Monday, October 26, 2009

Realigning Election in Britain?

In the US the Noughties is associated with George W. Bush and Iraq. In Britain it was once associated with the brilliant political wizardry of Tony Blair.

But now the voters in Britain think of the clunking failure of Gordon Brown. It's not just that his decade-old boast of "ending Tory boom and bust" has come crashing down around his ears. It has now become utterly obvious that Labour's welfare state is utterly failing the poor. Nothing remarkable here. We all know on the right that the welfare state utterly fails the poor, in its dependency culture and its rotten inner-city schools.

In Britain, the Conservative Party is doing something about it. Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith now heads up an organization called the Center for Social Justice. It is proposing radical changes in welfare, basically emulating the US welfare-to-work strategy that President Obama is busily dismantling.

Then there's a proposed school reform being led by Michael Gove that amounts to a mega-charter program on the Swedish model. that basically allows any sensible group to set up a charter school free of the local education blob.

All this is discussed in a think piece today at Conservative Home by Tim Montgomerie. He calls it "The plan to turn Britain blue [i.e. Conservative] for a generation."

The plan is anchored in the Conservative education and welfare strategies, but also aims to win the support of centrist "values voters." This means, I suspect, nice middle-class women who want a greener, kinder society.

The very simple political idea is that there are an increasing number of people out there who see their vote as an ethical responsibility as well as an act of self-interest. These 'values voters' deserted the Conservatives in 1997 because they were uneasy at aspects of the nation created by the Thatcher-Major years even though they had benefited from them. They - to use Iain Duncan Smith's borrowed expression - wanted to vote for a party that wasn't just 'good for them' but was also 'good for their neighbour'.

In 1997 the Labour Party successfully defined the Conservatives as the selfish "nasty party." Many voters didn't want to be thought of as nasty. They left the Tory party and voted for the centrist party, the Liberal Democrats. A major initiative of party leader David Cameron has been to "love bomb" the Lib Dems and bring them back.

It is monstrous, of course, to consider conservatives as "nasty." If you want nasty, then how about the party that has demolished the culture of the working class and its institutions and corralled the remnants into crime-ridden public housing estates and barracked their children in dreadful schools.

The trick, of course, is to redefine conservatives as the nice party, and Labour as the nasty party, just as conservatives in the US are working on presenting the Obamites as Chicago thugs and Tea Partiers as patriotic Americans.

When that has been accomplished the next task is to rebuild the civil society of "little platoons" and "mediating institutions" and show these values voters how the conservative way is better than the top-down, government program way of the left.

This is a big educational task. Most centrist people of good will in Britain and the US dutifully think that it is government's job to provide the safety net and do all the "nice" charitable things to make society caring and compassionate. They do not yet "get" Cameron's central message: "There is such a thing as society. It's just not the same thing as the state." Nor do they get that government is always and everywhere about power, and not about caring and compassion.

But the time to start is now. And if anyone can do it, David Cameron is the man to do it.

US conservative politicians will be watching Cameron closely. For those of us that Hope for Change, there is the dream of repeating the Reagan-Thatcher partnership with a ???-Cameron partnership. Who will that ??? be? A Sarah Palin? A Bobby Jindal? A Mitch Daniels? Even a Mitt Romney?

Stay tuned.

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