Wednesday, December 07, 2005


The UK's Tory Spelling

For several years, the UK Conservative Party has been almost as hapless as the Democrats in America. Desperate to get back into power after being stuck in the wilderness since 1997, on Tuesday, the party elected a young (39) MP to lead it in the impending post-Blair era.

I asked Fraser Nelson,
columnist for The Scotsman (reg. required), for his take:

It's "Morning In Britain" - this, at least, is the Reaganesque message coming from David Cameron who has stormed from out of the blue to become the new conservative leader. His message is not one of policy, but attitude: no more are the UK Conservatives anti-immigrant, or even anti-Labour. Here are his closing words...

"If you have a passion for positive politics, come and join us. If you want to build a modern, compassionate Conservative Party, come and join us. If you want me and all of us to be a voice for hope, for optimism and for change, come and join us. In this modern, compassionate Conservative Party, everyone is invited."

So its a political equivalent of Woodstock. I was at his launch, at the sense of optimism and energy was palpable. It was as if the Tories are being born again - that's certainly what they hope. A SkyTV Poll on voting at the next general election shows Cameron would beat Gordon Brown, [Prime Minister Tony] Blair's successor-apparent, in an election.

His strategy is to split Labour by supporting Blair (who believes in the market) in his many battles against Brown (who believes in the state). Americans come to Britain and see Blair as a Conservative. So does Cameron, which is why he has taken the radical step of saying he will vote with Blair when the mission is right.

Ladbrokes, UK bookmakers, have cut their odds on the Tories winning the next election to 6-4 -- the lowest odds for 13 years. Cameron doesn't stand for much - he has instincts, rather than policies - but he is willing to learn and is guided by a basic
principle: that "society is not the same thing as government" (this is, alas, a novel concept in theUK) and that he will place more trust and power in the hands of the people. You cant much argue with that.

Thank you, Mr. Nelson.


It would seem as if Mr. Cameron has learned lessons from Blair, who essentially won election in '97 by promising that "New Labour" would not undo too many of the Thatcher economic policies in his first term. To win, he had to calm a populace that was fearful that Labour would run to nationalize everything. Thus Cameron feels the need to, "first do no harm" and get the confidence of the public that the "New Conservatives" aren't planning anything too radical.

Secondly, Cameron has obviously studied George W. Bush to adopt the "modern, compassionate Conservative Party" language. It's interesting to see how that will "translate" across the pond. When first introduced in the late '90s, Bush supporters saw it as a way of transmitting that Bush was not a member of the "Leave Us Alone" coalition and recognizing that government had a role to play in
helping individuals help themselves.

Various parts of the right viewed the phrase "compassionate conservative"
somewhat suspiciously, when GWB first started using it, believing it was implicitly saying there was something wrong with adjective-free "conservatism."

Others thought it was just a euphemism for "
big-government conservatism" -- a valid point, as subsequent events have demonstrated and has been noted repeatedly and with feeling).

Meanwhile, many Democrats thought it was just a "con" -- a way for the Right
to "sell" its agenda to the media and the public (a sentiment that has persisted over the years). Post Hurricane Katrina, the Bush version of compassionate conservatism is either dead to the right, dead to the left -- or possibly making a comeback for some. Only time will tell.

But let that be a cautionary tale for the UK's right. Is it good or bad that Cameron "has instincts, rather than policies"? On the one hand, he and his party still have a few years to develop a full-fledged set of policies to lead his country. On the other hand, "instinct" is not always a perfect substitute for principle.

To end on a lighter note, and I hesitate to bring this up, but, well, someone has to. One of the things that caused the long-time Conservative Party monopoly to collapse in early '90s was the sense that the Tories were, well, um, perverts. There were a series of
sex scandals. Then, in the late '90s, the one-time great Conservative hope, former Defence Minister Michael Portillo, had his chance at the top, uh, blown, partly due to his admission to college-years alternative "experimentation".

Hasn't any Tory taken a close look at their new party leader's name?

David Cameron.

Or, alternately, "D. Cameron."

Those of literary bent may ponder the homonymic closeness of his name to a
certain work of provacative inclination by one Giovanni Boccaccio and whether it could be an omen for some "interesting" times in the Conservative Party's not-too-far future.

Stay tuned.

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