The New York Times has endorsed British Conservative Party leader David Cameron as "nimble, persuasive, telegenic and popular."
This recent indictment must send shivers down the spines of those looking for some renewal of Britain after the cultural disintegration, decay of national identity and looming economic crisis that are the legacy of the New Labour years. Cameron seems to be dismantling all that is left of the British Conservative Party's traditions, values and achievements and deliberately turning it into a clone of New Labour -- indeed, trying to outflank Labour from the left.
It is not socialism but Thatcherism that is Cameron's bete noire. High-taxing socialism at home and possibly a dash of anti-Americanism abroad seem the Tory leader's goals.
Cameron has repeatedly denounced Thatcher's legacy and policies and in South Africa recently he apologized for her having called the African National Congress "terrorists."
Actually, they were terrorists. Soviet trained, they planted bombs in public places and burned people -- nearly all black -- to death by setting fire to petrol-filled tires round their necks, sometimes filming the process. Cameron, holding a position previously occupied by William Pitt, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill as well as Margaret Thatcher might be expected to know a little history.
Cameron suggested Thatcher had supported apartheid when in fact she had strongly opposed it. What are we to make of a Conservative leader who slanders the record of his own party's greatest Prime Minister in the last 50 years?
SYMBOLLICALLY, CAMERON HAS DROPPED the Tories' previous logo of a burning torch and replaced it with a child's scribble of a green tree, though one critic pointed out it could equally well be a distant view of an old Etonian in a cloud of marijuana smoke. The Conservative Party seems to have no policies except to distance itself from any possible accusations of being conservative.
A policy review group set up by Cameron effectively apologized for the party's alleged traditional hostility to the public sector (in fact spending on the public sector has grown under every British government in modern times. It has simply tended to grow slower under the Tories), and called for an end to "public bad, private good" thinking.
"The political culture has often required the Conservatives to belittle the efforts of people whose objectives we share," the Public Service Improvement Policy Group said.
Increasing the public sector as the country got richer was allegedly "part of being human," and "it is in this context that we believe that all Conservatives should embrace an unambiguous commitment to the growth of public services, as part of general well-being."
Oliver Letwin, the party's policy director, endorsed the conclusion of more public spending as a "decisive turning point" both for the country and the Party. There is an alarming probability that he is right. Letwin as Shadow Chancellor in April 2004 told the party conference that a Tory government would reduce the civil service by 100,000. He also promised then that regulations would be made more difficult to introduce and easier to abolish.
The report also claimed that what the public sector could learn from the private sector had been "vastly overstated." This doesn't really mean anything except a declaration of commitment to socialist principles and probably the further entrenchment of public-sector employee privileges. It is thought likely its recommendations will be adopted by the Conservative shadow cabinet.
The party should also, the report claimed, embrace a new approach involving greater "respect" for front-line professionals, and "commitment to equitable access to services such as health and education"
Back in 2003, the Weekly Telegraph editorialized:
The public sector has employed an additional 354,000 people since 1997, and is due to grow by more than 200,000 over the next three years. It now employs 5.3 million, one in five of the working population...Industry has lost 11% of its workforce, Whitehall has more than half a million civil servants, about as many as the city of London....The new ruling class has privileges that most people working in the productive sector can only dream of: generous state-funded pensions, guaranteed against fluctuations in the stock-market; jobs guaranteed against fluctuations in the labour market; and subsidised housing reserved for public-sector workers....Practically all the new money pouring into health and education is being spent on salaries. Public sector pay is now rising faster than ever before, but efficiency is some 16% below that of America. We are spending a third more on the National Health Service, with hardly any improvements...Taxes are due to rise by another 95 billion pounds over the next three years.
The London Spectator editorialized on September, 2 this year: "The latest OECD figures show Britain now faces a heavier tax burden than Germany. The value for money offered to the taxpayer is appalling: productivity in the National Health Service has fallen, though spending on health had doubled since 1997."
CAMERONIAN TORIES SEEM OBLIVIOUS to all of this. Support for the Tories is up in the opinion polls because under New Labor many aspects of British life (including immigration, education and crime-control) are a shambles. Britain seems to have had enough of the high-taxing, high-spending socialism that Cameron seems determined to perpetuate. According to a recent poll, nearly half the population thinks the country is a worse place to live than it was 20 years ago. More than one in four said failing public services had made life worse, although public spending on health has doubled in the last six years and 700,000 more public-sector workers have been taken on since New Labour came to power in 1997. There is great resentment over the fact they will enjoy indexed-linked pensions while the government has slashed the value of private pension funds by tax-raids.
In a "statement of core principles" Cameron has said tax-cuts will not be a top priority -- and when a politician says that you can't say you haven't been warned. It also promised, somewhat ungrammatically, "giving all those who work in our public services the freedom to fulfill their vocation."
Does this include those with a vocation for ordering other people's lives about and constructing their own Utopian dreams via State Power? Here are a few examples of their recent activities: the Daily Mail of September, 9 reported a Mr. Gordon MacKillop has been summonsed and may be arrested and prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 for dressing a gnome in his garden in a miniature policeman's helmet -- he was woken late a night by two policemen who served him with the notice telling him the constabulistic mannikin was offensive to his neighbors. Two days later it was reported that up to two years in jail or fines of up to $5,000 were being considered by the government as penalties for the crime of not having a bell on a bicycle, although the number of injuries caused by people being hit by bicycles is negligible.
A day later it was reported that some local authorities told war veterans that they could not hold Remembrance Day marches unless they organized public liability insurance, carried out risk assessments and engaged marshals in fluorescent jackets to police the event. On September, 17 the Sunday Mail reported a driver spent two nights in jail after having been accused of "revving his car in a racist manner." (The charge was later dropped). Does Cameron think that what this intrusive and bullying, yet inefficient and dysfunctional, nanny state really needs is more power and prestige?
Cameron speaks of "developing with America a tough and effective foreign policy for the age of international terrorism: a policy that moves beyond neo-conservatism, retaining its strengths but learning from its failures." It is impossible to know what this means. Neo-conservatism is a term with many meanings, "Jewish conspiracy theory" among them. But it hints towards a weakening in the close alliance whose maintenance has been Blair's one great positive achievement.
Former Tory Minister Ann Widdecombe asked recently: "Why does Her Majesty's Opposition run a moral Vichy instead of a moral resistance?"
Churchill wrote of Alfred the Great in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples that in eras of confusion and decay Britain had a knack of producing a great leader and champion to save the situation. There seem none on the horizon at present.
The best hope for Britain is that Cameron is untruthful and that, like Blair in reverse, he will gradually introduce an agenda he has been at pains to distance himself from.
That he and those around him actually believe what he is at present spouting would mean three socialist, left-of-center parties (with the Liberal Democrats) for Britain, and no sizeable right-of-center party. Blair's likely successor as Labour leader is Gordon Brown, an old-fashioned socialist to the left of Blair.
Thatcher's courage and hard-headness in the 1980s pulled Britain out of deep trouble and also restored it as a world power. Now a future for Britain as an impoverished, broken-backed socialist state is not inevitable. But it is again looking possible.
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