Political Origins

03.04.13

Are Conservative Civil Wars a Good Idea?

Mike Ridewood/Getty Images ()

At the Daily Telegraph, British Conservative Daniel Hannan cites the Canadian experience as an example for UK Tories. It's flattering! But as often happens with these cross-national analogies, he misunderstands important parts of the story.

Hannan wants David Cameron's Conservatives to reach out to the Euroskeptic UKIP party. Fair enough. There's important common ground between Conservatives and UKIP, and the Conservatives cannot afford to give UKIP votes away.

But Hannan's version of events would suggest that what happened in Canada was simply a takeover of one party by another, of a soft-right party winning by turning harder right.

The Reform Party of Canada – Ukip's equivalent in this parallel – also appealed to voters whom the Conservatives had difficulty reaching. Canada's Tories, like Britain's, suffered from being portrayed as a party of privilege. Reform brought very different supporters to the table: not just prairie voters, but blue-collar workers, immigrants and others.

Most of these voters followed Reform into the alliance with the Tories, which eventually became one party: today's Conservative Party of Canada. In consequence, that party has carried on winning. The first leader of the merged party, Stephen Harper, came from Reform. He is now the most successful leader of any G7 country, having steered Canada through the recent crisis with no bailouts and no recession.

That, mutatis mutandis, is the happy future that might await a Tory-Ukip alliance. The trouble is it took Canadian Rightists ten years to get their act together.

I vas der, Charlie, and that's not what happened at all. Both Canadian parties changed. The old-line Conservatives opened up to new ideas and new voters, yes. It also happened that the former Reform party accepted pragmatism and gradualism.

It's completely wrong to say that Canada had no recession and no bailouts. Canada suffered a serious recession in 2008-2009. The Harper government provided $40 billion in fiscal stimulus: relative to the Canadian economy, or only a little less than half as much as the Obama administration.

And Canada did have bailouts - not of banks, because those did not fail, but of automobile companies. Chrysler and GM got almost $14 billion from the government of Canada and the province of Ontario. The two Canadian governments continue to own about 9% of GM. Harper has said he regrets nothing about this bailout decision.