May 24, 2005


Where Now for the Tories? (Chris Pope, 05/23/2005, Tech Central Station)

After 18 years of Thatcherite revolution, and Britain's collapse from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the public no longer recognizes the need for radical social reform, nor the pragmatic superiority of Conservative economics. Indeed, it has been twelve years since the Conservatives have held a sustained opinion poll lead.

Whereas, for generations, the Conservative Party could rely upon Labour governments to self-destruct with crude socialistic schemes, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have succeeded in maintaining a difficult marriage between their party and the market. The Conservatives -- the most successful political party in the western world, with their implicit political slogan: "We're not socialist ideologues" -- have been caught out by the New Labour response: "Neither are we".

For all the idealistic rhetoric and talk of "new life for Britain", Blair's politics have consisted of an uneasy alliance between pragmatism and populism. While Britons knew that Mrs. Thatcher was "not for turning", they have grown accustomed to the "reverse gear" that Tony Blair has denied possessing. Market-driven policies in health, education, and transport have been tried, reversed, and tried again. The line on crime has flapped with the whims of the popular press, as have fuel taxes, immigration regulations, terror laws, and even constitutional changes.

Although New Labour's domestic reforms have consisted of little more than tentative trial and error, Tony Blair has been very keen to avoid the fates of Neil Kinnock and Michael Dukakis on national security issues. In eight years, he has dispatched forces to Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, stood shoulder to shoulder with President Bush and -- despite his Foreign Secretary's repeated attempts to woo the tyrants of Tehran -- has seldom wavered from a principled commitment to those seeking freedom abroad.

Yet, the Conservatives have shown an astonishing inability to expose New Labour as a house divided between a pro-European centrist leadership in the mould of Ted Heath, and a socialist membership that is closer to Tony Benn. While the PR image screams "NEW!!!" Labour's policies are essentially those that were discarded by the Conservatives a generation ago.

Of course, the problem is that the Tories returned to them when they discarded Lady Thatcher and are themselves divided along the same lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 24, 2005 12:00 AM
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