Saturday, May 07, 2005

Maurice Saatchi deplores the Burkean strain of pure pragmatism and anti-idealism in British conservatism today, claiming a negative effect on the current British election:

Like Burke, we saw "what is" in modern Britain clearly enough, and like the public we did not like a great deal of what we saw: the thwarted talent, the deplorable failure of Blair's public service reforms, the waste of taxpayers' money, the obscenity of poverty compounded by taxation. But we did not raise the horizons of the British and tell them with sufficient optimism, excitement, and passion, what "should be". This was a tragedy of failed communication and false perception because no Tory politician cares more about "what should be" than Michael Howard.

That may well be true about Michael Howard. Saatchi would obviously know better than I do, but I can't say that impression ever came across in the media. Particularly in the US, where of course our impression is even more filtered than that received in Britain.

About the larger point, though, the dearth of optimism or idealism in British conversatism, Saatchi is simply suggesting, by way of a fix, something similar to what neo-conservatism brought to American conservatism – a strain of idealism that moves the party beyond pure pragmatism. And allows its ideas – however controversial in some circles – to catch fire. It very clearly leaves the reference out to neo-conservatism, however, since neo-conservatives have been stereotyped in The Power of Nightmares and elsewhere in the British press as a "kabal" of scary Jews seeking world domination.

This lack of idealism was obvious in Howard's critique of Blair's Iraq effort as all lies and spin, despite Tory support for the war itself under the previous party leader. The problem with it is that it failed to credit the war, itself, with being an absolute turning point in the modern Middle East and for the best. So it makes the critique of Blair also look like hollow spin. But, then, British conservatism is a very strange bird from an American POV. A little idealism would have helped.


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