David Cameron led Conservatives to power by moving to the center
New UK Prime Minister David Cameron led his Conservative Party out of the political wilderness by moving his party to the center -- and further away from their American cousins in the Republican Party.
Amid conservative elation at David Cameron’s appointment as Britain’s new prime minister, it’s easy to forget that five years ago his Conservative Party was viewed by pundits as moribund and regularly being written off as a spent force.Skip to next paragraph
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Tearing itself apart over issues such as Britain’s relationship with Europe and struggling to come to terms with three fairly comprehensive general election defeats, the party turned to Mr. Cameron, then just 39, to lead it back to power.
Just how he rejuvenated the Tories – by broadening their demographic appeal, softening often shrill messages on immigration, and even embracing some traditionally center-left positions – is causing some of his conservative counterparts across the Atlantic to take notice.
“Among American Republicans, some of us are very interested in how the Conservative party in the UK has adapted its approach and looked at the concerns of those voters who are neither strongly Conservative, nor strongly Labour, by saying: ‘we have something for you and we understand you,’ ” says Thomas Grant, Chairman of Republicans Abroad UK. “There are certainly candidates in parts of the US who are going to look at this as an example to be followed and I can assure you that at the level of the Republican National Committee there are people who also see this as something that needs a close look.”
But part of Cameron's success is also tied to the extent to which, on social questions, the right and center of the British electorate has drifted ever closer to European values and away from the US. Cameron, for instance, told a gay magazine in the past year that Jesus Christ would back gay rights if he were alive today, something that would probably be electoral poison for the Republican base in the US today.
At the heart of Cameron’s modernizing project within his own party – an echo of Tony Blair's and others' rebranding of the Labour Party as "New Labour" in the 1990s – was accepting that elections are won and lost on the center ground.
In particular, stress was placed on preserving Britain’s totemic National Health Service (NHS) and its budget in an attempt to neutralize fears that the most cherished component of the welfare would be at risk if the Conservatives came to power.