- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

The British general election has left more victims than victors on the battlefield. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sharply reduced overall majority of 66 seats leaves him vulnerable to party rebellions and is already prompting pressure for him to leave office within the next few months.

The Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, achieved a better result than opinion pollsters and pundits foresaw. The Conservatives, having gained a net 33 seats, are back within sight of forming a government in four years’ time. But Mr. Howard is stepping down, partly because of age (he would be 67 at the likely time of the next elections) and partly because both wings of the Tory Party are unhappy with his negative campaigning. The Liberal Party’s increase in its share of the votedid not yield the number of seats expected, and the Liberals failed to make headway against the Conservatives. The Liberal leader, Charles Kennedy, may also therefore depart before too long.

There is, though, another campaign victim — one whose recovery depends on Washington as much as London. That is the Anglo-American special relationship. The election campaign was dominated by attacks from Messrs. Howard and Kennedy on Mr. Blair’s decision to support America in Iraq. Admittedly, having denounced Mr. Blair repeatedly as a “liar” for his misrepresentation of intelligence and legal advice, Mr. Howard then lamely added that he too would have supported the war.

Mr. Kennedy, by contrast, campaigned against the war tout court. The results show that this attack succeeded. Although Mr. Blair’s presumed successor, Gordon Brown, has declared that he too would have gone to war, his supporters are resolutely opposed to any future military engagements. The United States should therefore recognize that the destruction of Mr. Blair’s authority and his imminent departure mean that Britain will no longer be a reliable security partner — at least under a Labor government.

For its part, the Conservative Party under Mr. Howard has fallen, more through petulance than principle, into a shabby anti-Americanism. This was mainly the result of Mr. Howard’s and his advisers’ opportunistic approach to foreign affairs. But it was also the result of ill-conceived political intervention by the U.S. administration, which loudly declared its support for Mr. Blair, and which then allowed the president’s apparent decision to ban Mr. Howard from the White House to appear throughout the British press. As a result, there is now a strong element of anti-Americanism in the upper ranks of the Tory Party. Indeed, one of the likely contenders for the Conservative leadership, Malcolm Rifkind, formerly foreign secretary under John Major, is full of venom for America in his public pronouncements.

All this is damaging and foolish. British Conservatives should proudly remember the historic achievements of the Thatcher-Reagan era. They need to revive their policy thinking by study of what American conservatives are saying and doing. They should recover their much diminished intellectual self-confidence by witnessing the dynamism of the American model.

But senior Republicans should also stop deceiving themselves. They should remember that in politics, ideology is in the end more important than personality because ideas shape events. The British Labor Party is their ideological enemy. Mr. Blair’s support for America in Iraq should never have been allowed to obscure the fact that he opposed U.S. interests in almost all other areas — for example, the International Criminal Court, the pseudo-science of global warming and European defense integration. With Mr. Blair a busted flush, his annointed successor, Mr. Brown, an old-fashioned statist and the Labor Party increasingly pacifist, a Conservative government is clearly America’s best hope for a right-thinking ally.

The British Tories certainly need some re-education. But the U.S. administration, too, needs to re-think its approach to British politics and to behave less high-handedly in future. Whenever they meet, conservatives from both sides of the Atlantic quickly find that they share the same values, the same aspirations and — at the deepest level, as well as the most obvious — the same language. That much of the Reagan-Thatcher legacy is unchanged. But the international conservative project needs persistence.

The departure of Mr. Howard will soon allow the partisan bitterness over Iraq to subside. Each of his two most likely successors, David Davis and Liam Fox, is strongly pro-American. Like the vast majority of Conservatives, they know that Britain’s interests hang on close cooperation with the United States and that the special relationship depends on unity of minds and hearts. Fighting the battle of ideas is the basis for victory in other battles. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic should recognize once again that they share the same struggle.

Robin Harris was a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit. He is consultant director of the London-based Politeia think tank.

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