How The Republicans Can Learn From David Cameron’s British Conservative Party
by Dalitso Njolinjo
The world of Anglo-American politics can be a funny place indeed. In the space of 14 years we have seen the British Conservative Party struggle for it’s political life and social relevance while conservatism in the United States was gaining a second wind through the leadership of Newt Gingrich and his ‘Contract with America’ initiative.
As Gingrich, George W Bush and Karl Rove ushered in a new era of ‘compassionate conservatism’ and a ‘permanent Republican majority’, the British Conservative Party struggled with their identity as they tried to combat a new Government with a large majority in parliament and a young popular Prime Minister who gave the youth and middle class a sense of hope – hope that ‘things can only get better’ (sound familiar?).
In 1997 the Tory Party decided to rebuild themselves under the stewardship of William Hague. As a leader Hague was an admirer of the ‘compassionate conservatism’ of the Bush administration. He also made no bones about his admiration for Margret Thatcher and made it his top priority to give Britons ‘back their country’ from asylum seekers who he saw were crippling the resources of the Great Britain.
Mr Hague guided the British Conservative Party to a landslide loss of epic proportions in the 2001 General elections.
2001 saw the turn of Ian Duncan Smith as leader of the opposition, a man who to this day I could not clearly articulate what he stood for. His lack of political ideas were only compounded by his utterly horrifyingly awful public speaking performances. His only redeeming political attributes was that he gained the endorsement of Tory standard barer Margret Thatcher.
Mr Smith was beaten in a no-confidence vote in 2002.
2002 saw the rise of the old Tory war horse, Michael Howard. Unlike his previous Blair era Tory party leaders, Michael Howard was a steady political operator who had the wit and the guts to effectively debate the Government on economic issues. Mr Howard also managed to take the shine out of Mr Blair’s premiership by challenging him on issues such as the Iraq war. Howard demanded that Mr Blair resign on grounds that he misled the parliament on the issues of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Although Mr Howard did lead the Tory party to another defeat, he did stop the bleeding. He gained 33 seats and more importantly, he showed that the Labour Party machine can be defeated if the Tory party fought on tried and tested conservative issues.
Mr Howard’s problem (which he shared with his three predecessors) was that the British electorate just couldn’t relate to him. He was too old, he was balding (an issue he also shared with his previous leaders) and the emerging tech savvy generation were just not interested in him, or his politics.
The three British Conservative Party leaders were men of the past. These were men whose political identity could be firmly traced to the Thatcher era – thus they fought the same battles as they did during Thatcher’s reign, articulating those same ideas in the same exact ways, not realising that the country in which they aimed to lead had changed. Also, none of the three men were in tune to the growing environmental concerns of coming generation.
The Conservative finally saw the error of their ways by electing a young, media savvy and articulate leader David Cameron. As a leader he is environmentally aware (a very important characteristic which can not be overlooked), he is far too young to be a Thatcherite, he is socially aware of views from the growing British ethnic minorities and he understands that Image is vital in today’s media frenzy world.
Cameron’s moved early to establish a new tone to the way Conservatives communicated to the electorate in Great Britain. He replaced the well known Conservative torch logo with a greener more modern image of the green and blue tree logo. Why? Because Image matters. He was replacing the old with the new. The fossil with the renewable element. He was effectively drawing a line between his predecessors (Thatcher as well) and himself.
Although I agree that British politics is very different to its American counterpart (admittedly we lean a lot more to the left side of the Isle) Cameron still holds firm the key Conservative ideals; fiscal constraint, strong national defence, less government and individual freedom.
David Cameron has shown that these ideals can coexist along with ideals such as being environmentally responsible, being ethnically – socially aware and putting more emphasis on the ‘family’ without the exclusion of the gay community. Put it simply a guy who agrees with him 75% of the time is not his enemy.
I have tried to retell this story in the most basic and simplified way as possible because I believe that the Republican Party could spend a decade in the political wilderness, in the same way as the British Conservative Party did. The defection of Arlen Spector should be an alarm bell for the Republicans because even though he left the party for 99% selfish reasons, the 1% reasoning that the Republican Party has left him and is becoming more of a far right exclusionist party is a viable argument.
Conservatives have to face facts, demographics are against them. They are operating in a country that is becoming more and more disinterested in their social political positions. They also have to expunge the ghosts of their pasts, I am not only taking about George W Bush, but I am also referring to Ronald Reagan. Like Ms Thatcher to Conservatives, Mr Reagan looms among most Republican leaders with a shadow so large that it threatens to swallow them whole.
They must break with the past, start fresh and forget the culture wars. They have to become a big tent party again, a party of ideas not social litmus tests.
Dalitso Njolinjo lives in Northamptonshire, England. He is an aspiring writer and communications consultant. He writes that he “enjoys all things politics, sports and French. The ungodly trinity.” He also writes on his own blog.