Alex Massie

GOP Heads in the Sand

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Oh dear. Jonah Goldberg has been in Britain and he doesn't like what he sees. Fair enough, there's plenty to deplore about the present government. But what Goldberg is most afraid of is that the Republican party might learn something from David Cameron's Tories. This, it seems, is the very last thing the GOP should do. Because obviously when you've spent eight years trashing your own "brand" and suffering a brace of heavy election defeats, the very last thing you should do is look and learn from how conservative parties in the rest of the world are faring. (Insert standard caveat about the real and meaningful differences between American conservatism and its international brethren here.) Here's Goldberg:

From this side of the Atlantic, the refusal of House Republicans to support Barack Obama’s so-called stimulus plan looks nothing less than Churchillian.

Alas, here in Britain, the lesson of compassionate conservatism’s welcome demise remains lost on the Tory leadership. British conservatives remain fascinated with oxymorons such as “progressive conservatism” and “Red Toryism.” (Sometimes the prefix “oxy” in “oxymoron” seems like gilding the lily.)

The longstanding argument against such pernicious sloganeering is still valid. Conservatives who lose their skepticism of government activism invariably fall into the trap of saying “me too” to whatever happens to be the political fad of the day, and hence wind up getting pulled in a direction not of their own choosing, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek once put it.For instance, Tory party leader David Cameron has a circus-act flexibility when it comes to ideological principles. No adjective is too constraining for his brand of shmoo-like conservatism; “Green,” “compassionate,” “progressive,” “radical,” even “libertarian paternalism,” his conservatism can fit into them all, for his philosophical invertebracy is boundless.

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Sure, there are grounds for suspecting elements of Project Cameron but if Goldberg had been paying attention he might have seen that, behind the slogans and the labels, there's a fairly serious, indeed philosophical, difference between the Conservative and Labour approaches to society. The labels, then, are a means to an end and a signpost to voters telling them how far the Tory party has travelled.

Opposition parites, of course, are empowered by governmental blunders and, just as importantly, exhaustion. The fag end of a Labour ministry is clearly easier to counter than the bright dawn of a new Democratic era in Washington. Nonetheless and even allowing for transatlantic differences, Goldberg might have noticed that the Tories are likely to win the next British election. The GOP are, right now, years away from any comparable success. (It's unlikely that they can regain the Senate until 2014 at the earliest, for instance.)

But no, instead there's a certain glib sneering at the expense of conservatives who might win. Increasingly the motto of the GOP seems to be that old republican mantra: Ourselves Alone.

My own (brief) take on some of the things the GOP could appropriate from the Tory experience was published by the late, much-lamented Culture11. See also, this post on the Limits of Reaganism.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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