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Copyright 2001 Copley News Service
Distributed by Copley News Service
June 11, 2001
Last week the British Conservative Party, which relied on polls and focus groups rather than a vision of its own, proved the truth of the axiom that the political party that stands for nothing deserves to lose and almost always does. Tories drew just 33 percent of the vote in the British national elections against Tony Blair’s “New” Labor Party. The defeat was so crushing that the Tory leader, William Hague, announced he would step down.
Blair should not be smug, however. More than 40 percent of the population did not vote, and 35 percent voted against Labor while only 25 percent voted for Blair’s party. While Labor will hold an overwhelming parliamentary edge 413 seats out of 641 it received the confidence of only 42 percent of those who actually cast ballots.
The problem for English Tories is that they are against a lot of things but stand for little. Britain’s Conservative Party is an “antithesis” party, and in politics a thesis always beats an antithesis.
Since Margaret Thatcher left power, government has grown to consume more than 40 percent of British GDP, and the mentality of government dependency is on the rise again. After four years of Labor Party government, the burden of the English welfare state is beginning to affect people’s lives. Unresponsive to consumers, Britain’s monopolized and technologically backward public services are frayed and tattered.
Blair presided over the decay of public services, but since the Tories articulated no real vibrant market-based alternative to Blair’s shabby welfare state, all voters could see in the Tories was a party threatening to take away their public services. Given such a choice, they chose Blair.
Compounding Conservatives’ woes, Blair cleverly promoted the notion of “harnessing” free markets and entrepreneurial spirits to spur private-sector growth, which he promised to tap to pay for expanded public services. If it sounds too good to be true, it is, but Conservatives were unable to demonstrate the fallacy of his strategy and to gain the voters’ confidence.
To hear him talk, Blair sounds like a combination of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. When asked recently in an interview if he believed companies could “make too much in profits” or if an individual can “make too much money,” he responded as Lincoln did by saying, “No, I don’t believe that.” And then, echoing Kennedy’s “a rising tide lifts all boats,” Blair went on, “Surely, the thing to do is to level up the people who don’t have opportunities in our societies.”
The Tory response was timidity in cutting tax rates, budget austerity and all-out myopic opposition to the euro. Conservatives also came down much too hard on issues of immigration and cultural assimilation, which needlessly alienated hard-working Britons of many races, creeds and backgrounds.
The Tories were right to express concerns about the dangers of England’s being absorbed into a new European mega-welfare-state. English Conservatives hate the idea of replacing the English pound with the euro, the European common currency. The Tories based much of their campaign on that opposition, but they failed to place their opposition within a larger context that offers a positive vision for a new British economic policy based on a sound currency, economic growth, lower tax rates and equality of opportunity.
Conservatives could have countered Blair’s unworkable idea of England as a “bridge” between Europe and North America with a larger vision that retains English sovereignty within an Anglo-American economic and defense federation conserving values while progressive in reforming the tax code, the welfare state and the approach to currency stabilization.
With 70 percent of the English public uneasy over the euro, this issue could easily have been parlayed into a powerful issue against Labor if the Tories had transformed their antithesis (“reject the euro”) into a positive thesis (“make the pound as good as gold”). An Anglo-American trans-Atlantic economic and defense federation offers a positive vision of the future with all the advantages of economic integration based on a common language, culture and tradition, which would protect English freedoms and values against complete assimilation into the more authoritarian and collectivist European tradition.
All signs are that Blair will now try to speed up European integration, starting with a long-promised referendum on adopting the euro. In an age when Europe has led the way in growing the modern regulatory state, with eco-taxes, financial controls, curbs on Internet commerce and upward “harmonization” of the tax burden, this has critical consequences for the global economy, not just for British traditions.
Blair is a big winner with no place to go except further left. The door is open for reviving the politics of free markets, free trade, economic growth and opportunity, and democratic optimism in Britain. All that’s required is leadership.
Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Copyright © 2001 Copley News Service