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The British Tories Are Like American Republicans

Many people seem to think that the results of the British general election—a gain of 24 seats for the Tories, giving them a majority—herald a major win for conservatism. They don't. They herald a major win for the Conservative Party, but just because it calls itself the Conservative Party doesn't mean it does conservative things.

Actually, the full official name of that party is the "Conservative and Unionist Party," and last night was not a win for unionism either. The Scottish National Party, once a marginal outfit known outside Scotland only because Sean Connery supported it, picked up 50 seats last night. They utterly destroyed Scottish Labour, which for years was guaranteed the vote of left-wing Scots. Scotland now continues on its chosen path to become a stridently nationalist, one-party socialist state—a kind of Venezuela on the North Sea.

The Tories, meanwhile, have the same problem the Republicans do: they have ceased to be an effective vehicle for the kind of conservatism most of their constituents want. No one trusts they will accomplish anything significant, especially on issues like immigration and the European Union. As someone who reads and has written for British conservative publications, I am surprised the Tories performed as well as they did, given the outright hostility many average, middle-class conservatives have for the party and its leadership. Read the comments below any article in any right-leaning British periodical and you'll see what I mean.

The Tories' coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, was also destroyed yesterday, losing 49 seats. We'll see what the Conservatives can accomplish over the next five years, but if change comes to Britain, I doubt it will arise from anything David Cameron does. Rather, the party will remain successful, in purely electoral terms, because of forces outside its control. If Scotland leaves the union, it would be a boon for the Conservative Party—there are Conservative politicians who, despite their party's manifesto, actually want this. (Well, since Labour has been destroyed north of the border, Scotland has already left the union in the sense that matters for general elections.) This might have the effect of making the Tories even more useless: success can breed arrogance, and arrogance can breed indolence and complacence. The Conservatives would continue to prosper even as they became less conservative, there being no incentive to listen to their constituents. Not that they listen to them now.