May 4, 2010


I’d never voted Tory. But changing was easy: The tribalism of British politics is a mystery to me and I hope it doesn’t cost Cameron his chance to govern (Daniel Finkelstein, 5/03/10, Times of London)

[T]here was a problem. One I found more and more difficult to ignore. It just seemed that again and again, the Right was more, well, right. The economic policies coming out of the Left ranged from the disastrous to the silly. The unions, basically a destructive force, were accorded too much respect and given too much power. The Left seemed incapable of understanding the need for a strong defence policy. So in 1992 I became a Conservative.

Some of this Tony Blair could see and put right. I liked his social liberalism, I thought him often moderate and reasonable, I shared his Atlanticism, and (I duck for cover here) I found him rather charismatic, and still do. But I am not at all surprised that his new Labour project is ending in failure. Because while he changed much about Labour, there are things he couldn’t change.

Like every Labour government, this one has spent too much. On every single occasion — honestly, every time — the party has been in office for more than nine months, there has been a huge economic crisis, made worse by its public spending. Underpinning this mistake are two wrong-headed ideas that are deeply (indeed, almost unconsciously) held on the Left.

The first (understandable but incorrect) is that it is cruel to say no to requests for spending and to interest groups. The second is that for every problem there must be a government response. I am a pragmatic person. I don’t have some abstract, ideological aversion to ever spending taxpayers’ money. But surely Labour has now tested this approach to destruction.

Yet, if we abandon this spendthrift policy, we must reform public services so that they are sustainable on budgets that grow less quickly. And Labour has failed on this too. Its coalition of old and new — a gallery to which Gordon Brown was playing for more than a decade — slowed reform until Mr Blair ran out of time and the rest of us ran out of money and patience.

When Mr Cameron called himself the “heir to Blair”, I think this is what he meant. That the Conservative Party needed to change to face the modern world, to make itself a welcoming home for social liberals and moderates, and people who felt Tory rhetoric had been too harsh. And when it did so, it would be ready to put right what Mr Blair and Mr Brown got wrong. I hope he now gets the chance to see it through.

It's easy enough to understand that the Third Way projects of Margaret Thatcher and George W. Bush both provoked reactions from the unreformed First Way wings of their respective conservative parties and that, likewise, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair provoked their Second Way diehards. But David Cameron is the first self-consciously second generation of Third Way pols in a party that has already been through the reactionary phase--the 2012 Republican nominee will follow in short order--so the question is: can a party change permanently and embrace the middle road, which has shown itself to not only be effective as to policy but ridiculously successful as electoral politics? The party that did so would stand to dominate its country's politics for an era.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 4, 2010 7:09 PM
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