English-Speaking Union: Conservatives in Britain Yearn for Yesteryear

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Margaret Thatcher's triumphant return to Conservative Party prominence at Blackpool earlier this month was quite a sight to behold. It has been nine long years since Mrs. Thatcher - now Baroness Thatcher - was overthrown by her Conservative colleagues in a coup worthy of Kremlin Palace intrigue. In fact, the British Tories are still settling scores and they are nowhere close to recovering from the upheaval that ended the Thatcher era. If American conservatives are feeling ambivalent about their place in the world these days, their identity crisis is nothing like what seems to be besetting the Tories.

One sign was the standing ovation given accorded the former prime minister, and this despite the fact that her speech certainly contained more heat than light. Still, after years of looking at the drab John Major and the current leader, the minuscule and balding William Hague, watching Mrs. T. wield her handbag was refreshing. Mr. Major in an embittered new autobiography described his one-time mentor as having "warrior characteristics," which is not really that far off. "I'm told I have to be careful what I say," she intoned. "I don't like it." And so she wasn't.

"We are quite the best country in Europe. In my lifetime, all the problems have come from mainland Europe, and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking world." Great round of applause.

Now, this provocative analysis of the 20th century may not be so far off. Still, you have to wonder if the implication to be derived represents the right direction or a false start for conservatives here and in Britain, i.e. that English-speaking nations, specifically Britain and the United States need to stick together against the rest of the world, characterized as it is by Babylonian confusion and dark French plots. There was apparently even a petition circulated at Blackpool that Britain should become the 51st American state, surely an astonishing suggestion coming from the former colonial power.

That British Tories should be angry and frustrated by the successes of slick Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, that conservatives here are incensed at the indestructibility of President Clinton, a man whom few Americans would trust as far as they could throw him, that the apparent dynamism of the so-called Third Way is driving everybody on the right up the wall is perfectly understandable. What ought not happen, however, is that these emotions should cause them to march off in the the wrong direction.

These questions were pondered last week at a Heritage Foundation conference, "Beyond the Third Way: Reviving Conservative Leadership in America and Britain," bringing together participants from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. …