Magazine article The Spectator

How the Right Has Won in the US

Magazine article The Spectator

How the Right Has Won in the US

Article excerpt

'You from England?' asked the Arizona delegate in the Uncle Sam waistcoat covered in 'W-04' badges. 'Well, that's a good conservative country.' One of us pointed out William Hague applauding Arnold Schwarzenegger with transatlantic gusto. 'Can't say I know him,' observed the Arizonan. 'But he looks like a good man.' Then he beamed again. 'Like Tony Blair.'

If Michael Howard had decided to accompany Mr Hague to the Republican convention in New York, rather than staying at home to lick his wounds after his spat with George Bush, he would have found plenty to reassure him. Most grassroots Republicans still warm to the party of Margaret Thatcher; Rudy Giuliani compared Mr Bush to Winston Churchill twice, a clever piece of political sycophancy given Mr Bush's hero-worship of Churchill; many still make a point of following the Tories' antics, albeit not always accurately. (One Republican recently quizzed us about a rising young black Conservative in the United Kingdom, steeled in the struggle from inner-city deprivation to the Palace of Westminster: 'David Cameroon'.)

Yet the harsh fact is that the gulf between conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic has never yawned wider. The most eye-catching difference is to do with the one thing that politicians value above all others - power. The Republicans have long since taken over from the British Conservatives as the most successful right-wing party in the West. The Republicans have held the presidency for all but 12 of the past 36 years. They now control both Houses of Congress as well as a majority of the state legislatures and most of the governorships.

The British Conservatives have shrunk to their heartland - the south-east and the shires. The Republicans, by contrast, remain a proudly national party. They don't talk about removing 'bed Mockers' but of conquering new swaths of territory. They control the governorships of the two most Democratic big states, California and New York, as well as the mayorship of New York City. This is the equivalent of the British Tories capturing seats across Scotland and Wales as well as the mayorship of Liverpool.

Nor is there any sign that the Republican hold on power is likely to loosen any time soon, despite the publication of books with hopeful titles such as The Emerging Democratic Majority. George Bush is pulling ahead of John 'Dukakis' Kerry in the polls, despite a weak economy and an unpopular war in Iraq: he is currently about five points ahead. Even if he does lose in November, the Republicans are likely to keep control of the House, perhaps even the Senate and most of the states. The map of the Right Nation will still be painted Republican red.

Far more impressively, American conservatism dominates the political debate. President Kerry is merely offering a conservatism lite (not unlike Bill Clinton, who ended up being best known for abolishing welfare and balancing the budget). Mr Kerry has already pronounced himself a fan of 'conservative values' and tried to court John McCain, the conservative Republican from Arizona, as his running mate. You only have to imagine Mr Bush declaring himself a fan of 'liberal values' and trying to recruit Teddy Kennedy as his running mate to understand where the centre of political gravity lies.

Political parties sometimes look most formidable just before they implode. Even as Mrs Thatcher won her third election victory in 1987 the Conservative party was dying beneath her, its membership aging, its political machinery rusting, its support in the north and the Celtic fringe fading. There is little chance of this happening with the Republicans. Most of the rising stars of American politics - like Messrs Schwarzenegger and Giuliani - are Republican. This year's Young Republican meeting in Washington DC was the biggest in the organisation's history. Battalions of fiery young conservatives descended on the capital to berate Democrats, buy George W. Bush dolls and talk drunkenly about introducing a flat tax. …

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