at least look to how a political Party can reinvent itself without the need for departing from its principles.
Clause 4 Moment: Blood on the Carpet
The first aim of the Cameron leadership was the so-called ‘de-toxification’ of the Conservative brand. During the 2005 UK General Election, several ‘blind-tasting’ polls showed that when questioned on policy, voters liked and preferred many areas Conservative policy to that of Labour. However when the respondents were informed that the policy they had just approved was actually a Tory policy, they soon changed their mind. Essentially, it didn’t matter what policy the Conservative Party adopted, people simply didn’t want to hear what they had to say. They had, in an oft-repeated phrase of the moment, ‘lost the right to be heard’. Like the GOP today, there were millions of voters who were not only unlikely to actively cast their vote the Tory party, but who were actually repelled by the thought of the Tory party and voting for it. Even most casual observer can perceive this attitude in American today amongst large numbers of voters who traditionally would have least considered voting Republican.
Some of David Cameron’s first and most difficult steps in re-earning the respect of the electorate were inspired by that arch-adversary of the Conservative Party, a certain Mr Blair. When Tony Blair ascended to the Labour leadership in 1994, needed bold and visible gesture to the party and the electorate that Labour had indeed changed and the Labour were once again fit to govern. He did so by picking a fight with his own party. He chose to fight it on the issue of Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution, which stated:
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
In disposing of Clause 4, Tony Blair and the Labour party formally abandoned socialism and changed British politics forever. Many of the Cameron’s closest advisors were of the opinion that David Cameron needed his own ‘Clause 4 moment’ and that they needed to show the electorate ‘blood on the carpet’ to prove that they had fought to change the party. In the event, Cameron either couldn’t find a single issue as totemic on which to fight, or simply chose not to. But he did pick a number of smaller issues on which to take on his own party. Commitments to tax cuts (note-commitment to tax cuts, not ruling them out), Conservative candidate selection and climate change were all issues on which the Cameron fought against the party. Can the GOP afford to alienate the social-conservatives, or the fiscal-conservatives or the whatever-else-conservatives? Probably not, but exchanging some of the base for some swing voters was never really what Cameronism is about, despite first appearances, though he was occasionally prepared to take the risk.
The ‘Nasty Party’ image had to go and so with it the politics of opposition to Labour’s policies on immigration, crime, tax and Europe. There was to be no major shift on policy on these issues, but there was a significant change of emphasis. He posed with huskies in the Arctic Circle while speaking about climate change and he cuddled puppies; he chose to speak out about social responsibility, healthcare and global warming instead. I‘ve often heard these subjects described in the US as ‘mommy’ issues and ‘daddy’ issues. The Cameron approaches was this- to win an election and form a government, the Tories must care about, and more importantly, be seen to care about ‘mommy’ issues. It is indicative that in every general election since 1945, a period of Conservative electoral dominance, the Conservatives won the female vote. The only exceptions? The three big defeats of the last 11 years. As can be seen in the 2008 election cycle, the Republicans, with the exception of the time of the Palin bounce, have been trailing heavily amongst female voters.
Cameron rightly assumed that the electorate knew the Conservative Party could be relied on to deliver tax cuts and be tougher on crime and immigration. They didn’t need to keep driving home the point as the electorate had already ‘got it’. Instead they needed to be reassured that the Conservatives could be trusted on welfare, healthcare and education, and these were the issues the Conservatives needed to hammer home. Looking again to the 2008 Presidential election, I firmly believe that the electorate know that McCain is the better man to keep the nation safe. They know that the Republicans are more likely to bring immigration under control. They know that they will be more likely to deliver tax cuts and they know that they will appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately thanks to Bush they can no longer assume that Republicans will be the party of fiscal responsibility, and like the Tories losing the mantle of economic competence in the early 90s, that will be hard win back.
The point here is- if the electorate already know this, why spend time and money talking about it? Let them know what you can do on all the other issues they care about.
Base Issues: Euro-scepticism and Abortion
A good example of base issue becoming disproportionately important is the issues of the EU for the Tory base and abortion for the GOP base. Both are issues that the base obsess about, yet nothing of huge significance has been achieved in our direction since Roe v. Wade in 1973, or the 1972 European Communities Act for us Tories (in fact it has got a lot worse for us in the intervening years). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop campaigning for these important issues, but we must see it in perspective.
Now I am an ardent Eurosceptic, and if I could, I’d talk about Britain’s loss of sovereignty to the EU all the time, but unfortunately most voters do not prioritise it, and don’t want to hear Tories like me obsessing over it. When he first came to the leadership, Cameron gave a few quiet assurances that he was indeed also a Eurosceptic, and then he left the issue and has avoided returning to it as much as possible. I feel sure that the (hopefully) incoming Cameron government will be the most Eurosceptic British government in at least 30 years. Perhaps the GOP should take this approach? I appreciate many of Race42008 readers will feel very strongly about abortion (on which I sympathize with them) or gay marriage (which I don’t) or a number of other base issues. But these are not issues upon which elections rest, and unless you’re winning elections, you’re not going to be able to achieve anything. Here’s my advice – Let the primary candidates give brief reassurances that they will indeed appoint conservative judges, trust them and park the issue and talk about what most voters actually prioritise. Healthcare solutions. Education. Welfare. Whatever. Prioritise what the voters in the centre prioritise. Trust the base, and let the base trust you. A party that is always talking to itself can’t be talking to those voters who really do need to be communicated with.
One Nation Conservatism
Cameron has always placed great importance in looking and feeling at ease with the modern world but another approach Cameron adopted was found looking to the past. The idea of ‘One Nation Conservatism’ is an old and simple one- that the Government governs for all of Britain and all Britons, and whether or not they are likely to vote for you, you have to address their concerns. Conservatives need to win urban voters in Britain’s big cities, and northern towns, just as the Republicans will need to claw back the North East, not because they need to win Vermont or New York to win an election, but because they need to be seen to be concerned for areas that are not traditionally Conservative or Republican to make them electable in swing states and constituencies. In fact, it is not dissimilar to approach the Democrats have tried this election, and while that has caused them to fritter away much of their fundraising advantage, perhaps it has set them up well for the future.
Now, after 3 years of Cameron, the actual policies of the Conservative Party don’t look all that different from those of the 2005 election manifesto. Essentially, despite the marketing, solidly conservative. Then, the Tories often trailed by 10 points in the polls. Now, although with the help of a hapless Prime Minister, they are regularly 20 points ahead and look odds on for a sizable majority in Parliament at the next election. Regardless of the unpopularity of the present government, David Cameron has succeeded in changing the attitude of the electorate – the Tories have now earned the right to be heard. The GOP cannot assume that eventually dissatisfaction with the Democrats alone will propel them back into government. The GOP needs to look to what it has said to the millions of Americans in the North East, West Coast and all over the country that have turned away from the party over the last 20 years.
In Part Three I’ll leave branding and begin to discuss what conservatism means to David Cameron and the modern Conservative Party.
Race42008 is delighted to present the first in a series of essays on David Cameron and the state of Conservatism in the UK from reader Richard Williams. Conservatives here in America may well find themselves in a similar position to the one faced by the Tories following the 1997 elections come January of 2009. Taking a look at how Conservatives in the UK rebuilt their party may provide we Conservatives in America with valuable lessons as to how to mount a successful comeback of our own.-KWN
Firstly I’d like to introduce myself as a libertarian-minded conservative on the right of the UK Conservative party, with (obviously) an interest in US politics and a belief in the importance of good GOP-Tory relations. I’m 22 years old and so my formative political years have been during a period of sustained Conservative misfortune.
Secondly, I didn’t vote for David Cameron for leader of the Conservative party, and I remain unconvinced by some policy positions under him. However, I do appreciate his immense ability as a politician and because of my growing satisfaction in him I do believe that the GOP would do well to understand what it could learn from the Cameron Experiment and which parts of it could be transplanted into the American political situation.
Part 1: Background
In this first part, I’d like to first give a brief background to the UK political scene for the last 15 years. I’ll restrain from making too many comparisons to the US and the GOP initially, but I believe you will begin to see the parallels I am drawing. This article will be most relevant in the seemingly likely event of McCain losing, but there are lessons to be learned whatever the outcome in November.
If the current state of the polls are anything to go by, the GOP may soon be facing a situation that members of the Conservative Party such as myself will be all too familiar with. In 1997, after 18 years in the political ascendancy, the Tories met with electoral disaster at the hands of Tony Blair and ‘New’ Labour. Amid (often well-founded) accusations of sleaze and economic incompetence (does this sound familiar already?) the Tories slumped from holding a thin but workable majority of 21 in the House of Commons in 1992 to being reduced to a rump of just 165 seats and a huge Labour majority of 167.
Now, I don’t believe that the Republicans are going to lose by such a landslide, and perhaps not at all, but the real political implications of losing could be much, much greater. You see, Labour’s victory was won on the Tories’ ground of economic competence and faith in the market – Labour had to completely repudiate huge sections of their previous electoral platforms to become even remotely electable. Unfortunately for you, big government is back in fashion and if Obama wins, it is likely the Democrats will have a mandate to govern as liberals through tax’n’spend redistribution, increased control of the markets and further government bail-outs. And that’s before we consider the national security issues at stake.
From 1994 until 2005, the Tory ‘brand’ had all the toxicity and negative connotations that the GOP suffers from now. Corruption, sleaze, incompetence and intra-party infighting were all intrinsically linked to the Conservative Party, and any good policy ideas announced were soon drowned out by the anti-Tory tide.
The response of the Conservative Party was to adopt a pretty crude form of populism focused on a few key issues with which the party’s position resonated with the electorate, primarily – Eurosceptism*, immigration, and crime. All issues that the electorate had more in common with the Conservatives with than Labour. The result? Some small victories as the ever-expedient New Labour leadership shifted to the right to neutralise the threat, yet they were few and somewhat pyrrhic as the Tories crashed to two further big election defeats in 2001 and 2005. Pyrrhic because this approach not only failed to deliver any electoral progress, but also added another charge that continued the contamination of the Conservative ‘brand’ – that the Conservative Party were, in the words of former Tory Chairwoman Theresa May, the ‘Nasty Party’. In other words: against everything but for nothing, and with no clear narrative or vision for Britain.
In the summer of 2005, following another big defeat, the conservative-populist Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard (one of the main causes of the Tory-GOP schism of recent years) stepped down, forcing yet another leadership contest. It came down to a choice between the favourite – experienced, right wing and ever so slightly maverick David Davis, and a young, centrist upstart that we now know as the next Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron. I voted for Davis. It’s not a decision I particularly regret, but I will accept that from my point of view Davis was good on policy, but bad at politics.
Cameron ran on the platform of ‘modernising’ the Conservative Party and ‘retaking the centre-ground’ from Labour. The traditionalist, aging Tory membership, tired of losing and wowed by a smooth speech delivered without notes or teleprompter at the 2005 Conservative Party Conference, surprised the media establishment by opting for the younger man by a margin of over 2 to1 in the final ballot. The Cameron experience was born of a frustration with losing, and a fear that with the Liberal Democrat Party in their strongest situation for 70 years, if the Conservative Party lost another election, it could be consigned to the electoral garbage-can forever. The party membership voluntarily, and even enthusiastically, looked to a young man who had been a Member of Parliament for just 4 years to reconcile the Tory party with modern politics, and as the ‘Cameroons’ would say, with modern Britain. David Cameron was already the acceptable face of conservatism; his challenge was to make the party as a whole acceptable too.
Right now, the GOP has not even lost this election, let alone three in a row by such margins. However it is clear that the GOP ‘brand’ has much of the toxicity of the 1994-2005 Tory party, and that US Conservatism is in need of invigoration if it is to avoid the self indulgence, infighting and lack of narrative that afflicted the Tories and sustain itself through an Obama presidency and beyond.
Republicans have already shown some desire to put pragmatism before pure principle by selecting McCain. But his relative electoral success (as opposed to the generic GOP ticket) rests more on McCain’s strong personal appeal, aided by a lack of credible conservatives with centrist appeal, than a coherent platform for the next 4,8 or 20 years of conservatism and the Republican Party. Unfortunately, the lack of coherence in the Bush message, combined with the unpopularity of the party, means nobody with a clear message (well Ron Paul’s message is clear… but) is willing to make the running in what would be something of a political suicide mission.
If the Cameron experience has any transferable worth in the States, the lesson must be that the reform must begin now, not waiting for 3 big defeats as we have suffered in Britain. If Obama gets in, it may be a big uphill task to unseat him in 2012, but as the Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby said after failing to improve the Tories’ fortunes in 2005, “you can’t fatten a pig on market day”. Unlike Barack Obama I’ll refrain from taking the porcine political metaphor any further and I won’t be applying any lipstick. The GOP does need to rediscover some of its core principles, the spirit of Reagan or ’94, but this is also a matter of marketing the brand. And here David Cameron may be the man to look to.
In Part 2 I will explain how he turned around the Tories.
*As I shall discuss in the next section, Britain’s relationship with the EU has been probably the biggest single issue with the Conservative base, and I shall liken it to the GOP base’s interest in Abortion.