January 9, 2006


Ideas win elections: glamour doesn't (Mark Steyn, 10/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

[W]hat's the name of the glamorous metrosexual matinee idol who has brought the Canadian Tories to the brink of electoral triumph?

Well, he's a guy called Stephen Harper and he's widely agreed by all the experts to have "negative charisma". Think how you felt about my opening sentence and then multiply it a thousandfold. Mr Harper is unexciting even by Canadian standards! He's unflashy, unflamboyant, unshowy, unspectacular, unmodish, uncool - except in the sense that the Yukon in January is cool. He is, in other words, the anti-Cameron. And he's on course to win.

Now consider two other conservative leaders, America's Bush and Australia's Howard. Bald and bespectacled, John Howard looks like a more nondescript version of Iain Duncan Smith. He has terrible body language: his endearingly stiff victory gesture makes Nixon's arm-raising seem as graceful as Dame Margot Fonteyn in her prime. Yet, unlike IDS, "Little John" (as he was once sneeringly known) has led his party to four election successes in a row.

For his part, George W Bush doesn't have Howard's accountant's mien, but he's certainly defiantly untrendy. Unlike David Cameron flaunting his in-depth knowledge of the pop combo Girls Aloud, a Bush interview on Radio One's Colin and Edith Show would be short. In the 2000 campaign, he was given a "verbal Rorschach" test on American pop culture by Glamour magazine. What comes to mind, David France wanted to know, when you think of Madonna?

"I'm not into pop music," replied Governor Bush.

What Bush, Howard and Harper have is not hipness, but the sense of being at ease with themselves and secure in their philosophical moorings. Harper's conservatism is a bit cautious for my tastes and Bush's is a bit profligate, but all three know where they want to go and how they're planning to get there - and Bush and Howard will go down as transformative leaders. By comparison with their anglosphere cousins, British Tories seem mired in the shallows - and, if Cameron's first utterances as leader are anything to go by, they're happy to gambol there indefinitely.

One thing about a potential Harper win--it would put to rest, once and for all, the argument about whether the Third Way is the default position of anglospheric electorates. At that point Mr. Cameron's very emptiness becomes a virtue because swallowing Blairism whole and spitting it back out as if it were his own ideology won't even be hypocritical.

Betrayal theory is dangerous red herring (Peter Riddell, 1/10/06, Times of London)

The myth of betrayal is being fostered: that ambitious Lib Dem MPs conspired against Mr Kennedy, briefed the press anonymously, and organised a coup. Moreover, these MPs have, it is said, been acting against the wishes of the mass of activists and members who have still backed Mr Kennedy. [...]

The “treachery” case is nonsense. Most of the MPs who turned against Mr Kennedy last week had not only previously been among his closest supporters but had covered up, and suffered the consequences of, his drinking. The critics felt, reasonably, that their patience had been pushed too far and that Mr Kennedy was failing to offer a firm lead. The typically muddled comments by Mr Opik about Mr Kennedy being “hounded out”, as well as the distinction between personal sympathy for Mr Kennedy’s plight, best handled in private, and the serious political consequences.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the acting leader, is obviously the strongest candidate to take over in the short term. He has weight, authority and respect at Westminster, but his experience is almost entirely in foreign affairs and defence, and he has said little about the economy or public services. Moreover, at 64, he is at most a one-election option, as Michael Howard was for the Tories. But Sir Menzies could offer stability and time for the younger generation of talented Lib Dem MPs to come forward. Revealingly, almost all this group said on Friday that they could no longer serve under Mr Kennedy.

A Campbell leadership would also allow time for the party to develop fresh policies and a new direction.

How can a party that has to radically rethink its identity have activists?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2006 11:14 PM

The Democrats manage it. If you don't care who you are, as long as you have power, then it's easy.

Posted by: pj at January 10, 2006 10:55 AM