David Cameron's Remarkable Achievement
Purist American conservatives have not warmed to British Tory party leader David Cameron, Britain's new prime minister. It is time they did.
The scope of Cameron’s achievement over the past week is remarkable. He has ended a 13 year uninterrupted period of New Labour power, the longest period his Conservative Party has ever been out of office in its entire history.
Four previous Conservative Party leaders tilted at the New Labour dragon created by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and all of them lost badly - John Major, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague and Michael Howard. Cameron has now succeeded where all of them failed. He has restored the Conservatives to their traditional position as Britain‘s largest party in terms of votes woman gained and parliamentary seats won.
Cameron has also foiled Blair’s master-strategy of making the Conservatives a permanent minority. Blair encouraged the rise of the Liberal Democrats believing they would squeeze the Conservatives out of the top two spots in the British political system. But Cameron reversed that dynamic with apparently effortless ease this week. He convinced Nick Clegg, the leader of the minority Liberal Democrats to join him in a coalition instead of joining Labour. Before the election, that was regarded as impossible.
Labour‘s unloved and unlovable deposed prime minister, Gordon Brown, played into Cameron’s hands by reportedly ranting and raving at Clegg in a phone conversation,. Cameron, by contrast, was charming, witty, relaxed and offered serious concessions to Clegg to join his government.
Brown failed miserably to show any grace under pressure. The far younger and more inexperienced Cameron was grace personified. He effortlessly outshone Brown as a dignified national leader.
Cameron has also proved himself over the past week as the most skilful negotiator and compromiser for at least a generation in British politics. He may prove to be a political intellect comparable to that of Blair and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom won three general elections in a row.
Cameron convinced the Liberal Democrats to accept his strong support for the Atlantic Alliance. He convinced them to accept the urgent need for sweeping spending cuts after the financial bacchanalia of Brown’s long years as chancellor and then prime minister. He successfully resisted the LibDems beloved ultimate goal of transforming Britain‘s long-established but still splendidly functioning parliamentary system into one based on proportionate representation.
He also forced them to accept his determination to crack down on illegal immigration and restore some effective control of Britain’s borders. And there will be no rash efforts to scrap the pound sterling and rush Britain into the European Union’s euro-zone with Cameron at the helm.
Cameron also made sure that the top foreign policy and defense portfolios went to robust patriots with a strong commitment to the United States and NATO. Liam Fox becomes defense secretary William Hague becomes foreign secretary. Both of them will tower over their New Labour predecessors. Hague in particular will be a welcome relief for U.S. administrations after David Miliband, Brown's foreign secretary who specialized in taking snide shots against the United States, especially when President Bush was in office.
Cameron is certainly no social conservative in American terms. But considering the overwhelming drift to the left during the Blair-Brown years of New Labour rule, his victory is an extraordinary achievement. His political alliance with Clegg looks like a masterstroke that may demote Labour, with its atavistic Socialist leanings, down to the traditionally ineffectual third place, eternal loser, role in British politics. Cameron also showed an easy, natural grace and generosity in his dealings with both Clegg and the boorish, graceless Brown over the past week.
Cameron already appears to fit into a long tradition of highly successful centrist British prime ministers who conceal their extensive political skills behind a veneer of quite genuine charm. (In America, Eisenhower, Reagan and the woefully underrated Warren G. Harding come to mind). To call him a second version of Stanley Baldwin is meant as praise not criticism.
Winston Churchill rightly excoriated Baldwin for failing to rearm vigorously against Nazi Germany in the 1930s. But Churchill himself served Baldwin harmoniously and well for five years as chancellor of the exchequer, or finance minister from 1924 to 1929.
Baldwin's great achievement -- and it was one of historic importance -- was that he kept the British people essentially united, patriotic and decent through the difficult years of the Great Depression when all other major European countries were torn apart by the woeful forces of Fascism and Communism. Baldwin won three out of five elections and his party was out of power for only three years out of the 14 years that he led it.
Cameron is a return to the traditional British Conservative road to power of Eton and Oxford (Mrs. Thatcher, along with her meritocratic origins, was also an Oxford graduate, it should be remembered.).
Cameron’s prospects for staying in power for several years with his LibDem coalition partner are very good. The LibDems have entered government for the first time in 88 years. They have a serious chance of displacing Labor as the natural “soft left/liberal” party of British politics. They aren‘t going to risk that by charging into opposition at the first row after the political honeymoon.
Cameron‘s road back to power in Britain cannot be blindly followed by American Republicans in the very different political environment of the United States. But he does present an example of personal and ideological qualities that many GOP partisans have forgotten.
Cameron combines the even temperament, grace under pressure and genuine likeability of Ronald Reagan with Reagan's exceptionally shrewd political instincts. He is successfully taking a tough line on immigration and has even forced the nation‘s preeminent liberal party to swallow that medicine. He is determined to reinvigorate national defense, crack down on immigration and re-establish strong security controls. He is determined to maintain the power and effectiveness of the British nation-state and to get New Labour‘s wild spending under control.
What’s not to like? Those aren’t bad values for any putative Republican national candidate in this country to follow either.
Martin Sieff was State Department correspondent for The Washington Times and Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for International Reporting. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” and the soon to be released “Cycles of Change: The Patterns of American Politics from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama - and Beyond.”
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