By Beichman, Arnold
Insight on the News , Vol. 17, No. 28
Is Britain's Conservative Party finished for good? Does its second consecutive parliamentary defeat at the hands of Tony Blair's Labor Party mean that the Conservative Party is doomed to lasting irrelevancy? As one who has followed British politics for many years, it is my judgment that the Conservative Party is about to become the "insignificant other" in Britain's 21st-century politics. That dismal fate may hold a warning for the Republican Party and its future.
Premature burial of the Conservative Party has been traditional in British political history for decades. In July 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservative Party, left the Big Three conference at Potsdam in defeated Germany to vote in the first British national election since the beginning of World War II. To the shock of many, the Tories lost the election. Churchill, free-world hero, never returned to the Potsdam conference.
Within six years this same Conservative Party, whose post-1945 election demise was widely predicted, returned to power with Churchill once more as prime minister. The Tory campaign strategy -- an early version of "compassionate conservatism" -- was simple and it worked. The British public wants nationalization and the welfare state? Well and good, but it would be under Tory auspices. In short, the Tories "reinvented" themselves.
The Conservatives introduced the Industrial Charter, a steal from the Labor Party. True-blue Conservatives sneeringly called the new platform "pink socialism" because it spoke well about trade unions. But Conservative Party conferences supported the reforms under the slogan: "You can't unscramble the omelet." In other words, what Labor supposedly had done could not be unscrambled, but it could be better managed.
The old pre-Blair Labor Party was a divided, ideology-driven, ultraleft, union-dominated, Marxist-based organization over which Clement Attlee had no real control, nor did his successor, Hugh Gaitskell. The party's controlling elements -- the left of the left -- preferred to lose elections rather than give an inch on the socialist ideology or on Clause Four of the Labor program -- nationalize anything that moves.
As a result of the Labor split, the Conservatives won four consecutive victories starting in 1979, including the three terms of the great Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the term of her hapless successor, John Major. …