Alex Massie

Lessons for the GOP From a Tory Defeat?

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Ross Douthat uses his New York Times column today to update Manhattanites on the British election. As you might expect, Ross is broadly supportive of Cameronism and goes so far as to call it "a more detailed and specific vision of what conservative reform might mean than almost any English-speaking politician since the Reagan-Thatcher era." However:

Even if they manage to pull out a win, the Tories will have to actually execute the transformation that they’ve promised. Here the American experience is not encouraging. From Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, almost every modern Republican president has pledged to decentralize government and empower local communities. But their successes have tended to be partial, and their failures glaring. Cameron’s decentralizing vision is much better thought out than Nixon’s “new federalism” or Bush’s promise of an “ownership society.” But it’s easy to imagine it meeting the same unhappy fate.

Finally, even if Cameronism could work, there may simply not be time to implement the kind of ambitious, long-term transformation he has in mind. Britain’s debt burden is worse even than that of the United States, and the fiscal crunch is looming. The window for big ideas may be closing, on both sides of the Atlantic and for right and left alike. In this election season, Cameron has tried to advance an idealistic politics of conservative reform. But he may find himself governing amid the grim politics of a permanent fiscal crisis.

This all seems sensible. Time and money are against the Conservatvies even if they do win. Money because there isn't any; time because the nature of the reforms they contemplate rubs up against the demands of the electoral cycle.

I'd add one more point that is related to Ross's column: if the Tories fail to win a majority then there'll be plenty of American conservatives who'll look at this election and conclude that updating the Republican party's message and modus operandi is a fool's mission that's as unecessary as it would be bound to be counter-productive.

Couple a disappointing result in Britain with strong gains in this year's Congressional elections and you have a recipe for saying no to change. Now, clearly, not everything Cameron has done need be replicated in the United States and, in a two party system, the opposition party is always going to have its share of triumphs. The question for the GOP is what will help them achieve a disproportionate share of victories in the medium to long-term? That's what the reformers argue about; not whether the party can do well in November.

So, in this limited sense too, a Tory defeat might have some international consequences that might be thought regrettable.

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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