Magazine article The Spectator

Talk like a Sissy - but Be Tough

Magazine article The Spectator

Talk like a Sissy - but Be Tough

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

LAST November, the day after the US election, with Dubya clinging to victory by a hanging chad, Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk-radio, told his audience: `Maybe there are fewer of us than I thought.' Rush has 22 million listeners: that's one American radio host with about three times as many supporters as turned out for the British Tories last week.

Later that month, Her Majesty's northern Dominion held its own federal election. The right-wing opposition fought a defensive campaign of staggering ineptness and the incumbent Liberals swept back with an increased majority. As I wrote in the National Post (The Speccie's Canadian cousin), `There are definitely fewer of us than I thought.'

Which brings us to Britain, where there are evidently so few of us that one trembles to use the word 'us'. The fourth G7 nation to hold an election was Italy, and my suggestion to you, the loyal reader (I use the singular advisedly), is that we grab a Fiat Uno, swing down to Rome, and see if Silvio Berlusconi needs any casual yard work this summer or, better yet, a couple of gaffers for one of his stripping-housewife game-shows.

Watching conservatives lose around the world is dispiriting but, one hopes, useful. As a consequence of the continuing shakeout from the great Tory massacre of 1993 (when the governing party was reduced to two seats), Canada's principal opposition is a newish grouping that got off to a wobbly start early last year under the acronymically careless name of the Conservative Reform Alliance party. This should be a heartening example to anyone who thinks politics is too airbrushed and focus-grouped. But, though not Crap by name, the British Tories seem to be so by nature. For those of us of a right-wing bent, the Conservative campaign just ended was cringemakingly embarrassing. This is not the wisdom of hindsight, as this time last year there was a working model for a viable conservative election strategy: the Bush campaign. You may have heard of it. It was in some of the papers, though apparently not the ones read by Conservative Central Office. What were the lessons to be learnt from George W. Bush?

1) He may be a boob, a dolt, a stooge of Big Oil, but he doesn't frighten the kids when you put him on TV.

2) He talks like a sissy. Not in the agonising Bi-Curious-White-Male-Seeks-Political-- Party-To-Work-Through-Some-Complicated-Personal-Demons-Left-Over-From-- College manner of certain doomed Tory leadership candidates, but in his shameless appropriation of the Left's vocabulary all that 'compassion' - and its issues notably his pledge on education to `leave no child behind'. This is a regrettable necessity of our debased, soccer-mommified democracy: the Right cannot let the Left have a monopoly on all the nice words. And, as the Bush campaign demonstrated, it really isn't that difficult to frame mean, tough, conservative-bastard policies in nancy-boy terms.

Is it so hard to find a normal-looking guy who talks cuddly bollocks? The Canadian Alliance at least tried. In the wake of the Bush campaign they, too, picked a boob one Stockwell Day, the treasurer of Alberta and a former lobsterman, interior decorator and Pentecostal preacher. Even in Alberta, this is a somewhat unusual CV. But Day was young and telegenic and amiable. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a real boob, not just, like Bush, someone who plays one on TV. And, in his desire to be liked, he ended up abandoning his party's core issues, winding up the campaign as a boob with no policies.

Which brings us to the British Tories. Instead of a Bush campaign, they ran a Pat Buchanan campaign, though not half so entertainingly. In 1996, Pitchfork Pat stood on the American bank of the Rio Grande roaring `No way, Jose', and pledging to build a wall along the border so high it'd block out all sunlight from there to Dallas. He told Red China that `you've sold your last pair of chopsticks in America's shopping malls'. …

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