The incredible rise of new conservative movements, both in the USA and in the UK, should be a positive thing. Tea Party affiliated groups and the UK Independence Party have energised conservatives at every level of politics, bringing a much-needed boost to conservatism as a movement – but are their successes actually counter-productive when it comes to electing conservative candidates?
The Republican Party will have to make a net gain of six seats in the US Senate if they want to be able to effectively reign in Barack Obama after almost six years of executive overreach. But as I noted last time, they’re having to play defence in Kansas and Kentucky, as well as unseat several incumbents who, for now, still have a lead in the polls. But what if they didn’t need to make a net gain of six seats? What if they only needed to pick up four? Let’s think back to the Senate races in 2012, where two Tea Party-backed candidates managed to lose what should’ve been win-able races in Indiana and Missouri. These aren’t the only races where Tea Party-backed candidates have been accused of “spoiling” what should’ve been GOP wins, but they’re certainly the most high-profile.
What were at best ill-considered remarks about rape – always a highly contentious topic for politicians to talk about – saw Akin and Mourdock lose voters and ultimately cost the Republicans two Senate seats. The national attention their comments attracted also had an impact on the national Presidential campaign, though I don’t believe it changed the ultimate outcome of the election. But if those two seats had been won in 2012, GOP resources could be much more laser-focused this time around. They could have cherry-picked the races they wanted and thrown money and high-profile campaigners at them, instead of having to divide those same resources. A net pick-up of four Senate seats is easily do-able, and even the most rabid Democrats privately concede that they expect Republicans to make precisely such a gain. Those two extra seats would’ve also been a safety net of sorts, in case Kansas or Kentucky turns out to be a defeat on election night. But it wasn’t to be. If the Republicans find themselves one or two seats short of a majority, Akin and Mourdock will hold some responsibility.
In the United Kingdom, conservatives face a similar situation. The meteoric rise of UKIP, who placed first in elections to the European Parliament earlier this year, has left establishment conservatives facing quite a conundrum going into next May’s General Election. Just as backing Tea Party candidates in America has undoubtedly led to some Democratic Party victories, UKIP has taken away valuable votes from the Conservative Party. Despite their promises that “voting for UKIP means getting UKIP”, they run the risk of letting a Labour government in by default. Splitting the right-wing vote next year is not an option. UKIP cannot realistically expect to win more than a dozen or so seats, but as they tend to take a disproportionate number of votes from the Conservatives, the British people may find themselves with a government that they didn’t want.
Grass-roots movements are a good thing. Getting more and more people interested in politics is a good thing. Getting conservatives energised and excited is absolutely a good thing! But it has to be done in a sensible way. Targeting incumbents who aren’t “conservative enough” is silly, and if it means letting a liberal win, then it’s counter-productive. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now – the most moderate conservative is still a heck of a lot better than a liberal majority. Conservatives need to stand together when it comes to elections. There will always be disagreements, but when it comes to polling day, rallying around the best candidate with the best chance of winning is what it takes to become the governing party. That’s the ugly truth of contemporary politics.
In Britain, it’s something UKIP need to keep in mind as well. David Cameron’s Conservative Party has promised a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU – one of UKIP’s key issues. Instead of opposing him, they should jump on board and work with the Conservatives to make certain that it happens. By putting up candidates against Conservatives, they risk splitting the vote and letting Ed Milliband’s Labour Party in through the back door. Milliband is a horrible, conniving little man who betrayed his own brother and sold himself to trade unions in order to win the party leadership. He is no statesman, and he absolutely must not be allowed to become Prime Minister. He would be disastrous for Britain.
So there we have it. Divided we fall, as the saying goes. There is a time to stand on principle. There is a time to attack incumbents who have been more inclined to line their own pockets than represent their constituents. And there is a time to ask searching questions about where conservatism as a movement is headed. But with so much at stake, conservatives in the USA and the UK cannot afford to let petty divisions keep them from government. With elections looming, we must show a united front and rally behind candidates and leaders who can make a difference. Sacrificing a majority, losing the chance to govern because we as conservatives can’t unite would be catastrophic. All conservatives who believe in conservative values must be willing to put factional differences aside for the greater good. UKIP and the Tea Party have to understand that, but so do “establishment” conservatives. If a so-called radical wins, then the establishment has to work with them. There has to be compromise on both sides, or conservatives will never be able to govern, and people will stop trusting us to govern. Some individuals and some factions have to be aware of their role as “spoilers”, but the establishment has to be willing to compromise and work with these people.
In my opinion, both sides are guilty of failing to work together. Establishment Republicans frequently work to undermine Tea Party candidates, and Tea Party groups in turn often attack moderately conservative “establishment” figures. Both examples of in-fighting are equally bad. Both can lose elections. In Britain, UKIP and the Conservative Party attack one another, even though many of their goals are the same. In the case of next year’s General Election, they need to work together, because it should be obvious that Britain’s best chance to have that coveted referendum on the European Union is to see a Conservative government.
So here’s my proposal, to Republicans and Conservatives, UKIP and Tea Party groups. Work together. Build bridges, form alliances, make electoral pacts if you have to. Save the attacks for your real opponents, and remember that electing someone you only half-agree with is an awful lot better than seeing your opponent easily win against divided opposition. Standing together is the only way to win.