In the first volume of her lengthy memoirs, Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years, the woman who became famous as Britain’s “Iron Lady” prime minister made a very wise — and telling — observation about some of her fellow Conservative Party members in the British government.
After noting that the British Labour Party “gloried in planning, regulation, controls and subsidies,” she said this about some members of her own Tory Party:
The Tory Party was more ambivalent. At the level of principle, rhetorically and in Opposition, it opposed these doctrines and preached the gospel of free enterprise with very little qualification. Almost every post-war Tory victory had been won on slogans such as ‘Britain Strong and Free’ or ‘Set the People Free’. But in the fine print of policy, and especially in government, the Tory Party merely pitched camp in the long march to the left. It never tried seriously to reverse it. Privatization? The Carlisle State Pubs were sold off. Taxation? Regulation? Subsidies? If these were cut down at the start of a Tory government, they gradually crept up again as its life ebbed away. The welfare state? We boasted of spending more money than Labour, not of restoring people to independence and self-reliance. The result of this style of accommodationist politics, as my colleague Keith Joseph complained, was that post-war politics became a ‘socialist ratchet’ — Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour Government moved the country a little further left. The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it.
Margaret Thatcher–style, this is exactly what Pennsylvania’s Republican Rep. Scott Perry (my own congressman) is saying as House GOP Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s fight for speaker of the House is set to climax.
In an op-ed in the York Daily Record, Perry’s headline is blunt:
Kevin McCarthy must lead Congress out of status quo — or step aside
In decidedly Thatcher-esque style, the congressman says this:
For those blindly cheering — or disparaging — the GOP House majority win this November as a harbinger of real change, I must dampen your hopes with a soaking wet blanket of Congressional reality: most of the Republicans who campaigned on changing how Washington does business are now the same ones perilously poised to stoke the fires of — you guessed it — the status quo. If ever there were a more fitting example of such peril, it comes in the form of doing the same thing, under the same conditions, with the same people in charge. Not only is it not getting us anywhere productive, but it’s also destroying our Nation.…
Like my recent vote on extending the corrupt practice of earmarks, I’m a hard “No” on a Republican Speakership by anyone who doesn’t sincerely and realistically plan to change the status quo and set our Country back on the right course. To do otherwise is truly the definition of insanity.
In short, Rep. Perry and his fellow Republican holdouts on McCarthy’s candidacy are stating the American version of Thatcher’s point about conservatives who support the “socialist ratchet.” Republican rhetoric is fine, Republican action is not. For them, it’s all about preserving and protecting the status quo.
In a statement released on New Year’s Day, Perry and eight other conservatives said this, in part, in response to a McCarthy statement released on New Year’s Eve:
It cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial points still under debate are insufficient. This is especially true with respect to Mr. McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker because the times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures.
… Mr. McCarthy bears squarely the burden to correct the dysfunction he now explicitly admits across that long tenure.
Margaret Thatcher could not have put it better.
Recall as well that Thatcher’s American political soulmate was, of course, Ronald Reagan. And it was Reagan, then the former governor of California, who in 1975 appeared before a new organization called the Conservative Political Action Committee — CPAC — calling for the Republican Party to be “Raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people.”
By coincidence, CPAC will be gathering in Florida this very week, standing up for bold colors yet again.
Make no mistake. What Scott Perry and his fellow conservatives in the House GOP Conference are about is ending the status quo and the obsession of too many Republicans with the socialist ratchet and pale pastels.
The question in this speaker’s election?
Where stands Kevin McCarthy?
Scott Perry, thankfully, wants to know. And he is not alone.