May 4, 2005


Politics by Another Means (DAVID LODGE, 5/04/05, NY Times)

Americans faced a choice between two starkly opposed sets of fundamental values and priorities, and the narrow margin of George W. Bush's victory revealed a nation deeply divided. The British picture is much more confused and confusing, partly because there are three major parties instead of two, and partly because these parties have shifted their ideological positions in recent times.

The Labor Party under Tony Blair has occupied much of the center-right territory formerly held by the Conservatives, while the Liberal Democrats, who used to offer a wishy-washy compromise between those two, have moved to the left of Labor. So, as the columnist Simon Jenkins put it in The Times of London the other day, if you want a Conservative government vote Labor, if you want a Labor government vote Liberal Democrat, and if you want a Liberal government vote Conservative

When Bill Clinton got to the Right of George H.W. Bush the GOP went further Right and won in a historic landslide in '94. Tony Blair got to the Right of the Tories and they let him stay there. Unbefreakinlievable.

Tony's Tories: What will Britain's Conservatives do after getting trounced again tomorrow? (GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT, May 4, 2005, Opinion Journal)

Over the ages, the Tories have repeatedly reinvented themselves, co-opting one social group after another and drastically adapting their program. The last, brilliantly effective reinvention came under Margaret Thatcher, when the Tories wholeheartedly embraced the competitive free market (by no means always part of their creed) and preached social and economic liberation. Part of Tony Blair's secret is, of course, the way that he has embraced so much of that Thatcherite legacy while fashioning it to his own purposes.

It is a mark of his subsequent achievement that he has now faced four Tory leaders in the 10 years he has led his party. Mr. Major and William Hague resigned immediately after leading the Conservatives to woeful defeats, while Iain Duncan Smith, whose inadequacies should have been obvious even before he was chosen leader, was ruthlessly deposed in a party coup in late 2003 and replaced by Michael Howard.

Under his leadership the Tories have fought a remarkably brutal campaign, which may also have been misguided. They have denounced gypsies, foreigners and criminals, and attacked Mr. Blair in such personal terms as have rarely been heard before in British politics. Mr. Howard has warned of hordes of immigrants coming here "for nefarious purposes." The Tories have asked "How would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?" and have said of Mr. Blair, "If he's prepared to tell lies to take us to war he's prepared to lie to win an election."

Not only has this distressed gentler souls in the party, it hasn't worked

They needed to distress those souls much, much more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 4, 2005 8:48 PM

The Conservative Party needs to go to the scrapheap of history. It is the party of a hidebound Britain long gone. It is the party of country gentry, inherited aristocracy mostly of limited real means, and the upper-levels of the permanent civil service, which to this day remain almost entirely drawn from the private-school educated upper classes. British national education is even more dismal than American, if that can even be imagined in a post-industrial state.

The Conservatives, as Wheatcroft indicates, are not about free markets or 'hope, growth, and opportunity.' Entrenched aristocracies want stasis. They want to preserve their privileges, not expand the wealth. They want to preserve their place in society, not allow others to improve their lot.

Thus, the love for the EU. What is more static than the new EU Constitution? What guarantees that Europe will remain in its genteel torpor for the foreseeable future than a bureaucracy staffed by Frenchmen living in Bruxelles taking orders from Germans?

At the time of the last election, the average age of a Conservative Party member was 62. Thatcher had a stronger appeal among younger than among older voters and they gave her the bum's rush. They're done.

When the Conservatives finally disappear, they will be replaced by, for want of a better term, a Blairite party. The modernizers and the Atlanticists are not insignificant in the British electorate and need a place to go. There is no real social or religious conservatism even among the Ulster Protestant parties. Labour will return to its Old Left roots, because the notion of looting the public treasury to give benefits to the 'working classes' has resonance in a country where the class struggle is still quite real. The Lib Dems, who have even less unity than the American Democratic Party, will atomize soon after, as their brie-and-chablis eating elite will join with the Labourites as their TV face. If it remains it will be as a special interest, gay-rights, animal liberation, Amnesty International, America-bashing, Israel-bashing, trendnoid jumped-up garden club for trust funders with too much time on their hands.

Posted by: bart at May 5, 2005 8:02 AM