Cal Thomas writing at Townhall.com, (a conservative and libertarian online community) draws parallels between Built to Last and the Contract with America.
The Contract with America was written by the Republican’s during the congressional campaign of 1994, and was, like BtL, a direct statement from a Party to the people.
Whether or not it can be credited to the Contract, that was a very successful campaign for the Republican’s, ushering in the congressional majority they have enjoyed since then. It would be lovely to think that BtL could fulfil a similar role here.
Both documents are attempts to speak directly to the public. Political advertising is largely banned in Britain which amplifies the effect of media mediation, where no political statement can reach voters without being filtered and deconstructed by media commentators.
This makes it is simultaneously more difficult and more urgent to find ways to talk directly to voters. CwA was an effective way of doing this, but it seems unlikely that BtL has had a similar reach. We can hope that BtL will have more of a ’slow-burn’ effect over the coming years.
If you read the text of the two documents, the differences seem enormous:
- BtL is mainly high-level stuff about principles, whereas CwA is a bullet pointed list of specific bills to be passed if the GOP gained a majority.
- The CwA is serious about national finance, whereas BtL hardly discusses the subject.
- The CwA is serious about national security, whereas BtL, again, largely omits this.
- BtL is motherhood and apple pie, CwA was (and is) a controversial text.
Now the Contract with America (text here) was written during a campaign, whereas we are four years away from a comparable election so it’s a little unfair to directly compare the two. Perhaps we can hope for a more ‘Contract’-y document when the policy reviews are concluded.
Still, I’d like to point to two ways in which they are in fact, very similar.
First, the message of responsibility runs through both texts. The CwA calls for two bills to be passed, the THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT and the THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT.
In their analysis, ToryDiary highlighted the introduction of BtL, which calls for
- personal responsibility;
- professional responsibility;
- civic responsibility
- and corporate responsibility;
Talk about taking a theme and running with it .
Like the ‘accountability’ message of our last election manifesto, ‘responsibility’ is an excellent word with with to convey small-government, and anti intrusive-government ideas. It worked in the Contract, let’s hope it works here.
Second, the omission of tax cutting ideas from BtL has an interesting parallel in the CwA. (and highly speculative, tell me if I’m off my rocker! )
The CwA largely ignored the interests of the Religious Right. There is a bill on strengthening the family, but it’s pretty mainstream. This is odd, since the Religious Right were a big force in the Republican Party of the time.
In different ways, tax and religion are things that energize the bases of the our respective parties, but turn off the wider public. Perhaps the omission of both things from these two documents is a similar tactic when speaking to the public.
American Diversity and how we bring it here
Finally, why was the CwA able to be such a divisive document, whereas BtL is so very bland?
In the US there has long been a contrast between the righteous legislative branch of the Republican party, the congressman who have to face primaries of their memberships in conservative districts, so tack to the right, and the moderate gubernatorial branch, state governors, who have to be somewhat bipartisan in order to work with state legislatures.
In Britain there is no such contrast, and I think it’s our loss. The CwA was written by congressmen who could afford to be controversial, whereas our parliamentarians are strapped tightly to the coat-tails of David Cameron for the foreseeable future.
We miss out on the beneficial effect of having multiple sources of political leadership, which allows American conservatives to try out new ideas and messages that can turn out to be successful, like the Contract with America.
I hope that the introduction of primaries in conservative constituencies will go some way towards creating similar diversity in our Party, as candidates look more towards members than the centre. The A-list is a force in the opposite direction, but on the other hand, these kinds of pressures come from safe conservative seats rather than target seats, so perhaps there’s still hope.