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Looking for leadership

International | Thatcherism still lives, but no one's man enough to lead it

Issue: "Louisiana's Buy-You-Election," May 17, 1997

The day after Labor's wipeout of the Conservative Party in the British elections, I called my friend, Harvey Thomas, a longtime Conservative official and former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. He had left the country. Call forwarding transferred me from his office outside London to his car which was &quotracing down Germany's Autobahn at 90 miles per hour." It's his wife's birthday and he is treating her to a short vacation. What a relief! I thought he might have left England in despair. Without a leader (Michael Portillo, the favored candidate to replace John Major, lost his parliamentary seat), and without much of a voice in a House of Commons now under virtual Labor occupation, Mr. Thomas believes the only direction in which the Tories can move is to the right of Labor's new moderate-to-conservative image on fiscal and social issues. Prime Minister Tony Blair's first pledge is to end welfare as the British have known it. Sound familiar? Mr. Thomas says a concern as big as his party's crushing defeat is that Britain and the United States have moved from visionary leadership to managerial leadership. &quotThere is no longer dogma, but a desire simply to manage the existing state of affairs in a better way," he tells me. He's right. With all of the Republican posturing about a supposed balanced budget deal with the Clinton Administration, not a single Cabinet agency will be eliminated. Twice last year, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott pledged to me that at a minimum the Commerce Department would be closed and possibly Energy, as well. They remain. Now Republicans speak of cutting the size of government incrementally, which may ultimately work, but hardly inspires. Inspiration and perspiration are what drives parties to power and maintains them in power. Britain's Conservatives ran out of both, and America's Republicans appear to be running on fumes. But back to my speeding friend's contention that our respective countries lack men and women with real convictions who move, rather than are moved by, the polls. In his brief message to the nation from the steps of 10 Downing Street, the new Prime Minister suggested that the election results indicate the British have decided to put social cohesion before individualism. The danger in that view is that government soon begins to see itself as the keeper of a social order, defined by government and imposed from the top. The collective becomes more important than the rights of individuals, who are required to subsume their individualism to the perceived &quotgood" of the state. If that sounds like socialism, it is. We used to love strong leaders, or at least appreciate their convictions and knowing what they stood for. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher changed their respective nations (as did Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill). To watch Mrs. Thatcher take on the opposition during &quotquestion time" in the House of Commons, was an awesome experience. It was like watching a heavyweight boxing match as Mrs. Thatcher frequently pounded into submission the Labor lackey of the moment by the force of her arguments and the power of her deeply held convictions. The Tories' ouster of Mrs. Thatcher for a &quotkinder-gentler" John Major ensured that once the momentum of Thatcherism had run its course in the public mind and Mr. Major exposed himself as a political eunuch, all Labor had to do was present a candidate who appeared to have convictions and a unified party behind him, without the extremes of the past, and Labor would return to power. Thatcherism lives on in England, even as Reaganism lives on in America. People are tired of paying ever-higher taxes and working harder to subsidize big government. But both England and America now have managerial leaders when each could use a leader with real convictions and honest vision about where the country should go. Perhaps Tony Blair won't be the English version of Bill Clinton, though every sign indicates he will, including the employment of former White House aide George Stephanopolous as an adviser to his campaign. After four-plus years, we know that Mr. Clinton's vision extends no further than his polling arm and stonewalling the mounting number of investigations into his corrupt administration. The Tories still haven't found a suitable replacement for Mrs. Thatcher. The Republicans can't find an ideological heir to Mr. Reagan. Both countries are likely to be facing a long period of being managed, rather than being led.
c 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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