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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

MICHAEL MOORE TORIES I like the title of this piece by Adrian Wooldridge. In it some evidence for the issues the Free Democrat brought up recently. Wooldridge has a few criticisms that are a little unfair, particularly in regards to Michael Howard's Iraq-critique but otherwise it raises a few important points:

Why are so many British Tories singing from Michael
Moore's song book? The obvious reason is Tony Blair.
American conservatives may regard Blair as a reincarnation
of Winston Churchill, but for most Tories he is the
devil incarnate, a cultural vandal who is destroying
great British institutions, from the House of Lords to
fox hunting, in the name of nonsense such as "Cool
Britannia." Tories resent Blair for showing more backbone
in dealing with America's enemies, in the form of al Qaeda,
than he showed in dealing with the IRA; some of them are
also bitter at George W. Bush for bestowing the Churchillian
mantle on a left-wing lightweight.
of war.
(. . . )
In the end, looking for sinister motives behind the Michael
Moore Tories is something of a fool's errand for American
conservatives, because it misses the bigger point. In terms
of right-wing parties, it is American conservatism which
now looks the exception, not British conservatism. After all,
the Tories' anti-Bush, anti-Sharon views are typical of
educated rightists across Europe. Rather than being the
woman who redefined British conservatism, Thatcher looks
ever more like a momentary exception. While the
Republicans have continued to move to the right, the
Tories have slipped back to the center, proclaiming their
allegiance to the National Health Service and cooling
on the case for tax cuts.

This is a schism within British conservatism that has been surfacing more powerfully after 9/11 and particularly over Iraq. A while back Michael Gove wrote about this and it's a feeling that creeps up on me whenever I open the Daily Mail. What if Wooldridge is right and Thatcher and Atlanticism were in fact the exception rather than the rule? Where does that leave any hope for a truly modern and equally conservative politics in the UK? To put it more personally, where does that leave me? I can't connect to the Christian Democrat Tories like Clark and Patten, because even though I see some pragmatic arguments in favour of some form of European integration I don't have any passion for it and think that in many respects integration has already gone too far in some areas (agriculture and fisheries policy) and gone in the wrong direction in others (too much regulation). The Little Englanders are equally alien to me. Staying with the European theme they are too Europhobic. On a wider level I think they're too isolationist; a view of Britain's place in the world neither congruent with our interests or values. There are of course domestic differences as well, but I'm sticking to these points for now. And of course, the main point of Wooldridge's article anti-Americanism and Gove's charge of dove-ism are both as widespread amongst these two strands of Toryism as they are viscerally loathed by yours truly. There's certainly a fight going on here, even if it's fairly cool at the moment, but I could well imagine that another crushing defeat for the Conservatives in a general election would take the restraints off both sides.

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