It is interesting to observe how political labels are used across the United States and around the world, as if these labels meant the same thing regardless of location. For example, a conservative in Louisiana is very different from a conservative in New York, just as a liberal in Louisiana is very different from a liberal in New York. The same is the case for conservatives and liberals compared to politicians with the same political labels from other nations.
David Brooks, writing for The New York Times, observed that recently re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain's Conservative Party isn't a Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher type of conservative, but "a more conservative version of President Obama." Socially, Cameron's brand of conservatism "is liberal on social policy and green on global warming" writes Brooks. Cameron's cabinet, for example, includes a Secretary of Energy and Climate Change.
According to BBC News, in his first cabinet meeting, Cameron told his cabinet members to focus on "bread and butter" issues to improve people's lives. For example, Cameron promised to help fund 3 million "apprenticeships" in Great Britain in order to help the unemployed receive job training, while making a commitment to "support those that cannot work," according to BBC News.
Child care, Cameron said during his campaign, would be a priority for his new government. Indeed, American politicians should pay attention to how child care is supported in Great Britain, even by conservatives. Currently, according to BBC News, "all three and four-year olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year, which works out as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year." Cameron promised to increase the 15 hours to 30 hours each week by 2017. He also promised "to introduce tax-free childcare for every child," according to BBC News.
Hear that, American conservatives? In some parts of the developed world, conservatives actually believe that caring for young children is a wise investment in their nation's future.
Unlike the majority of American conservatives, Cameron's conservative party supports abortion rights, same-sex marriage (Cameron's party includes more than a dozen openly gay men serving in the British Parliament), national health care, renewable energy and a carbon tax. Cameron's style of conservatism sounds more like President Barack Obama's style of liberalism to me.
Where do American conservatives and Cameron's conservative party agree? Both play up the theme of national security, especially when it comes to immigrants and immigration policy. Americans may think immigration issues are a big deal in the United States, but they are a much more significant issue in Europe, where immigrants and refugees flock from multiple war zones in their backyards. National identity was also a prominent campaign theme for Cameron, as it continues to be for many American conservatives.
Some conservatives in the United States — some call them moderates and some call them Republicans-In-Name-Only — are trying to pull the GOP to the left on social issues like marriage equality while remaining firmly in the traditional conservative camp on national security issues, including unlimited support for the Pentagon and tighter controls over our borders. Some of these folks see a future for conservatism in America modeled after the conservatism in Great Britain; that is, becoming more progressive on social issues as the attitudes of a majority of Americans evolve on issues such as marriage equality, but remaining strong on defense and spending.
Then again, after watching conservatives in the House of Representatives cut spending for Amtrak last week, I'd say American conservatives may be moving further to the right as conservatives in Great Britain move further to the left. Clearly, the conservative political label means two different things depending on which side of the pond you live.
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Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. E-mail him at email@example.com.