Are the Tories Making a Mistake in Ignoring the GOP?
Janan Ganesh thinks the Conservatives’ lack of ties to Republicans is a bad idea:
It is folly to have such threadbare relations with a political party that could soon be in possession of the world’s mightiest office, and which already runs the House of Representatives. At the very least, due diligence would seem to call for a less gushing approach to the president in public, lest it offend his domestic rival. More to the point, Mr Cameron and his advisers never appear to entertain the possibility that a Romney victory would better serve their interests than four more years of Mr Obama.
As Ganesh points out, the distance between Conservatives and Republicans in recent years is something relatively new, but it’s hardly a mystery why the two parties have been drifting apart. There were two things that typified pre-Cameron Conservative party leaders during the Bush years: none of them was very good at leading the opposition to Labour, and all of them seemed interested in remaking their party into the British version of the Bush-era GOP insofar as it this was possible. These two things were related: modeling themselves after Bush helped make them that much less electable at home.
Conservative leaders in the early 2000s were trying to replicate Tony Blair’s feat of copying Bill Clinton, but for their model they chose a President whose reputation was poor in their country and became equally poor in America. If Blair appeared as Bush’s lackey during this period, the Conservative opposition didn’t take advantage of this, and for years they clearly put the preservation of the one-sided U.S.-U.K. relationship ahead of their country’s best interests. One element in the revival of Conservative fortunes was the determination to distinguish between holding a pro-American and Atlanticist position, which they still hold, and falling in line behind whatever the U.S. wanted. Separating Conservatives from their increasingly unpopular and radioactive Republican counterparts was a necessary part of this. Republicans still haven’t acknowledged the failures of the Bush era, and the GOP’s reputation has hardly recovered in America, much less in Britain, so Conservatives have little incentive to cultivate closer ties under these conditions.
For their part, Republicans make it easy for the current Conservative leadership to ignore them with their overblown Anglophilia and their constant complaining that the U.S.-U.K. relationship has suffered horribly in the last three years. On the one hand, their guaranteed support for the relationship with Britain makes it easy to ignore Republicans, since there is little danger that this will dim their instinctive Anglophilia. At the same time, every time that Republicans lament the poor state of the relationship with Britain they are creating the impression that the relationship with the U.S. has suffered on Cameron’s watch, which is something that can only help Cameron’s critics at home. There are no incentives for Conservatives to cultivate ties with the GOP, and many incentives to keep their distance, so it’s not surprising that they have chosen the latter.
Ganesh’s argument for how Obama’s defeat would help the Tories isn’t very persuasive:
For most of Mr Cameron’s time as prime minister, the Labour party has repudiated his austerity programme by invoking the US. Mr Obama delayed his fiscal contraction – says Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor – and has economic growth to show for it. Stubbornly dismal job numbers have made that argument harder to advance. Defeat for Mr Obama would kill it stone dead. The US stimulus could not be promoted as a success if its author had been cashiered by his own citizens.
Presumably it would be more relevant to the debate in Britain if the U.S. economy continued to expand in the coming months. Conservative fiscal policy isn’t going to be saved by Obama’s defeat, and if Romney won it would seem become clear that he is not really a budget-cutter. It’s not as if austerity in Britain is going to become popular because Obama wasn’t re-elected. The hope that a Romney victory would mean “a government far more radical in cutting spending” is one that will likely be disappointed. If Romney loses, as seems more likely all the time, Republicans will be so preoccupied with their own internecine quarreling that it won’t matter whether the Conservatives ignored them or not.