Lessons from the Tories

The Baltimore Sun

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair returns from a late-summer vacation in Barbados with his ruling Labor Party approval rating at a 19-year low of 31 percent.

Conservatives, under new leader David Cameron, enjoy 40 percent approval, according to the latest Guardian/ICM Poll.

Seeking to take advantage of Mr. Blair's troubles and their popularity surge, the Tories last week borrowed a page from what now seems like an ancient Republican Party playbook, publishing a type of "contract with Britain."

Titled "Built to Last: The Aims and Values of the Conservative Party," Mr. Cameron lays out his party's philosophy in the opening lines: "Our Party seeks to cherish freedom, advance opportunity and nurture responsibility. By trusting people, we help individuals grow stronger; by sharing responsibility, we help society grow stronger. We believe that there is such a thing as society, but it is not the same thing as the state."

This last sentence is a middle ground between Ronald Reagan's (and Margaret Thatcher's) "government is the problem" worldview and President Bush's "compassionate conservative" position. There are a few "bones" for almost everyone: "Top-down government seems to belong to another age. Monolithic, unreformed public services do not provide the personalized response people expect. High taxes and poor education make us steadily less competitive."

There is also an appeal to do more to fight HIV/AIDS and endemic poverty in Africa. The word "revolution" is repeated several times, as in a "revolution in personal responsibility." There is great concern throughout the United Kingdom that lawlessness, declining test scores in public schools (Conservatives propose school choice vouchers for the poor) and general cultural drift have caused Britain to fall behind where a majority thinks the country ought to be. The party calls for "a revolution in civic responsibility."

Although the Conservative Party document does acknowledge the need for "new efforts to integrate at home," there is nothing else in its eight points that addresses the public's growing concern about unrestrained immigration. More than 1 million non-European Union foreigners have been allowed to settle in Britain since Labor came to power in 1997. A significant number of those are Muslims who refuse to embrace the cultural values of Britain. According to a recent poll, a majority of Britons (53 percent) now view Islam, not just Muslim extremists, as a threat to society. And 18 percent of those polled believe "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism."

The Conservative Party vision statement offers no specifics about what it would do about any of this should voters elect Mr. Cameron prime minister. Perhaps that is because it wants to avoid being labeled "intolerant" or "Islamophobic." Failing, however, to address this real concern among the British public will not make the issue go away.

After last summer's London subway and bus attacks, Mr. Blair promised to crack down on "preachers of hate" and to close any mosque or Muslim school that advocated violence. He has been unable to do so, thanks mainly to liberal judges and lawyers who have manipulated Britain's legal system, allowing most of the mosques and Muslim schools to continue to preach and teach their extremist doctrines.

No party can lead without addressing security and uncontrolled immigration. It isn't about keeping people from enjoying a better life. It is about preserving life for those already here and for those who come in an orderly, legal and proportional fashion. Immigrants must be willing to transform themselves into complete British citizens, embracing the history, language, culture and laws of their adopted home. Anyone not wishing to do so should not come, or should be deported for trying to undermine that which serves the majority.

Still, the Conservative Party is on to something. America's Republican Party would do well to remember what it has forgotten, which is that power should not be used to perpetuate oneself in office but to do good things. Democrats, who appear to have a chance at recapturing a congressional majority, should be required to offer a detailed "contract" of their own - one that would allow them to liberate themselves from the special interests and class warfare of the past and move into the 21st century with new ideas to deal with serious challenges at home and abroad.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is cal@calthomas.com.

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