Features

Brothers when in arms

International | President Bush and Britain's Tony Blair agree on fighting terrorism-but little else

Issue: "Highway 65 hopefuls," April 20, 2002

LONDON—British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent meetings with President George W. Bush at the Bush ranch, and a tough speech he gave at Texas A&M on April 7, showed once again that in the war against terrorism the United States will find no more reliable ally than Great Britain. Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush have stood shoulder-to-shoulder ever since Sept. 11. Nothing has knocked the alliance off course-not even Mr. Bush's imposition of steel tariffs that shocked Bush's British admirers who had expected something more principled from a Republican president.

Mr. Blair's support for military action against the Taliban regime was opposed by only a small group within his Labour Party, but a possible war with Iraq is proving more politically difficult. Although he enjoys the support of the Conservative Opposition, a majority of his own MPs oppose any military intervention. But Mr. Blair is standing in the 60-year tradition of tight U.S.-Britain cooperation. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were unyielding in their opposition to the evil Soviet empire, and Mr. Blair's solidarity with America is steeped in our two countries' common commitment to freedom.

That is not to say that there have not been differences. The greatest area of tension has paradoxically been over the war on terrorism-a war that Britain has been fighting for much longer than America. While the Irish Republican Army was murdering British soldiers and civilians, for example, large sums of money from Irish-Americans funded the IRA. But Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have both emphasized Saddam Hussein's record of evil deeds and repeat offenses. Both men understand that shortsighted inaction is the choice of cowards.

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Their moral agreement on international policy is surprising given the gulf between the two men's overall worldviews. Although both attend church, they differ fundamentally in their attitudes to life, family, and freedom of religion. Tony Blair supports abortion, and his party has been intolerant of its small pro-life caucus. The Labour Life Group has repeatedly been refused a place at the annual party conference. The Blair government has introduced the most pro-cloning legislation in the western world.

Although Tony Blair is a good father and husband, his family policies are Clintonesque. Labour has campaigned to lift a ban on the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It abolished the last recognition of marriage in the tax system. It is considering legislation on same-sex partnerships. It has stopped funding for marriage-based counseling services and diverted the money to homosexual advocacy groups. On religious freedom issues, Labour scorned a Conservative proposal to establish an International Envoy for Religious Freedom. Mr. Blair maintains a ban on national Christian broadcasting, and faith-based poverty-fighting groups face active discrimination.

The opposition Conservative party may recover as people grow tired of Tony Blair's failure to tackle deep-seated problems. The breakdown of law and order is at the heart of people's worries, and crime is now higher in London than New York. Britain's National Health Service-once a source of national pride-now ships patients to France because our own socialized system can't cope. British agriculture-ravaged by the foot-and-mouth epidemic-remains in a state of crisis. But for the moment Tony Blair continues to enjoy large opinion poll leads-mainly because of the buoyant UK economy.

Conservatives have trailed Labour for the best part of a decade by an average of 20 percentage points. To some extent Conservatives have been living in the 1970s, when Britain had the sickest economy in Europe. Margaret Thatcher changed that, but Conservatives have not stepped beyond her considerable shadow. The Conservative party is now, however, showing signs of understanding its plight and the need for a radical overhaul of priorities. Nowhere is this more obvious than a renewed Conservative focus on the problems of Britain's poorest communities.

Millions of poor people in Britain have not been touched by rising stock markets, government welfare initiatives, or technological progress. They have lacked the compassionate attention of another human being. That is why Conservatives are interested in Republican ideas on faith-based social action and character education. But we are also watching Mr. Bush to learn from his mistakes as well as his vision. British Conservatives are worried that the federal government might become too entangled in the running of schools and the detail of how faith-based groups rescue poor communities.

There is certainly no chance of Mr. Blair adopting compassionate conservatism. The Bush-Blair coalition begins and ends with the war on terrorism.

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