Shadow Government

Time for Triumphant Tories to Restore Britain’s Global Power

The British Conservative Party’s victory in yesterday’s British elections should give hope to U.S. Republicans who remember how Margaret Thatcher’s decisive victory in 1979 preceded Ronald Reagan’s sweep of the U.S. election in 1980. That Prime Minister David Cameron’s party managed to actually pick up seats in Parliament — despite being the incumbent party running ...

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The British Conservative Party’s victory in yesterday’s British elections should give hope to U.S. Republicans who remember how Margaret Thatcher’s decisive victory in 1979 preceded Ronald Reagan’s sweep of the U.S. election in 1980. That Prime Minister David Cameron’s party managed to actually pick up seats in Parliament — despite being the incumbent party running on a program of economic austerity — makes the victory even more significant. The Tories have shown how to win an election under difficult circumstances, by projecting a degree of economic competence and leadership that was lacking in their opponents. Now they must return Britain to its historic leadership role in the world.

Clearly British voters were unconvinced by the Labor Party’s determination to rewind the clock to 1970s-style economic nationalism, with vitriolic attacks on British business and the reform program that recently has made the UK the fastest-growing big economy in Europe. On the campaign trail, Labour leader Ed Miliband sounded more like an enraptured college student who had just read Marx for the first time than like the prime minister of a country that hosts the world’s financial capital. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who lost his parliamentary seat yesterday, could not name a single British business leader who supported the Labour party’s economic platform.

However, beyond failing the credibility test for 10 Downing Street, history must also remember Miliband – along with his campaign manager, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander — for their pivotal role in defeating Prime Minister Cameron’s motion for the House of Commons to support airstrikes against Syria in 2013 after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. That shock vote upended a nascent U.S.-British-French coalition that was preparing to launch military action against Assad forces within days. As one French official put it, “Our fighter jets were on the runway.”

Britain’s withdrawal from the nascent military coalition led directly to President Obama’s decision to pivot away from his own red line by declining to intervene in Syria. The failure to intervene compounded a crisis that has turned half Syria’s population into refugees, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, destabilized the entire Middle East, enlarged Iranian influence there, and spawned a radical terrorist movement now operating across Europe. As former Prime Minister Tony Blair has archly pointed out, there is nothing “progressive” about that.

Now that the Conservatives have the election behind them, they must go about convincing the British public that leaving the European Union would leave Britain fundamentally weaker rather than stronger. They must contain secessionist fervor in Scotland that threatens the union. They must rebuild transatlantic ties that have frayed while both Obama and Cameron have focused on domestic political imperatives. They must manage, if not reverse, defense cuts that will see the British Army reduced to its lowest levels since Waterloo. They must play a more active diplomatic and military role in resisting Russian revanchism in Ukraine; with Russian bombers regularly buzzing the British coastline, Moscow’s aggression is an active threat “over here” rather than “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Polling by Chatham House and YouGov shows that a supermajority of British citizens believe their country should remain a great power rather than accept decline. A solid majority says the UK has a responsibility to uphold international security. The consensus in Britain is for internationalism, not isolationism or retreat.

An election is a means, not an end. Governing is the true test of leadership, and on these issues Britain’s friends in America hope the Tories can deliver.

STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Daniel Twining is president of the International Republican Institute. Prior to joining IRI, Twining was Counselor at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed in his articles for FP are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the International Republican Institute.
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