Crack party.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Oct. 21 2005 12:59 PM

Crack Party

In Britain, Tories get a taste of what lies ahead for conservatism.

80_thehasbeen

Friday, Oct. 21, 2005

Mug Shot: As they flip back and forth between CSI: White House and America's Most Wanted Congressman, Republicans are busy worrying how to get through the next week. But a year from now, after a rough midterm election, the GOP might get around to asking the more important question: Where do they go from here?

Anyone who wants to skip ahead and learn the answer should take a look across the pond at a real conservative crackup: the race for Conservative Party leader in Britain.

Advertisement

Yesterday, Tories narrowed the field to two candidates: David Davis, a bland, traditional conservative who was the front-runner until the party conference heard him speak; and David Cameron, a 39-year-old upstart who is running away with the race by promising to "modernize" the Conservative Party.

Here and in Britain, most of the press has ignored the philosophical particulars of the race in favor of the scandalous personal ones. Since Cameron's campaign took off, the tabloids have given him the full Kate Moss treatment. News of the World led the way with the immortal headline, "PARTIES WITH A COCAINE-SNORTING DOMINATRIX." Never mind my idle speculation about three-in-a-bed lesbian orgies with Maggie Thatcher. The New Tory motto is "No politics please, we're British."

A "professional dominatrix" nicknamed "Mistress Pain" claimed that she had once used cocaine with Cameron's campaign manager. The charges seemed straight out of the Rove playbook, and Cameron defused them with a classic Rove defense: He won't say whether he has ever used cocaine, but he denies using it in the four years since he became a member of Parliament.

It's hard to say whether what's going on here and in Britain is a "conservative crackup" or, as Rush Limbaugh insists, a "conservative crackdown"—but "conservative" and "crack" seem to be the key ingredients.

Oddly enough, rather than torpedoing his campaign, the tabloid stories only strengthened Cameron's credentials as an outsider. While the tabloids aren't finished with him yet, most Tories seem to agree that background checks are the least of their party's problems.

Modernism: Any time Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. feel down on their luck, they should take solace in the plight of British Tories. Under Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s, Tories were on top of the world, dominating a weak, feckless Labour Party. Once Tony Blair modernized Labour, British conservatism collapsed and has scarcely been heard from since. A succession of Tory leaders have led the party to humiliation and defeat. In this past election, Blair cruised to victory even though his own party was up in arms about Iraq.

While Britain is not America, that morality tale holds lessons for both American parties. In a sense, Republicans and Democrats alike are always on the brink of elimination, if the opposing party can find and sustain a course that corrects its weaknesses so it can show off its strengths. As with any enterprise in a competitive environment, a party must modernize—or it will wither and die.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Global Marches Demand Action on Climate Change

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Americans' Inexplicable Aversion to the 1990s
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.