Conservatism is in crisis not just in the US, but in Britain as well. I don't pretend to know the nuances of the British political situation, but the latest developments make for an interesting point of comparison with the tribulations of our own American right.
The polls are quite a blow: Buoyed by Blair's personal unpopularity, by dissatisfaction with public health and education, and above all by dislike of the Iraq war, the Conservatives were just beginning to whisper of victory in the next general election, which must be held by 2009. But by late last week, at least one of my Tory acquaintances had already lost faith. "We'll lose," he told me, matter-of-factly.For Applebaum, as for many American conservatives, the worst thing the Tories can do is continue to move left in reaction to Labour's triangulation; she suggests that such a path may lead to the end of the party itself:
Political parties have life cycles much like the human beings who create them. They are born, they mature, they gain wisdom. Then, sometimes, they die -- and not just in Britain.Her final sentence may imply a warning to a Republican party struggling over its own conservative soul, though the path to extinction may seem to head in different directions depending on one's point of view (for what it's worth, I think the sentiment is overstated when it comes to the Republicans; the Tories have been mired in a far deeper ideological crisis than the GOP).
Here is why the Breakdown Britain theme is a dangerous temptation. Most people are easily persuaded that everything is getting worse, the young are decadent, morals and manners are in freefall, community is collapsing, children are neglected, family is fragmenting and nothing is what it was in a golden age imagined somewhere safely beyond memory, in our grandparents' youth. It is the human condition to believe in perpetual decline. All societies have "something deeply wrong" with them, and Cameron's marriage talisman captures strong political emotions.Toynbee argues that while the Conservatives might reach for low-hanging political fruit -- social negativity, tax cuts, and hardline rhetoric on immigration -- such a party will find itself wedded to "that solid 30% of core Tory voters," a constituency that will strain even within itself to uphold a commitment to old and unrealistic moralist policies. In other words, implies Toynbee's argument, the death of the Conservative Party may result from precisely the treatment Applebaum would prescribe.
But the more he hammers away at this theme, the more he loses his drive for modernity and falls captive to the praise of the Mail and Telegraph.