The Corner

Looking Across The Pond?

Ross Douthat writes this:

For American conservatives looking across the pond for inspiration, what’s at stake in the current – and perhaps temporary – Tory renaissance has less to do with policy specifics (the shape of U.S. politics more or less ensures that any revived American Right will have to be simultaneously more libertarian and more socially-conservative than Cameron’s Tories) than with the broader question of whether Anglo-American conservatives can successfully govern a welfare-state society in an era that isn’t characterized by profound, late-Seventies-style disillusionment with the administrative state.

Well, yes and no. Ross is correct on the longer term issue (which touches on my own belief that, like it or not, the GOP may well morph into an Americanized version of Germany’s CDU), but, in the short term, the main reason that Cameron’s Tories are doing so well is that Labour is doing so badly. In particular, voters seem finally to be coming to the realization that the principal economic achievement of the Blair/Brown administrations was to squander the Tory legacy more slowly than some (including me) had once feared. Nevertheless, squander that legacy they did. Britain is now counting the cost and it’s not relishing the price.

Cameron’s achievement is the way that he appears to have ‘decontaminated’ the Tory brand, and thus made the Conservatives into the electorally viable alternative that they were not in 1997, 2001 and 2005. They have become strong enough to take advantage (at least for now) of Labour’s weakness. To do that, Cameron has taken the party in a direction that many of a more Thatcherite set of mind (including yours truly) have not, to put it mildly, always liked. I’d still argue that Cameron has gone further along that route than was either necessary or productive, but I’d also argue that he was right to understand that you have to face electoral realities before you can change them.

There can be little doubt that McCain is going to have to do the same. With an unpopular Republican in the White House and about six months to go until the election, that’s going to be very tricky indeed. This process is not always going to be easy for those of us on the right to accept (and there’s nothing wrong with a vigorous debate on this side of the aisle over some of McCain’s proposals), but the alternative, defeat in the fall to Obama, will be far, far worse. And as for those who talk about principled defeat and a quick bounceback in 2012, they should take a look at what happened to Britain’s Conservatives in the years after Blair’s first victory: they lost, and they kept on losing.

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