For quite a while now, prominent media voices have called David Cameron, leader of the U.K. Conservative Party, the model that American Republicans should emulate.
David Frum declared a speech by David Cameron to be “A Glimpse of the GOP Future.”
Jacob Weisberg of Slate offered a “Republican Rescue Plan,” consisting of “Step 1: Dump Cheney. Step 2: Call David Cameron.”
At U.S. News, Peter Roff wrote, “Republicans Should Follow British Tory Leader David Cameron’s Populist Lead.”
David Brooks: “If any Republican is looking for a way forward, start by doing what they’re doing across the Atlantic.”
The golden boy stumbled a bit once the actual election started. Back in July, the Conservatives were ahead by 18; their lead shrunk to 1 percentage point and is now back up to 8 percent. This once looked like it was going to be a Tory rout, and now there’s serious talk of a hung parliament, where no party wins a majority.
The short speech from Cameron that Frum links to is pretty good, but most of the time when I hear David Cameron speak, it sounds pretty bland. There seems to be a hesitancy about drawing hard policy distinctions with Labour. I’m sure a lot of folks on the right will be suspicious about Cameron hiring Obama consultants to prepare for the television debate. A lot of his message seems to be a variation of “yes, we can”: “Where is it written we have to put up with more debt, more taxes, and more waste? … We can have the best state schools in the whole world! … We’re only going to crack crime when we all recognize our responsibilities!” The goals are all fine, but the details are fuzzy on why David Cameron, and only David Cameron, is the guy who can get it done.
In the end, a choice in politics is about distinction, and I wonder how many Conservatives are willing to put forth ideas that Labour members could never accept. If you don’t, the political process turns into endless rounds of “me-too-ism”, where one of the main arguments put forth by the opposition is that the governing party keeps stealing their ideas. If all the parties will adopt the same policies, there’s not too much point in voting, is there? A party has to be able to convince the electorate of its uniqueness; i.e., “here are the ideas that you get by electing us, and from no other party.”
Then again, perhaps this is my own personal taste speaking, and I’m committing a U.K. version of the Howell Raines Populist Fallacy. I suppose if you cover politics long enough, you get exhausted from all the cliches in ads and messaging: the candidate standing in a classroom talking about the importance of education, walking around a job site with a hard hat, the now ubiquitous stock footage of wind turbines, American flags, black and white slow-motion footage of the opponent. Whenever a candidate spends a lot of time talking about what they want, I figure they have little to say about how they’ll do it. You want good schools that educate our children? Swell, pal, everybody wants that. Less crime, more jobs, less waste, a cleaner environment, a safer world… in the end, everybody runs on the same promises. The real question before voters is who they trust to achieve it, and what policies they think will make it happen.
This is not meant to be a blanket dismissal of the Conservative Party; obviously, you don’t get much more contrast than Daniel Hannan tearing into Prime Minister George Brown. And this video on the U.K. Conservative Party’s web site, touting the policies and effects of a victory by the “Hung Parliament Party”, is sharp, funny, and effective: