Anglosphere’s conservatives march on without the GOP
September 9, 2013 Leave a comment
It is perhaps apt that Wikipedia’s map of the Anglosphere makes generous use of the colour blue. Of its six core members, five are or imminently will be governed by right-of-centre administrations: Canada and Britain under their respective Conservative Parties, New Zealand under the National Party, Australia under its incoming (and curiously named) Liberal-National Coalition government, and Ireland under the Fine Gael (“Tribe of the Irish”) party.
The sixth country, the United States, is partially governed by the Democrats who dominate the White House and Senate, and the Republicans who dominate the House of Representatives.
The election of the newest of these governments, Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in Australia this past Saturday, was observed with keen interest in Canada, despite the precisely 10,008 miles (16,107 kilometres) that separate Ottawa and Canberra, the two countries’ capitals.
During their long spell in opposition from 1993 to 2006, Canadian conservatives turned to their more successful Australian and New Zealander counterparts for advice, especially as the Internet and the falling cost of long-haul travel eliminated the tyranny of distance. The relationship has remained fairly close, as Simon Kent noted today in a Sun Media op-ed:
Abbott and Harper can both claim former Australian Prime Minister John Howard as a mentor, friend and political guide. They are both published authors, with Abbott’s works set on political philosophy whereas Harper’s book on the early history of hockey is set to hit store shelves Nov. 5.
[ . . . ]
With Tony Abbott’s ascent to power there is now a quartet of socially and politically conservative leaders in four of the major English-speaking members of the Commonwealth. Abbott joins U.K. premier David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper and New Zealand’s John Key at the helm of their respective countries at a time when conservative politics seems to be on the rise.
It is a bit of a stretch, however, to describe the four as being of like mind. Kent correctly notes that Abbott, who once trained to become a Catholic priest, is socially conservative, at least at a personal level. Abbott, however, is akin to Harper in his tendency (so far) to focus on economics and to throw his fellow social conservatives no more red meat than absolutely necessary.
Perhaps taking advice from former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, who once attributed his popularity to the fact that “I don’t exude morality”, Abbott’s party painstakingly avoided topics other than the economy, education, health care, infrastructure and security in its 2013 election platform.
The U.K.’s David Cameron and New Zealand’s John Key, meanwhile, might be typically conservative on economic and security issues, but are less so on social issues. Both of their governments legalized same-sex marriage this year — Britain in July, New Zealand in August — and Key’s government in New Zealand recently passed legislation aiming to regulate rather than prohibit certain drugs.
The policies of “the quartet”, as Kent calls them, stand in sharp contrast to those of the Republican Party in the United States, illustrating a growing separation of mind between American conservatives and their erstwhile Anglosphere allies.
Normally, one would expect the Americans to play a leading role in generating and exporting ideas, given that the Republican Party is by far the Anglosphere’s largest conservative party.
Instead, the Republican Party — long called the Grand Old Party, or GOP for short — has become an absurdly insular and provincial party, almost completely disengaged from the outside world of conservative politics.
Can anyone seriously imagine Stephen Harper, who has a Master’s degree in Economics, suggesting, as one Oklahoma congressman did, that a $9 minimum wage would cause the price of a hamburger to rise to $20?
Or David Cameron calling for a law that would make oral sex illegal, as a Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia has done?
Or John Key, a former U.S.- and Singapore-based Merrill Lynch executive, mulling the idea of putting the New Zealand dollar on the Gold Standard, as the 2012 Republican Party presidential platform suggested for the U.S. dollar — an idea that a writer for The Economist described as “ridiculous, antediluvian, superstitious nonsense“.
In all three cases, such moves would be unthinkable, as their respective parties, whatever their shortcomings, are cognizant like all other parties of the importance of keeping the proponents of flakier ideas, such as those that have emanated from the less-disciplined GOP, in a state of containment.
Thus the small-c conservative parties of the Anglosphere are divided between five smaller ones that periodically play to their base, as all parties do, but are still largely pragmatic in practice, and one big one that seems to eschew reality, risking the future of a country whose successes and failures have impacts that can be felt far beyond its borders.
A global learning tour for U.S. Republican leaders, with stops in Dublin, London, Canberra, Wellington and Ottawa, might well be in order given the success of the smaller parties. But don’t count on it happening soon.