A spectre is haunting the English-speaking world — the spectre of conservatism. All the powers of progressivism have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Labour and Green parties, television producers, comedians, musicians, actors and the halls of the academy.
So far, they have not succeeded.
In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government has just won another five-year term. Against the odds, it was returned with an outright majority in the House of Commons. Prior to Election Day, it was thought that the best Prime Minister David Cameron could hope for was another coalition or maybe a fragile minority government. Nobody really believed the Tories would be able to govern alone. But here we are.
In Canada, that country’s Conservative Party has held power since 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing another general election this year. It promises to be a tough campaign, but things have been looking up lately and there is as good a chance as not that the Conservatives will win a rare fourth term in office.
In Australia, the revolution has been more tenuous, where Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party came to power in 2013. Forced to make deep cuts to public spending in response to a commodities market downturn, his administration has been sternly tested. And yet despite these difficulties, which have been made worse by an overtly hostile media, Abbott’s polling has been steadily improving.
In the United States, conservative Republicans dominate the US Congress and most state governorships and legislatures. While they face structural difficulties in capturing the presidency, the once unstoppable Hilary Clinton juggernaut is at risk of being crippled by a genuine and concerning corruption scandal.
And, of course, in New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key has won three mandates as the head of a National Party that has improbably improved its share of the vote in each of the last three elections.
Why has this happened?
A question a smart Labour Party would ask.
When you survey the current state of Anglosphere politics, certain themes emerge. These don’t apply in every instance – we are talking about geographically and economically diverse countries, after all. Nevertheless, there are certain commonalities that go some of the way to explaining the current Centre-Right ascendancy.
First of all, conservative politicians have made the best of the limited means available to them. Harper’s nine years in power have included the two longest lasting minority governments in Canada’s history. Cameron’s government has had to struggle through five years of being shackled to an unpopular coalition partner – and even now its majority is puny compared to those the party enjoyed in the Thatcher years.
Our own electoral system has meant that, despite very high approval ratings, John Key has never had much margin for error.
This leads on to the second important factor in conservative electoral success: self-control.
Because none of these governments have the power to impose wide-ranging reforms, conservative politicians have had to restrain their actions and rhetoric. This comes easily for some – Key and Cameron are not temperamentally conservative anyway. For others, like Harper and Abbott, there has been more of a recognition that certain battles can’t be won and therefore aren’t worth fighting.
This moderation is sometimes frustrating for conservative voters, but it also does a good job taking the wind out of the histrionics of Left wing commentators.
Another way to read this is that all these parties have governed as centre-right, instead of right.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the oppositions in these countries are dysfunctional and discordant.
Long may that last.
A fourth is the GFC has I think made voters prioritise parties that focus on economic management over social issues.