It is, perhaps, highly probable that many of you were not paying particularly close attention, but last week Britain’s Conservative Party — more popularly known as the Tories — secured an astonishing result: they obtained an overall majority in what all assumed would be yet another hung parliament. After the 2010 general election the Tories — led by Prime Minister David Cameron — took power in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. This was Britain’s first coalition government — that is, a government consisting of more than one party — in over 60 years.
The Liberal Democrats are what you would think they are: They’re to the left of the Labour Party, one of the traditional two governing parties of the United Kingdom. So, for context, imagine, a political party led by Elizabeth Warren in government with a party led by Rand Paul. While the gap between the two was not nearly as wide, that’s as close as an analogous situation can be found in American politics.
Over the past five years, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories have done their best to govern for all of Britain, rather than for their ideologies. To his credit, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg made a bad political decision to join the coalition government, but it was a good decision for his country. In fact, it was one of the most patriotic decisions made by any Western politician in the past two decades, and he deserves credit for it. Unfortunately, it ultimately cost him seats to his coalition partner in government.
While the politics of coalition governance and multi-party democracy are, perhaps, beyond all of us, there are lessons for American politicians in all of this. The conservatives regained a governing majority in Britain by convincing the English that, frankly, they weren’t crazy. Cameron sold England on the idea that he would stand up for traditional values without caving to the social conservatives.
Republicans would be wise to follow his example.
Cameron was able to tell the voters that, while he supported fiscally responsible government, he was not interested in trying to run people’s private lives. This helped him to form a larger, more diverse, Conservative Party, and helped convince younger voters to given the Tories a chance. Not only was this wise politically, it was more consistent as a matter of policy: big government can come from both sides, left and right, for different reasons, and Cameron understood this fully.
Republicans would be wise to not necessarily drop social issues from the platform, but rather to de-emphasize them. Gov. Paul LePage has done this to a certain extent in Maine: Though he’s made it clear that he’s a social conservative, he hasn’t made it a focus of his administration, much like Cameron.
As conservatives, we have to be able to consider how much we are able to tell people that we should run their lives when it comes to social issues — like abortion or gay rights — but not when it comes to fiscal issues, like taxes or welfare. Indeed, this is truly the confounding issue for the Republican Party in the United States in modern times, and it ought not to be taken lightly.
Although not all of them are applicable, we must be willing to consider the lessons from elections in other countries. One of the lessons we can draw from the United Kingdom is that many voters, across the political spectrum, are willing to give a chance to a conservative party that is truly consistent in letting all of us live our lives. A conservative party that is competent, consistent, and able to govern will win a general election in any country, given the chance.
The question is, how much are Republicans willing to give that a chance?