Thursday, November 06, 2008

My message to the Republican party

We Tories have been there.

Back in 1997, the Conservatives were booted out of power when a young and charismatic leader, Tony Blair gained a landslide majority.

Under William Hague we moved to the right, putting out a strong Eurosceptic tax-cutting message. In 2001, we were defeated by another Labour landslide majority. Some people started to wonder if the Conservatives would ever be in government again.

After that, we took another right-wing leader, Iain Duncan Smith, sticking with the right-wing platform. Smith lost the confidence of the party and was replaced by a veteran Conservative politician, Michael Howard. Few people expected him to win the election in 2005, but we knew we could rely on him to be a credible loser who would restore something of the party's strengh and reputation.

Michael Howard campaigned on an unbelievably right-wing platform, focusing on immigration and other 'dog-whistle' issues. Back then I remember being slightly physically sickened when Michael Howard chose to make Gypsies an election issue.

As expected, Michael Howard reduced Labour's majority and gave us a renewed sense of confidence. But he was an old man and was not the one to lead the party. We also felt a certain lack of vision in the party.

In the leadership contest that followed, David Cameron charmed the party into following him. He was young, fresh and in tune with the modern world. He pointed out the need for the party to change its image; to become more inclusive and in tune with the liberal mood of modern Britain. Cameron shifted the gears by opting for more consensual politics, supporting some of Blair's programme. The party dropped promises of tax cuts and focused on delivery of effective public services.

Now we are strong. We have a real chance of winning the next election.

The Republican party will have to decide whether to move to the right or to the left. For us, going back to the tried and tested right-wing ways was an utter failure. Britain had changed and the old mantras no longer had the same resonance. We needed a leader who was different and spoke different language.

The Republican party needs to recognise that America has changed. It is a more liberal and more diverse society than it used to be. If the party is to address contemporary America, it has to be able to communicate with the people who adore Obama and saw him as a beacon of hope.

The Republican party needs to find a new liberal voice.

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