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Republicans make conservatism work – why can’t the Tories?


BORIS Johnson may have saved his premiership – but not the Conservative Party. Given a general election tomorrow, they would lose badly. By contrast, American conservatives are expected to win more seats in Congress this year than they have enjoyed in nearly three decades.

Here’s an unfashionable explanation. Conservatism thrives where it is not a fig leaf for progressivism. British Tories, after their civil war of 2019, seemed to accept the conservatism that American Republicans rediscovered after their civil war of 2016. But soon the Tories regressed to their progressive alter-ego.

Tax rises, debt, Net Zero, European human rights, state aid, lockdowns, open borders, centralisation, unaccountable civil servants and police chiefs, Quangos, government by unelected administrators, ‘build back better’ and ‘follow the science’ are the addictions the Conservative Party cannot kick. Why not rename it the Soft Progressive Party?

Not coincidentally, Theresa May has gained a new lease of life denouncing Johnson. Her former ministers and advisers blogged on the incongruous ConservativeHome website of a return to ‘compassionate conservatism’.

Hang on. Compassionate conservatism won only a coalition government in 2010, a slim majority in 2015, and an unadmitted coalition in 2017 (at the mercy of the Democratic Unionists).

What Johnson campaigned on in 2019 – what earned him an 80-seat majority – was a British version of ‘American Greatness’. Take back control. Respect popular will. Smash the elite.

Since then, Johnson and his cronies have been caught exercising elite privileges during lockdown. His government has hardly secured our borders, returned illegal immigrants, or renegotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol. It has not championed our freedoms or skewered the woke as effectively as the new conservative parties (Heritage, Reform UK, Reclaim).

These parties didn’t do well so long as the Conservative Party could claim to be the only viable alternative to the mad Marxism of Jeremy Corbyn. But since 2020 Keir Starmer has stolen some of the Conservative Party’s clothes.

Coincidentally, Johnson lost his mantle. Number 10 was taken over by a mistress who became a dominating wife, followed by her progressive friends. Even before this circle was exposed partying during lockdown, they had been expensively redecorating the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat, defending the reputation of Carrie’s dog, evacuating pets before humans from Afghanistan and embracing Meghan Markle’s claim to be exiled by British racism.

Yes, Johnson is responsible for his own behaviour, but the Parliamentary Conservative Party shares the blame for its own regression. Where are the Members of Parliament advocating for conservatism? Who at Conservative Central Office takes responsibility for public confusion about what the Party stands for? The Conservative Party still has fewer members than Labour. Two-thirds of the voters who switched to the party between the 2017 and 2019 general elections say they would not vote the same way now.

All this stands in contrast to American conservatism. Despite Donald Trump’s lost bid for a second term, in the teeth of dirty tricks, the Republican Party has rallied around his brand and has already bounced back in state and local elections.

A rash of new Republican candidates are campaigning for Congress in November. Most identify with the ‘American Greatness’ agenda. So do the senior incumbents and former Trump sceptics, such as Lindsey Graham. This allows them to embrace Trump’s popular policies and philosophies without his unpopular personality.

Here are the key adjectives that define the American Greatness agenda: populist, patriotic, anti-woke and classically liberal.

The word ‘liberal’ is the one that doesn’t get listed in the American literature. It was appropriated by progressives a long time ago, and is spat out by American conservatives as a pejorative. This is why Charles Murray self-consciously uses ‘libertarian’ as a synonym. Indeed, libertarian defection was one of the shocks prompting the Republican National Committee (RNC) to bury its ambivalence. Whatever you call it, the agenda is to restore old freedoms lost to new rights.

Many of the new Congressional candidates are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, giving them personal legitimacy to criticise the cosy neo-conservatism/liberalism that Trump overthrew. The RNC has just censured the only two Republican Representatives to join Nancy Pelosi’s investigation into the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. One of those Representatives is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick. Both Cheneys remain apologists for neoconservatism and critics of Trump. The RNC stopped short of expelling her, although the voters are likely to do that in November 2022. The point is: the RNC has reaffirmed which type of conservatism it is running.

The neocons and neolibs naturally accuse the RNC of embracing an anti-democratic version of conservatism, but this is a hypocrisy beloved of progressives. Populism means anti-elitism, but elitists use the word to describe anything popular they don’t like.

Midterms are always bad for the President’s party, more so when that party controls the legislature. The question is not whether the Republican Party will win back majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, but how big the majorities will be.

I expect something on the scale of the ‘Republican Revolution’ during Bill Clinton’s first term. Newt Gingrich promised a ‘Contract with America’. Fifty days after taking over as House Majority Leader in January 1995, Gingrich appeared with a checklist of promises kept: apply all laws to Congress; cut committee staff by one-third; allow a veto over individual lines in budgets; reduce budget amendments; curb unfunded mandates by central government; allow for death penalties to be effective (not just statutory); and strengthen national defence.

The Republican Revolution of 2022 promises similarly to curb elite privileges and big government, to restore individual rights and state rights, to enforce the law and refund the police, to strengthen the nation while reducing its wars, to strip social media of immunity from liability for censorship and investigate their monopolies, to enforce non-discrimination and ban affirmative action.

Why isn’t the Conservative Party’s manifesto so clear?

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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