DELINGPOLE: Britain Sorely Needs the Tea Party Spirit
Some of you may have noticed that Breitbart.com has opened a London branch. Mostly, the response has been favourable, but not unanimously so.
Here, for example, is what some our friends at the Guardian's Komment Macht Frei have had to say on the subject:
"A pack of loons in a small pond..." writes someone called Killerontheroad.
"Anyway Breitbart sounds like some German fascist mag from the 1930s so should give people an indication of what is to come. I hope it tanks," says Nobbyjon.
"I supposed [sic] it's nice that all the pricks are gathering in the same room. Makes it much easier to aim the meteor strike," quips Input. How do you get to aim a meteor strike, btw? And if he means God, why on earth does he think God - a natural conservative - would wish to destroy His friends?
But much more interesting, I think, has been the response from the squishy, Cameroon-leaning, "centre-right" in the form of this tweet from Times comment editor (and former ConservativeHome editor) Tim Montgomerie: "Not so good news for the emergence of a more electable Right in British politics".
Interesting use of the word "electable". Let's briefly explain the background, shall we?
In 2005, David Cameron was the unexpected winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest. He won, as much as anything, I suspect, because he was an unknown quantity. His predecessors, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard had all proved themselves more or less incapable of denting the popularity of Tony Blair's New Labour government. Clearly something needed to be done. And Cameron definitely qualified as "something" - though what, nobody at the time, not even those of us who knew him at Oxford, could be quite sure.
I doubt Cameron knew either. One thing that has become clear about Dave is that he is not "ideological". Just like Tony Blair, he's a "whatever works" kind of guy, more interested in pursuing and retaining power than he is in high principle. So in 2005, he was an empty vessel, waiting to be filled with someone else's bright ideas about how to get to be Prime Minister, one way or t'other.
This was about the time when a light bulb appeared above the heads of a few mushy conservatives: "I know, let's modernise! Let's detoxify the brand!"
All were united in the belief that the Tories were the "nasty party" -- and that until that poison had been expunged they could never win another general election. And so the Conservative Party - much to the displeasure of its grassroots -- began reinventing itself as the strange, emasculated, not noticeably very Tory creature it has become today: pro-gay marriage; pro-renewable-energy; massively generous with its foreign aid budget but shockingly mean with its defence budget...
Which is why, politically, we are where we are now: the Conservatives -- who never did win a majority at the general election, by the way, despite that ingenious detoxify-the-brand strategy -- in painful coalition with their supposed ideological polar opposites the Liberal Democrats; an increasingly hard-left Labour opposition waiting in the wings to steal the 2015 general election not on merit but because a psephologically significant number of Conservatives have left the party in disgust and gone and joined the more red meat UKIP (aka "the Conservative Party in exile") instead.
A few weeks ago I went onto the BBC Daily Politics TV show to discuss this problem with Ryan Shorthouse of a dripping wet think tank called 'Bright Blue'. Shorthouse's preferred solution was to make the Conservatives even gayer still. I disagreed.
"What's happened is the equivalent of some trendy new vicar taking over a church, stripping out the old furniture, tearing out the stained glass windows, replacing the hymns with rave music, and wondering why he has lost his congregation," I said.
Conservative modernisation, I went on to argue, has been a lose-lose strategy. Not only has it alienated the Conservatives' traditional base, but it has also failed to win the enthusiasm of the younger voters it was designed to court. Why? Well it's a bit like when dad tries to get down with the kids by showing off his fancy dance moves: just plain embarrassing.
Also, if people are going to vote for a party -- Lib Dem voters being a rare exception to this rule -- they want to vote for one which actually stands for something. A Conservative Party which no longer stands for personal responsibility, liberty, smaller government, fiscal responsibility and a robust national defence bears about as much relation to the Real Thing as coffee made from ground acorns.
Now, of course, I understand why modernisers like Tim Montgomerie imagine otherwise. Like the (not noticeably right wing) Bismarck, they're great believers in the notion that "politics is the art of the possible".
Pragmatic modern conservatism, they reckon, is about kissing goodbye to the full wish list of red-meat conservative principles in order to win over all those vital swing voters in the centre ground.
If this were simply a question of presentation, I'd agree entirely. Me, I wouldn't give a stuff about where the Conservative Party stood on a relatively trivial issue like gay marriage if it gave it the stonking majority it required to pursue the policies we really need. Like radical tax cuts, sweeping reforms to the sclerotic National Health Service (NHS), a massive diminution in welfare spending, an energy policy which wasn't dictated by the Green Party, and an exit from the European Union (EU).
But it's not about presentation. The transformation of the Conservative Party has been much more fundamental than that. We currently have a Conservative Party which is: luke-warmly pro EU; fiscally irresponsible (both in its borrowing and its money printing); politically correct; wedded to economically suicidal, scientifically illiterate environmentalism; feeble on immigration; inane on foreign aid...
And Tim Montgomerie's solution to this state affairs is what, exactly? Well, to judge by that tweet of his, it's for naughty little boys to shut the hell up about the fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Because it just makes things uncomfortable for everyone. And even though it may be that the emperor is making a right tit of himself and letting his people down, "Hey, it could be a great deal worse, at least he's not Ed Miliband".
Sorry. I'm not buying it. Yes, it may well be that Conservative Central Office and its amen corner in the mainstream media would have us believe that "Cameron: at least he's not Ed Miliband" constitutes an argument sufficiently compelling to make the "right" more "electable" in 2015.
Me, I'd prefer a conservative who actually believed in conservatism.