April 19, 2010

THE FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE AS CENTERPIECE:

The Tory Challenge (ROSS DOUTHAT, 4/19/10, NY Times)

[T]he American right — and Americans in general — should be paying close attention to how Cameron’s Tories fare in Britain’s election on May 6, and how well they govern if they win. That’s because for all his leftward feints and politically correct gestures, Cameron is campaigning on a vision of government that owes a great deal to the American conservative tradition.

The Tories’ election manifesto, released early last week, promises “a sweeping redistribution of power” — from London to local institutions, and “from the state to citizens.” In one of the most centralized countries in the Western world, Cameron is championing a dramatic transfer of responsibility — for schools, hospitals, police forces — to local governments and communities. In a nation with a vast and creaking welfare state, he’s urging people to put more faith in voluntarism, charity and the beleaguered two-parent family. (This last plank has attracted the ire of none other than J. K. Rowling, who recently attacked the Tories for stigmatizing single motherhood.) His emphasis, again and again, has been on a smaller, leaner, less intrusive government — and in its place, a “big society” that can bear the burden currently shouldered by social workers and bureaucracies.

Nobody would mistake the Cameron Tories for Tea Partiers. By the statist standards of British politics, though, their manifesto’s emphasis on localism and limited government is quite daring. The Tories may sit to the left of American conservatives on a host of issues, but Cameron is offering a more detailed and specific vision of what conservative reform might mean than almost any English-speaking politician since the Reagan-Thatcher era.

Essentially, the Tories are gambling that the fiscal crisis facing every Western government will create an opportunity for decentralization on an unprecedented scale. If that gamble succeeds, Cameron’s government will offer an example to right-of-center parties everywhere — and Britain will offer a model, in an era of tight budgets and diminished expectations, for how nations can succeed (to borrow a Cameron catchphrase) at “doing more with less.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2010 6:03 AM
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