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The War Against Terror – how Conservative fortunes could finally be changing

On the face of it the Conservative Party just now is having a terrible time, with the very telegenic Michael Portillo making life an utter misery for the deeply untelegenic Iain Duncan Smith. But something big is happening in the world which could see off the Labour Party for the next little slice of British history, and bring the Conservatives right back into contention.

The voters in Britain infuriate me. I like the people, by and large. Salt of the earth, most of them. But when they get around to voting, they have profoundly different priorities to me, or to anyone with a serious interest in politics.

Basically Britain’s voters would sooner vote for a party which is united in agreeing to do the wrong thing, than a party which is divided about just how enthusiastically it should resist that (or some other) wrong thing, or do any right thing. Division is all. Unity is all. They vote against the former and for the latter, regardless of what is being agreed or disagreed about. I loath and despise this, as I say, but that is how it is.

Well, for the last fifteen years, ever since the Cold War fizzled out, the Big Thing in British politics has been Europe.

Labour is a tiny bit disunited about it. Most Labourites love it that Europe gives them as much socialism as the real world is ever going to give them, in the form of a ocean of capitalism-hobbling regulations and interferences. A few Labourites aren’t satisfied only with that much socialism and would prefer more and on that basis they complain about Europe.

But such bickerings are nothing compared to the giant axe that Europe slammed into the very torso of the Conservative Party. Conservatives have been at each others’ throats about Europe for, as I say, the last decade and a half. It did for Thatcher. It did for Major. It did for the lot of them.

But now, post 9/11, the issue is no longer Europe. The issue is, to put it bluntly: the USA. Well, not the USA as such, merely its policy of choosing actively to prosecute the War Against Terror (i.e. against terrorists) rather than just hoping that terrorism and terrorists will go away. President Bush has decided to hunt them varmints until there ain’t none left, and what’s more to hunt down the no-good preachers who are stirring them all up, and if Europe don’t like it, too bad for Europe. As Bush said – in one of those scary speeches he made soon after 9/11, which sophisticated Europeans ignored as the gaseous emissions of a politician seeking mere poll numbers and re-election, but which Bush himself actually, it is now turning out, meant – either you’re with us or you’re agin’ us. That is now the Big Question.

And it so happens that the Conservatives are united in being with George Bush, less a few freakish europhiliac grumblers, while Labour is catastrophically divided about the War Against Terror (in the form that the Americans are now choosing to fight it), as today’s dramas in the House of Commons have now made very clear.

If it is true, as I found myself saying last week, that this War Against Terror thing is not just going to be an episode, but maybe something more like an era, then to that exact degree the news is now a lot better for the Conservatives.

9 comments to The War Against Terror – how Conservative fortunes could finally be changing

  • Just to make something clear: what Bush said was “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The difference is subtle, but what he was trying to say was that anyone who tried to stay neutral was effectively aiding the terrorists.

    Which Indonesia found out was true in Bali.

    I do find it odd (but pleasing) that Blair survived a challenge from within his own party because he gained support from the opposition. Y’all got a strange system, know that?

  • I watched a little of the debate yesterday, but I heard plenty of criticism from the Conservatives. Kenneth Clarke sounded as weak-kneed as any member of the U.S. Democratic Party. I guess appearances are deceiving.

  • O'Brian

    The next few months will demonstrate whether the Conservative are moving beyond their ‘core support’. Despite the political debates over Iraq, voting intentions remain linked to the standard of living and levels of taxation. When the NICs and council tax increases hit after April, we will see if te Tories benefit from disillusionment with the government’s reputation for ‘economic competence’.

    However, yesterday’s debate demonstrated that Labour is as divided on Iraq as the Tories are on Europe. If Brian’s thesis holds water, the only leader who will gain is Charles Kennedy and the party that will do well in the local elections is the Liberal Democrats.

    Divsion on Iraq within Labour may have the unfortunate consequence of consigning the Tories to ‘third party’ status.

  • Louis Robinson`

    I agree with you. Not many politicians (and hardly any UK voters) have come to terms with the new reality – actually its an old reality we simply ignored for decades. Since the 50s terrorists have been emboldened by weak responses and now they mean business. They look at the UN and yesterday’s speeches in the British parliament and are heartened. They watch ‘good people’ debating and see it as weakness. The message given to Saddam Hussein by the Labour MP’s revolt is one of hope. “I can still escape” he thinks. “I can still get away with it.” The ‘good people’ of the political establishment will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a world in which “retaliation” is an obsolete concept. Its a hell of a difficult problem- but I would feel happier if some of the MPs yesterday were thinking about the New Reality, not fighting old wars fueled by anti-Americanism, the class struggle and political ambition.
    But do we have time? He who strikes first wins. Its as simple as that.

  • Patrick W

    Brian is right I think. But the Tory battlefield in this war will mostly be fought not in the international war on terror but in the EU. There will be a continuing US push for the whole Arab world to reform. There will be a continuing US push to foster an Atlanticist and genuinely friendly alternative to the Franco / German axis in Europe. The trench fighting on where the EU ‘project’ is going hasn’t even got started. Wait until the eastern Eurpoean nations join in.

    Since the Tories, for all their internal strife, are predominantly anti Brussels, pro free markets, favour self determination over state or ‘group’ allegiances and are pro-US, the pull of history and realpolitik over the next few years will be more favourable for them. I suspect (and hope) that if push ever comes to shove when this split in the ‘West’ gets really nasty, and Briatin has to choose between allying itself with Washington or Brussels, that we will go with Washington. If not I’ll be first in the queue for a Green Card.

  • John J. Coupal

    It appears that society has arrived at having to choose between the “telegenic and competent” and the “telegenic and incompetent” candidate.

    One of the liabilities of television, I guess.

    We Yanks learned that after 8 years of Bubba. [He would be the latter].

  • Daniel Schmidt

    “He who strikes first wins. Its as simple as that.”

    I not convinced of the truth of this. The WTC attack was a first strike, but I don’t know how much of a win resulted, Pyrrhic or otherwise. I can see how the ’67 Israelis might have viewed retaliation as obsolete, but what modern terrorist targets would be hopelessly crippled in one blow?

  • But Europe is still an issue and one that the War on Terrorism has and will bring into sharp relief. We are very soon going to find out where the Eurofanatics stand: will they back the US or Europe?

    Of course, with the Group of Eight forming a counter-weight to the Franco-German Axis, Blair can now make a plausibile pro-American case for an active European policy.

  • O'Brian

    And any pro-European case, even if it sounds plausible and pro-American, will induce bile.

    Plausibile – another well-rounded neologism.