Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chaos in the UK

I have a piece up at Pajamas Media on the Lib-Lab pact that wasn't. Needless to say it's being overtaken by events - I had to rewrite it twice and things have moved on again since. Outside the regular news outlets, good places to go for reaction are the Spectator's Coffee House blog and Conservative Home.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cameron may be a Tory McCain, but Britain still needs a Conservative victory tonight

A year and a half ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table in the dead of night as it became clear that Barack Obama was going to become the 44th President of the United States, with large majorities in both houses of Congress.

The polls had been pointing to an Obama victory, but I was still hopeful that John McCain could turn things around. When the end came I was crestfallen. I didn't know how I'd be able to get out of bed the next day (or later that day to be exact), never mind make it through four years of an Obama presidency.

And I'm not even American. I'm English (which is why it was the dead of night) and I was following the news at Hot Air, Pajamas Media, Ace and other conservative websites. As a British conservative, ill-served by domestic politics, I get a vicarious thrill from following events across the pond, where conservatism remains a powerful force. And while I may be more of a tea drinker than a Tea Partier, unlike your current President I do happen to believe that in an increasingly unpredictable and dangerous world, America represents the last, best hope of mankind.

Of course, if someone had told me that Obama and his allies would overplay their hand to such an extent, and exhibit such arrogance, tone-deafness and incompetence, that 18 months later the President's approval numbers would be in the tank and his party would be staring down the barrel of massive losses in the mid-term elections, I might have slept a little easier that night.

But few other than the most optimistic Republicans could have predicted their party would be back in the game so soon. While McCain was far from the ideal candidate, most Republicans would - if they're honest and without the wisdom of hindsight - have taken victory on the night over the possibility that Obama and the Democrats might squander their mandate.

There were others, however, who insisted that Republicans were better off losing than winning with Maverick's brand of conservatism-lite. And it appears they were right – that thumping at the polls is now looking like the best thing that could have happened to the party. The Democrats have indulged their innate tendency to overreach, and a fractured conservative movement is coalescing around shared values of limited government and fiscal responsibility.

Many British conservatives are similarly conflicted about today's election. Cameron, like McCain, is far from the ideal candidate. In the process of trying to make his party electable again he's lost touch with traditional Tory supporters and cast aside core Tory policies, pandering instead to the metropolitan elites in the worlds of media and public relations which he used to inhabit.

So should we hope for a Tory win, or for defeat, gambling that a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition would quickly fall apart, and that the Conservatives, led either by a bolder Cameron or a new leader more in touch with Tory values and voters, would sweep to victory in a second election six months or a year from now?

Some commentators are firmly of the belief that only a crushing defeat can save the Conservative party in the long run. In a scathing opinion piece for The Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens, the ideologically estranged brother of Christopher, urged readers "not to fall for the shimmering, greasy, cynical fraud which is the Cameron project" and warned that doing so would "destroy all real hope of change for the better".

While Hitchens is in the minority among conservative pundits, he has a point. Cameron has moved the party to the center, softening its stance on crime, Europe, immigration and other issues, and the Tory base feels it has been abandoned as the party tries to woo back the moderate conservatives it lost to Tony Blair and New Labour.

There is, however, little to suggest that a defeated Conservative party would undergo a resurgence akin to that being enjoyed by the Republicans.

It's unlikely that a Labour/Lib Dem government would overreach in the way Obama and the Democrats have, and there's no single issue which might generate mass opposition in the way healthcare has. Neither do we have the same conflicts over the size of government, the relationship between the state and the citizen, or federalism versus states' rights.

Labour would be so desperate to cling to power, and the Lib Dems so keen to exploit their first taste of it in a generation, that they could well make a coalition work. Labour's union-friendly big government policies and the Lib Dems' left-wing social policies – soft on immigration and crime, pro-Europe, virulently anti-Israel – are not a bad fit. The unpopular Gordon Brown would soon make way for a new Labour Prime Minister who meets with the approval of Lib Dem boy wonder Nick Clegg.

Even if the marriage of convenience doesn't last, and Britons find themselves going to the polls again, it will be because of the economy - and the country will be looking to the Conservatives to sort out the finances, not to crack down on 'hoodies' or illegal immigrants, or sever ties with Europe.

But if Labour and the Lib Dems remain in power for four or five years, the liberal-left consensus that already holds sway in academia, the legal profession, the arts and the media (a majority of British newspapers have come out for the Tories, but their influence is not what it once was) will only become more deeply entrenched.

Broadly speaking, Britons are center-right on economic issues, and center-left on social issues. That's where both the political culture and the wider culture is at, and there's only so much you can do to influence the culture when you're out of power. How purists like Hitchens think a born-again Tory party could begin to reclaim power in a country that will have moved several notches further to the left is unclear.

It's true that we're in uncharted waters. The emergence of the Lib Dems and the prospect of hung parliaments has shifted the parameters of British politics. A left-wing coalition could prove such a disaster that Britain might once again look to a Thatcheresque Conservative party, but it's unlikely.

And if the Tories lose today, there may well be no going back. They need to get a foot in the door, and supporters must hope that at least some of the centrist rebranding is political posturing necessitated by circumstances, and that once they're in office the suppressed conservative instincts of Cameron and his team will come to the fore.

If the Tories win (they're projected to get the most seats, but fall short of an overall majority, in which case Cameron is expected to attempt to lead a minority government), I hope American conservatives will feel it worth celebrating. British conservatives may have stopped aspiring to the standards to which their US counterparts hold their leaders, but we're living in a hostile environment, and we're doing our best.

Pundits dismiss the notion of a 'special relationship' these days, but I'd like to think that it'll take more than Obama and the European Union to break the ties which bind us, and that with the Conservatives in power on this side of the pond and, God willing, Republicans returning to power on Capitol Hill - and perhaps, in 2012 in the White House - we can rebuild an alliance that has served both countries well.

I don't expect Americans to stay up late biting their nails (even with the time difference, the closeness of the race means it's unlikely the outcome will be known before at least 3am UK time). And I don't expect too many US conservatives will be as distressed by a Tory defeat as I was by a Republican one.

But I'd like to think you'll be rooting for us.