Britain’s Bad Example for American Conservatives


Republicans can only imagine what it would feel like to win four consecutive elections—holding executive and legislative power for more than a dozen years.

Franklin Roosevelt, who died at the beginning of his fourth term as president, had such a time. He used it to build the modern civilized world.

What can conservatives do with such an opportunity?

The answer from across the Atlantic is: not much, if the Republicans are wrong The British Conservative Party It has been done since 2010.

That year, the Conservatives returned to power after more than a decade of Labor Party rule, although the Tories needed support from the UK’s third largest party, the Liberal Democrats, to form a government.

The Tory-led coalition won the Conservative majority in 2015. Although the party was reduced to a constitutional majority after the 2017 elections, the most recent contest, in 2019, saw the Conservatives win the parliamentary margin of around 50 seats.

The Conservatives also won the largest number of votes taken by any party since the 1979 general election that made Margaret Thatcher prime minister.

Today, however, the Conservatives fully expect to lose the next election, and moreover, many of them say they should.

The party’s problems are just beginning to lend power. David Cameron, prime minister from 2010 to 2016, wanted the party to be something other than what his voters wanted.

Voters want Brexit. Cameron allowed a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union, but tried to stay in it.

The world-friendly Conservative Party was Cameron’s dream: He was the prime minister who gave Britain same-sex marriage.

It was a dream that meant liberal voters would have three parties to choose from – Conservatives, Labor or Lib Dems – and traditional conservatives would not.

Cameron hopes to attract young voters and urban professionals, and the GOP in the US also needs to improve its boundaries with those groups.

But Cameron’s attempt to bypass other parties with same-sex marriage failed, because the same young people and educated urbanites he was supposed to appeal to were disgusted by the conservative economy.

Britain is far less conservative than America. But how did Cameron’s party help recruit them?

And it is with great skepticism that the Conservatives have tried to give what economists have asked them.

Cameron resigned after the Brexit referendum, to be replaced by another Tory leader, Theresa May, who also opposed Brexit.

To the extent that the party has embraced Brexit wholeheartedly with Boris Johnson as leader it has won the prize of being a prominent part of the story. Johnson delivered Brexit-by the fall of 2019.

But that was it: Johnson had no other popular cards to play than Brexit and his larger-than-life, almost Trump-like personality.

Without Brexit, Boris Johnson was another David Cameron, liberal and more interested in green policies than blue-collar jobs.

Johnson imposed strict COVID-19 lockdowns – then came under fire for breaking the rules.

If Johnson didn’t know where to take populism after Brexit, the rest of the party didn’t know where to go after the threat of COVID-19 brought down Boris.

The party briefly made Liz Truss Prime Minister, hoping she could become another Thatcher.

But Thatcher was a social conservative and a tax collector, and when the markets did Truss wrong, she didn’t back down—neither philanthropic, patriot, nor social.

Now Rishi Sunak is the Conservative prime minister, not because he has a strong middle-of-the-road philosophy but because he doesn’t have one: He is acceptable enough to the party ranks; it is everyone’s second choice.

And so, of course, Sunak’s party will be the second choice at the next election, with Labor taking power again not because of what is right but because the Tories stand for nothing and have won for nothing.

Unless the Republican Party learns from the Tories’ folly, it faces the same fate.

One difference is that liberal Republicans sometimes have the wisdom to deliver what liberal voters want —Donald Trump is a special example.

But Republicans, including Trump, are in danger of becoming like Boris Johnson if they are just about development and patriotism, rather than creating a future beyond what the voters have.

The Tories took Brexit as the end of the story, when it had just begun.

Social conservatism and populism are the precursors of today’s mainstream politics.

This does not mean forgetting the achievements of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher or ignoring the urban population of tomorrow.

But it means that Conservatives must first do the work they are appointed to do, and then do more.


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