Politics & Policy

The Revolt of the Wingers

Labour leader Ed Milliband
Recent political trends in the U.S. and U.K. closely mirror one another.

In recent times, British and American politics have often flowed in parallel currents.

Margaret Thatcher’s election as prime minister in 1979 was followed by Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980. As Charles Moore notes in his biography of Thatcher, the two worked together, albeit with some friction, reversing the tide of statism at home and ending the Soviet empire abroad.

#ad#They seemed to establish British Conservatives and American Republicans as their nation’s natural ruling parties.

In time, Democrats and Labour responded. Bill Clinton’s “New Democrat” politics prevailed in 1992, and Tony Blair’s New Labourites, adapting Clinton’s strategy, won the first of three big national landslides in 1997.

But after any party is in power for an extended period, its wingers start to get restive – right-wing Republicans and Conservatives, left-wing Democrats and Labourites.

They complain that their leaders failed to enact needed changes and betrayed core beliefs. They take their party’s past electoral success for granted and push for a return to ideological purity.

An internal rebellion in the Conservative party overthrew Thatcher in December 1990, and the hatreds it inspired festered for years.

Thatcher’s successor, John Major, did win another term in May 1992. But he was hectored by Thatcherite true believers more obdurate than Thatcher had been in office. This intraparty civil war raged through three electoral defeats and subsided only after David Cameron was elected party leader in 2005.

In America, anti-tax conservatives rebelled at George H. W. Bush’s acceptance of tax increases in 1990, and Reagan speechwriter Pat Buchanan launched a quixotic challenge of Bush in the 1992 primaries.

That, plus Ross Perot’s independent candidacy, led to Bush’s loss to Clinton that November. Right-wing frustration promptly found targets in the Clinton tax increases and Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan, and Newt Gingrich’s Republicans captured the House in 1994.

Then Bill Clinton’s successful negotiations with Gingrich caused discontent on the Democratic left. It supported Clinton on impeachment but gave 2.9 million votes to Ralph Nader in 2000, which helped defeat Al Gore.

George W. Bush’s bipartisan achievements on education and Medicare and continued spending increases caused distress on the Republican right. It found a voice after he left office in the tea-party movement, whose anger was directed at “establishment” Republicans as well as at President Obama.

Republican primary voters chose provocative candidates, some of whom lost winnable seats. Only now do primary voters seem to be simmering down and trying to pick general-election winners.

Blair’s victories came with diminishing percentages and turnout. On the left, there was increasing rage at Blair’s support of the Iraq War, and today Blair is virtually a non-person, unmentioned if not reviled, in the party he led. No one follows his example.

After Labour’s defeat in 2010, the party rejected as leader the Blairite David Milliband in favor of his brother Ed Milliband, who more faithfully represented the views of their Marxist intellectual father.

Milliband — “Red Ed” to the Conservative press — has led his party sharply to the left, backing higher taxes on high earners, a mansion tax on big properties, and a freeze on energy prices. He’s even considering renationalizing the railroads though privatization has been widely accepted.

At the behest of the teachers’ unions, Labour opposes Education Minister Michael Gove’s “free schools” (similar to American charter schools), despite their success with disadvantaged students. The latest Labour TV ad depicts Conservatives as snobbish “toffs” — old-fashioned class warfare.

Milliband’s critics say his strategy is to nail down 35 percent of the vote — quite possibly enough to win in a nation with competitive minor parties and parliamentary district boundaries that heavily handicap Conservatives.

An obvious question: Why is Milliband’s Labour party abandoning a governing strategy that was so successful under Tony Blair? Another question: Why would American Democrats such as New York mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Elizabeth Warren abandon a strategy that was so successful under Bill Clinton?

One answer is that they’re acting out of genuine conviction. Another is that circumstances have changed.

Blair and Clinton adapted after their parties suffered multiple serious defeats. Today’s Labour and Democratic leftists act out of frustration with how their parties have governed.

Party politics tends to attract people of strong beliefs, Left and Right. Until they get whacked repeatedly by defeat, they’ll try to advance them as far as they think they can.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2014 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com

Michael Barone — Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular


Is Tribalism Really on the Rise? Meh.

‘By now we all understand that America is in the grip of political tribalism,” Yale professor Amy Chua wrote in the February 22 New York Times. “We lament and condemn this phenomenon even as we voraciously engage in it.” It’s a familiar refrain, is it not? Chua’s widely discussed new book on the ... Read More
Economy & Business

Two Conservative Causes, in Conflict

Conservatives have argued for decades that the capital-gains tax should be indexed to inflation. When George H. W. Bush was president, some conservatives argued that he could interpret the tax laws in a way that let him adopt this policy without a vote of Congress. Now that Larry Kudlow is director of the ... Read More

If Amy Wax Is Wrong, Let’s See the Data

Regarding the kerfuffle Jason Richwine addressed here earlier, the economist Glenn Loury has posted an impassioned plea to his Facebook page. Loury, you may recall, hosts the video blog where Wax made her controversial claim that black students at Penn Law School rarely graduate in the top half of the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Nazis, Rap Songs, and McDougals

In 1991, Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, and David Duke, a Republican, ran for governor of Louisiana. There was a memorable bumper sticker: “Vote for the Crook, Not the Nazi.” The crook, in fact, won -- beating the Nazi (and Klansman) by about 61 percent to 39 percent. I thought of this when contemplating ... Read More
Politics & Policy

San Francisco Bans Fur Sales

San Francisco has banned the sale of fur. From the CBS-SF story: San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of fur clothing and products. Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure that prohibits the sale of fur clothes, accessories, even souvenirs in stores and ... Read More

For the First Time in Weeks, Relief Sweeps over Austin

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Austin bomber is done in by one of his own devices; some new numbers suggest that a small but significant portion of Trump voters are tiring of the chaos and aren’t showing up to support other Republicans in 2018; and the mixed news for conservatives coming out of the ... Read More

The Baleful Effect of #MeToo on Campus

Remember the series of hurricanes that pounded the Caribbean last summer? Something like that has been occurring on college campuses, as they're hit by one destructive mania after another: diversity, Title IX, anti-speech protests. Now it's the #MeToo Movement. In this Martin Center article, British academic ... Read More