David Cameron Breathes Life into Britain's Conservatives

On Tuesday December 6, David Cameron was elected leader of the British Conservative Party.  He's the fourth leader since 1997 when John Major was defeated by Tony Blair and his New Labour Party.  Can he breathe life into the party, unlike his predecessors, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, and Michael Howard?

Perhaps he can, because it is beginning to look as though the Labour Party is going the way of all British Labour governments.  Sooner or later they all run out of money, according to Tory stalwart Ken Clarke.

Back in 1997 it looked as though New Labour had learned from the mistakes of Third Way compadre, Bill Clinton.  When Clinton came up to bat as president he promptly hit into a double play, enacting a big tax increase and pushing a huge government takeover of health care that prompted the American people to elect a Republican Congress in 1994.  Tony Blair learned from Clinton's mistake.  He promised not to increase income tax rates and not to increase spending—at least, not for a while.  So the British economic boom that had started in 1992 continued, and Blair established a reputation for economic competence that led to re—election in 2001 and 2005. 

But the British people, encouraged by the chattering classes, wanted the government to improve 'public services.' So Blair promised to invest in the creaking centralized welfare state of government education, government health care, and government transport systems and deliver the world class public services that Britain deserved.

Since 1997, Tony Blair's government has 'invested' billions in health and education,  ballooning British government spending from 38 percent of GDP to an expected 44 percent this year or next.  The government has added some 800,000 workers to bolster education and health care. But absent market disciplines, the productivity of the government sector has gone down, dragging the rest of the economy with it.  And now Labour is running out of money.

Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher got into a heap of trouble by saying 'there is no such thing as the state.'  What she actually said in her interview with Women's Own magazine in 1987 was:

[T]oo many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it... They're casting their problem on society.  And you know, there is no such thing as society.  There are individual men and women, and there are families.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there are many people on the left (try this on one of them) that cannot grasp the difference between 'society' and 'government.'  When they say that society should so something, they cannot imagine anything but a new government program.  But the essence of the conservative vision since Edmund Burke is to insist that there is a middle ground between government and the individual, the Burkean 'little platoons'
and the 'mediating structures' of Berger and Neuhaus in Empowering People.
In this middle ground are the other ingredients that go into the social pie:
families, churches, associations, charities, foundations, mutual—aid societies, and labor unions.

Now comes David Cameron, and he is saying, again and again, in speech after speech:

There is such a thing as society.  It's just not the same thing as the state.

You can see what that is all about.  It is a cunning 'third way,' or at least it wants to be, between the 'no such thing as society' of Thatcher and the mindless conflation of society and state that derails the left—wing vision into universal compulsion, the inability to imagine a world that is deeper, richer, more civilized than the modernist windswept plaza across which individual and government confront each other without shelter from the mediating institutions that break up the cruel winds of power.

Some commentators worry that David Cameron is young and untested, a pretty face with a single speech.  But at 39, he has been in politics most of his adult life, doing research at Conservative Party headquarters and staffing for John Major and others in the last Conservative government.  Above all, he is experienced in the skills and the techniques of presenting a political party through the modern media.

With Cameron's election to Tory Party leader it is clear that Anglo—Saxon conservatism, while differing in presentation and style from one side of the Atlantic to the other, is united in a grand vision of society.  Its central themes, east and west of the pond, are the separation of powers, the differentiation of society into Michael Novak's political, economic, and moral/cultural sectors, and a thriving civil society of families, churches, associations, and clubs.

There is a difference between society and state.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

On Tuesday December 6, David Cameron was elected leader of the British Conservative Party.  He's the fourth leader since 1997 when John Major was defeated by Tony Blair and his New Labour Party.  Can he breathe life into the party, unlike his predecessors, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, and Michael Howard?

Perhaps he can, because it is beginning to look as though the Labour Party is going the way of all British Labour governments.  Sooner or later they all run out of money, according to Tory stalwart Ken Clarke.

Back in 1997 it looked as though New Labour had learned from the mistakes of Third Way compadre, Bill Clinton.  When Clinton came up to bat as president he promptly hit into a double play, enacting a big tax increase and pushing a huge government takeover of health care that prompted the American people to elect a Republican Congress in 1994.  Tony Blair learned from Clinton's mistake.  He promised not to increase income tax rates and not to increase spending—at least, not for a while.  So the British economic boom that had started in 1992 continued, and Blair established a reputation for economic competence that led to re—election in 2001 and 2005. 

But the British people, encouraged by the chattering classes, wanted the government to improve 'public services.' So Blair promised to invest in the creaking centralized welfare state of government education, government health care, and government transport systems and deliver the world class public services that Britain deserved.

Since 1997, Tony Blair's government has 'invested' billions in health and education,  ballooning British government spending from 38 percent of GDP to an expected 44 percent this year or next.  The government has added some 800,000 workers to bolster education and health care. But absent market disciplines, the productivity of the government sector has gone down, dragging the rest of the economy with it.  And now Labour is running out of money.

Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher got into a heap of trouble by saying 'there is no such thing as the state.'  What she actually said in her interview with Women's Own magazine in 1987 was:

[T]oo many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it... They're casting their problem on society.  And you know, there is no such thing as society.  There are individual men and women, and there are families.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there are many people on the left (try this on one of them) that cannot grasp the difference between 'society' and 'government.'  When they say that society should so something, they cannot imagine anything but a new government program.  But the essence of the conservative vision since Edmund Burke is to insist that there is a middle ground between government and the individual, the Burkean 'little platoons'
and the 'mediating structures' of Berger and Neuhaus in Empowering People.
In this middle ground are the other ingredients that go into the social pie:
families, churches, associations, charities, foundations, mutual—aid societies, and labor unions.

Now comes David Cameron, and he is saying, again and again, in speech after speech:

There is such a thing as society.  It's just not the same thing as the state.

You can see what that is all about.  It is a cunning 'third way,' or at least it wants to be, between the 'no such thing as society' of Thatcher and the mindless conflation of society and state that derails the left—wing vision into universal compulsion, the inability to imagine a world that is deeper, richer, more civilized than the modernist windswept plaza across which individual and government confront each other without shelter from the mediating institutions that break up the cruel winds of power.

Some commentators worry that David Cameron is young and untested, a pretty face with a single speech.  But at 39, he has been in politics most of his adult life, doing research at Conservative Party headquarters and staffing for John Major and others in the last Conservative government.  Above all, he is experienced in the skills and the techniques of presenting a political party through the modern media.

With Cameron's election to Tory Party leader it is clear that Anglo—Saxon conservatism, while differing in presentation and style from one side of the Atlantic to the other, is united in a grand vision of society.  Its central themes, east and west of the pond, are the separation of powers, the differentiation of society into Michael Novak's political, economic, and moral/cultural sectors, and a thriving civil society of families, churches, associations, and clubs.

There is a difference between society and state.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.