Advice for Republicans From Great Britain

I had the pleasure of spending an evening in the company of the Adam Smith Institute’s Eamonn Butler at their annual boat party last month. Conversation inevitably turned to the state of the right in both the UK, where they have a chance at power the next election (if you can call Cameron of the right), and in the U.S.

As with the set of interviews I have been doing with leaders of the UK right, I wondered what Butler would do if he were advising the American right on how to bring themselves back from oblivion:

AD: As a leader of a right-of-center/free market think tank that has remained true to its roots despite the left onslaught in the last decade, what advice would you give the right in the U.S. on how to deal with the socialist administration of President Obama?

EB: You have to stick to your principles. You might have to dress them up in different language, and focus on some new areas, but you will never make progress by backtracking or compromising all the time. My own view is that the Obama machine was a great campaign machine, but not a great policy machine. On economics, its policies seem to be taken from a book on political correctness rather than a book on economics (and definitely not from a book on Austrian School economics). Even if they work out a way of implementing these fuzzy ideas, they will soon be disappointed in the results. I think this administration is already running into the sands of disillusionment on economic policy. That's about three years ahead of most administrations.

AD: What do you think of the current leadership of the Conservative Party in the UK who look to be in power come next election?

EB: They're better than a lot of people give them credit for. When the new leader was elected, the Conservatives had been out of office for nearly a decade and were riven with disputes. Nobody knew what the party stood for, and its constant negativity turned off the public. The Conservative brand was thoroughly polluted. The new leader, David Cameron, reckoned he had to rebrand the Conservatives in a big way before people would even listen to them, never mind vote for them. So he started talking about new issues like social inclusion, culture, and the environment, which were not traditional Conservative issue areas (they had focused for years on economic issues). Yes, that introduced some ideas that I would disagree with, but mostly it was window-dressing. The actual policies they are coming up with are not all that bad.

For example, the three big spending ministries are health, education, and welfare. In health they are going back to Mrs. Thatcher's idea of fund-holding family doctors, who can buy in services from the state-run National Health Service or from private providers. In education, their model is to replace state education with charter schools -- which Obama for some odd reason wants to reverse, I'm told. And in welfare, it's a Wisconsin-style contracting-out of the entire business of getting people off benefits and into work. The language is all touchy-feely, but the policies are pretty sound.