The Corner

UK Elections: The Man Who Isn’t

According to the BBC, the election that David Cameron and the Conservatives should have been able to win in a walk is now too close to call, and even the best-case scenario predicts little joy for the Tories:

Three days before the closest election since 1992, an ICM/Guardian poll puts the Conservatives on 33 percent, Labour and the Lib Dems on 28 percent, while a YouGov poll for the Sun puts the Tories on 34 percent, Lib Dems on 29 percent and Labour on 28 percent.

There’s a reason for this fiasco, of course. One of the Spectator’s bloggers, Alex Massie, puts his finger on it in trying to explain to me what makes a successful political party:

There are two kinds of political party: those with a narrow sectional interest that hope to advance certain ideas or policy positions and those, larger, parties who exist to win elections. The Tories are in the second group.

The Tories are almost always second, of course, but Massie can’t figure out why. It’s this: People actually prefer to vote for parties that stand for “certain ideas or policy positions” instead of parties that exist only to give politicians day jobs. That was the point Anthony O’Hear was making in the Fortnightly piece to which I had linked, but which Massie could not have read.

Republicans discover this surprising fact every time they lose their hard-won majorities. The GOP ran on a well-defined set of “policy positions” in 1994 and won a massive victory. By 2006, they had become the political party Massie describes. By 2008, even the chap who’s now the GOP chairman was acting like a Massie man.

The passion and conviction Massie and his brethren are now lavishing on the vacancy known as David Cameron is the same passion and conviction they invested in all those other unsuccessful Conservative politicians whose vision extended no further than winning elections and who consequently lost them. The plain and obvious truth is Cameron is where he is because of who he isn’t. He isn’t Michael Howard and he isn’t Gordon Brown. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t even Tony Blair (pace Peter Hitchens), although he no doubt wishes he were.

We do the same thing here, backing bad Republican candidates because at least they aren’t Democrats. But it seems American conservatives are now justifiably wary of political leaders who put party ahead of “certain ideas.” According to this AP report, that wariness is also what’s keeping Republicans with “certain ideas” on track to actually win elections, for a change.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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