Future of Conservatism
What Lessons Can American Conservatives Take from Our British Counterparts?
Things look bleak for Britain's Conservative-Liberal coalition. The government could easily lose the election expected in 2015. If that should happen, Republicans will hotly debate the reasons why.
As the debate sharpens, two main lines of argument will be heard. One is presented in the March 25 National Review by John O'Sullivan, a Cameron critic. The other is hinted at in the March 9 issue of the Spectator by Fraser Nelson, a Cameron supporter.
According to O'Sullivan, Cameron got into trouble by hugging the political center, and alienating the British right, who have begun casting protest votes for the UK Independence Party.
The party's ministers and loyalist MPs are rendered inert by the strategic decision not to challenge the metropolitan-liberal consensus. They are confined within social-democratic limits on everything from taxation to equality to Europe. They are dumb on the implications of the scandals within the National Health Service that have quite literally killed thousands of old people. And when they break out of these constraints … no one believes them. To use American English, such things are seen as "boob bait for Bubba."
At the Spectator, by contrast, Fraser Nelson assesses the ghastly effects of the one big decision by David Cameron that did veer right: the decision to put budget-balancing at the center of his economic program.
[H]aving won the argument for austerity, [Chancellor of the Exchequer George] Osborne take all the political pain while making little economic progress. … Osborne urges patience: the growth will come. The problem is that it has already come to Germany, Canada, Sweden and Austria, who have all seen their economies recover to pre-crash levels, even adjusting for population growth. Britain is now not expected to manage this until 2017, a full ten years after the crash. This leaves us mid-way through a Japanese-style "lost decade," and that's if all goes well. The Budget small print is expected to indicate that, adjusting for inflation, salaries will not be back to pre-crash levels until at least 2027.
If Republicans are persuaded by O'Sullivan, the lesson they'll draw from the British experience is to turn hard right, especially on issues of national identity.
If they read Nelson carefully, they'll hear a muted warning to shelve Paul Ryan's budget plans.
On the interpretation of this British debate may turn the outcome of the next American presidential election.