The Corner

Cameron’s Ahead, but Debates Are a Wild Card

After ducking the electorate at a number of previous opportunities, Gordon Brown has finally decided to call an election at the latest practical moment. The ConservativeHome Poll of Polls has the Tories nine points ahead of Labour. That, given an excellent ground operation in swing seats, should be just enough to give the Conservatives a majority in the House of Commons. David Cameron will become prime minister, ending 13 years of Labour rule.

During those 13 Blair-Brown years, the size of the British state has grown from about 40 percent of national income to over 50 percent. Britain has become Europeanized; dependency has extended a long way up the income scale; the good work of the Thatcher governments has largely been undone.

Cameron will not be to the liking of every U.S. Republican, but he’s much closer to American conservatism than the ruling Labour Party or the third party, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative leader promises to abolish inheritance tax for all but millionaires. He will recognize marriage in the tax system. He promises to vote for tighter abortion laws. His most radical policy is a policy of school choice that will end the monopoly of provision currently misused by local government. He also plans to produce transparent in government — publishing state contracts online so that taxpayers can see how their money is being used (or should that be “misused”?). He also pledges to introduce a U.S.-style system of elected police chiefs so Britain gets the kind of zero-tolerance policing that transformed New York City.

The big unknown in the campaign that will end on May 6 is the impact of three leadership debates. Cameron, Brown, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will fight it out on prime-time TV for 90 minutes on three separate Thursday evenings. This is the first time the British parliamentary system has had such a presidential ingredient. The three debates might buy Cameron a mandate for difficult fiscal decisions ahead, but Brown and Clegg see them as a golden opportunity to overturn the Tory lead. Cameron is a good debater, but they are the last big hurdle between him and the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Tim Montgomerie is editor of


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