A marathon, not a sprint

National | Reflections of a Conservative after the smashing reelection of Tony Blair's Labour Party

Issue: "Keep the faith," June 23, 2001

in London-A year ago WORLD profiled the ailing British Conservative Party and the attempt of some of its members to build its recovery on biblical foundations. On June 7 the British people offered a negative verdict on the Conservative Party by reelecting Tony Blair's Labour Party with a barely changed landslide majority-and the question immediately became, is there still political hope? Little encouragement is evident on the surface. Small Conservative gains in some areas at Labour's expense were offset by Conservative losses in its rural heartland to Britain's very liberal third party, which is growing stronger. British pundits are now forecasting the death of British conservatism. (Of course, many also forecast the death of the Labour Party when Margaret Thatcher and John Major beat it four times in the1980s and 1990s.) But in some ways the election was a referendum not on ideas but on a negative campaign and a popular prime minister. The Conservative Party's positive policies for the strengthening of the family and the renewal of civil society rarely received emphasis. The majority of the campaign was a very negative, even angry assault on Labour's record. Some may think that anger was justifiable but it failed to chime with the British people's mood, which was more of disappointment. What did receive emphasis was Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal morality. Although his policy agenda closely resembles that of Bill Clinton, he is a reliable and faithful husband and father. If the Conservative Party is to be a party of family values, it must be led by people aspiring to the highest standards in their own lives. If the Conservative Party is to be a party of compassion it must be actively engaged in the support of charitable and faith-based ministries. If the Conservative Party is to represent all of the nation it must do much more to build bridges with Britain's ethnic communities. British Conservatives are troubled by a sense that the problems besetting their party are far from unique. In Canada and New Zealand, voters have rejected pro-family conservative parties. Other conservative parties are rotting from within. Many European conservatives, often in parties named Christian Democrat, have embraced legalized euthanasia and same-sex unions. In Italy a right-of-center coalition won office, but it is led by a media tycoon who has been enriched by broadcasting soft porn and whose private life is questionable. The coalition also included racially intolerant elements. Within the industrialized world only Australia and the United States are led by faithful conservative administrations, and even they feel pressure to avoid making "moral judgments." Are we facing a conservative meltdown where right-of-center parties will increasingly run from the Bible and stress economic and moral liberty in pursuit of votes? British Conservatives are trying to keep in mind the thought that human-led projects always contain the seeds of their own destruction. The Labour Party will through arrogance, incompetence, or some unforeseen test eventually lose the confidence of the people. Conservatives have to make themselves ready for that day and do all they can to speed its arrival. They are also remembering that we are in a marathon, not a sprint. A British leader from two centuries ago who is increasingly known to Americans, William Wilberforce, fought the slave trade and then slavery itself over four decades, never wavering from the task that God had given but showing tactical genius by not trying to abolish slavery overnight. (His step-by-step approach on slavery is like the step-by-step approach on abortion that many American pro-life groups have adopted.) Those British leaders profiled in WORLD last July 22 saw varied results. Gary Streeter won his seat handily. Robert Halfon did not win a seat in his heavily Labour area, but he made a good showing. William Hague honorably took responsibility for electoral defeat and resigned as Conservative Party leader, but he will remain in Parliament and be one of the loyal opponents of Labour schemes. I was the fourth person profiled by editor Olasky, and I come away realizing once again that God does not promise us worldly victories but does ask that we will be faithful. I believe that a Christian worldview conveyed with gentleness and care speaks to the human condition like no other account of who we are and where we are going. We must have confidence in it. We can take comfort from the idea, displayed in It's a Wonderful Life, that forgotten kindnesses that add up to failure in the world's eyes have nevertheless saved and improved the lives of many. But ultimately, Christians in politics must be content to face whatever events unfold.

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