Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Iron Lady rusts

There's a strange opinion piece by Norman "Je ne regrette rien" Lamont in Thursday's Wall Street Journal Europe(subs. req'd) -- the page that seems to have become a pit-stop for a certain kind of Tory, with Iain Duncan Smith having been there a few weeks ago. Anyway, Norman's basic complaint is that the current Conservative party is too eager to distance itself from Mrs Thatcher despite, in his view, her lasting positive contributions to the UK, and indeed Tony Blair's willingness to pay homage to the same. Lamont sees this as rooted in a perception that she is a divisive figure, best left unmentioned in a modernising party. He contrasts this with Reagan's image amongst Republicans:

This week I was in the U.S. and saw much of American conservatives' opposition to President Bush, particularly over his latest nomination to the Supreme Court. What struck me forcibly was the sheer self belief and confidence of American conservatives compared with Conservatives in Britain. You did not hear American Republicans distancing themselves from Ronald Reagan and apologizing for his legacy. Tory "modernizers" make a terrible mistake when they denigrate their own party. No one will vote for a party that loathes itself and wants to cut its heroes and heroines down to size.

He clearly has not been reading WSJ regular Peggy Noonan's contributions on exactly the issue of Reagan-Bush divergence; further evidence provided by this debate on National Review's The Cornhole (scroll up and down from this relevant post).

In addition, Lamont presents a list of factors that make Maggie a divisive figure:

Lady Thatcher did destroy the postwar political consensus ... It is true there were victims of change in the Thatcher revolution ... It is true that the poor became better off more slowly than the rich became richer.

But missing from the list is a huge asset for Labour in the last three elections -- the Conservative reputation for economic mismanagement in the run-up to the exchange rate crisis in 1992, during which time the Chancellor was one ... Norman Lamont. And then there was the debacle of the deeply unpopular poll tax, pushed by ideologues with no-one around capable of convincing Maggie how bad an idea it was.

In this sense, the right analogy for Maggie's legacy that Lamont should be looking it is not with Reagan, but with George W. Bush. Reagan was saved from the full consequences of his policies by a Congress that forced tax increases, and by the house-cleaning that followed the Iran-Contra scandal. But now it's Dubya doing the late 1980s version of Maggie -- incoherent economic policies and radical social engineering schemes, and too powerful a cult of personality to be told he's wrong.

So Lamont claims to see a supposedly unified American conservative movement right in the middle of making the same mistake that his party was oblivious to 15 years ago.

UPDATE: Sometimes we amaze even ourselves. Our theme above -- that Lamont was totally missing the analogy between the current state of American conservatism and the Thatcher end-days, and we even mentioned Peggy Noonan. Well, here's Noonan today in the WSJ Online:

Now Mr. Bush is in the first political crisis of his presidency, a crisis unusual, even perhaps unprecedented, in modern American politics, in that his own side has risen up and declared it no longer sees him as one of them. (It is comparable to what happened to Margaret Thatcher in 1990, when Conservative Party members turned on her. That rebellion was more personal than policy-based, but an old rule of politics pertains in both cases: Friends come and go but enemies accumulate.)

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