In the British General Election set for Thursday May 6, the opposition Conservative Party is only leading by about 6 points in a three way race.
The Conservatives are proposing a radical reform of education and a radical reform of welfare. On education, they are proposing the Swedish system, which allows almost anyone to open a school and get government money. On welfare they are proposing some sort of move towards limiting open-ended benefits. And they are, nod, nod, wink, wink, proposing more spending cuts and fewer tax increases in their program to reduce the deficit, running at 12 percent of GDP.
Tory leader David Cameron has made a determined move towards the center, trying to woo the voters of the center party, the Lib-Dems. They call it "love-bombing." But what happens? The Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, makes a big impression in the first televised debate between the party leaders (the first ever in Britain) and all the young voters swoon.
Finally, the London Economist gives Cameron a luke-warm endorsement:
According to the magazine’s lead editorial, the Tory leader is “much closer to answering the main question facing Britain than either of his rivals is. In this complicated, perhaps inevitably imperfect election, he would get our vote.”
Well, that's nice.
The problem the Tories face in Britain is in the numbers. There is a left-liberal party, the Labour Party, a center-left party, the Lib-Dems, and only one major center-right party, the Conservatives. Yet right now the Conservatives, in the lead, are struggling to rise above 35 percent in the polls. The fact is that, unlike the US, Britain is a center-left country. People just expect, as a matter of course, that the government provides unlimited public services. Any proposal to reduce spending is scorned as "Tory cuts," proof that the Conservative Party is the "nasty party."
Many Conservative supporters in Britain are complaining that Cameron has gone too far left. But what is he to do? If he stays right, then he can't pick up the precious people that vote for the Lib Dems. If he goes left then he risks losing voters to the anti-EC party, the UKIP. He's obviously made the judgment that the best strategy is to move left.
You can see the Conservative problem best by comparing Britain with the US. Here in the US we have a vibrant conservative movement that provides the energy for talk radio, Fox News, the conservative blogosphere, and a conservative Republican Party. And on top of that the movement just budded like a hydra, and produced the Tea Party. All this grass-roots and intellectual ferment keeps the Republican Party tethered to the right. It cannot move too far to the center, which you might call the easy, RINO option. It must persuade independents and moderates to move to the right.
In Britain, nada. No conservative movement. No Tea Party. What can a conservative politician expect to achieve without grass-roots enthusiasm?
On top of that, it turns out that for the US, there is a God in Heaven, and presto, we have a president who is playing John Wayne in a 21st century Western, and driving all them moderate dogies right onto the conservative range.
Pity the poor Tories in Britain. They just can't seem to get a break.