Commentary Magazine


What Not to Learn in London

Mitt Romney is in London today showing his ability to act on the international stage as well as seeking to emphasize that he is prepared to embrace America’s traditional allies in Britain, Poland and Israel in contrast to President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from these nations. In London he will also get reacquainted with British Prime Minister David Cameron with whom he found himself in an unplanned and unnecessary spat about Olympic preparations. But rather than take lessons from him on how to get elected and to govern as a conservative, Cameron provides a sterling example of the bad choices that Romney should avoid during the campaign as well as once in office should he triumph in November.

It should be stipulated that the political cultures and circumstances of the two countries are vastly different. For all of their problems, Republicans are not in the position that Britain’s Conservative Party found itself prior to Cameron becoming PM in May 2010. The Tories needed a makeover after 13 years out of government while Tony Blair’s new Labor ruled. They got it with the handsome Cameron who sought to refashion the party’s image away from Margaret Thatcher’s “nasty party” to a new Conservative leadership that embraced environmentalism, gay rights and any other issue that would make them more popular. But while Cameron remains in residence at Number 10 Downing Street, the experiment of watering down conservative ideology has not been successful. The instinctively moderate Romney needs to take notice of Cameron’s failures. If he doesn’t, it will not only reduce his chances of victory over President Obama but impact his chances of making a difference even if he wins.

Some would argue that Cameron had to take the Tories down a path in which traditional conservative positions were jettisoned. Britain had moved on from Thatcher’s era, and the move of Labor to the center under Blair stood to become permanent if the Tories did not accommodate themselves to the change in the climate. Cameron’s embrace of politically correct positions on social issues and the environment combined with fiscal conservatism seemed the perfect formula for victory. But in spite of Labor’s collapse under Blair’s successor Gordon Brown and the readiness of the voters for change, Cameron’s weak tea approach to policy did not bring the victory he expected. Instead of winning the election outright, he was forced to make a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in order to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister. But in order to do that, he had to further weaken his party’s base.

Two years later, Cameron is saddled with a disgruntled liberal coalition partner and a party base that not only despises him but which is, as Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail writes, literally disintegrating. Though Tories cannot count on the same large, religious and deeply politically conservative base that is the heart of the GOP, the party activists in the shires, without whom future victories are impossible, are abandoning Cameron in droves. He is getting all the blame for Britain’s austerity budget. but having failed to provide a clear ideological alternative to Labor (British writer Melanie Phillips aptly dubbed him “David Obameron” in response to his open affection for the American president), he is unable to frame the issue in a manner that will gain him credit for keeping the nation afloat.

While the dilemmas facing Republicans and Tories are starkly different, what Romney can learn from Cameron is that a politician who tries to be all things to all people can not only snatch near defeat from the jaws of victory as the PM did two years ago but is not likely to be able to govern effectively or retain the loyalty of his party. Standing up for conservative principles can be difficult in the face of the opprobrium that it will bring from the liberal mainstream media, but such brickbats are the price one must pay for principle. Cameron was unwilling to pay that price, and though he may have achieved his ambition to become prime minister, it has cost him the ability to govern effectively and may well lead to his eventual defeat.

Romney should enjoy his British visit, but if he wants a good British model he should look to Cameron’s Tory predecessors such as Thatcher and Winston Churchill (whose bust he has promised to return to the Oval Office after its removal by Obama). If he wants to win he should follow their examples rather than that of the feckless Obama-light Cameron.

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