When recently almost two dozen Tory (Conservative) members of Parliament turned against their Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, over their disapproval of his conduct over Brexit, a number of American observers drew a contrast with today’s Republicans in Congress who, despite having a basketful of even stronger reasons to abandon their lawless leader, Donald Trump, have resolutely stuck with him.
Which raises the question: Why is it that only one Republican (Rep. Justin Amash) has acted out of principle while more than twenty Tory members of Parliament were willing to sacrifice (or at least seriously risk) their political careers because values they cared about were at stake.
Doubtless there are many factors that differentiate these two very different situations in two different political systems in two different nations.
But I would like to propose what I believe is the major factor: Namely, that the Conservative Party in the U.K. has been a fairly normal political party until very recently, whereas the Republican Party in the United States has been descending into moral bankruptcy for a generation.
As for the Conservatives in the U.K., it’s possibly true that there were some symptoms of degradation going back almost a decade. One can point to
- their policies of austerity during the Great Recession—policies that were at least wrong-headed and detached from the realities of political economy, and which (according to Paul Krugman) may also have been contaminated with an impulse of cruelty toward the vulnerable. And
- the political irresponsibility of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron who, for his own short-term political purposes, set the stage for the Brexit disaster by calling for an altogether inappropriate popular referendum on the subject of Britain leaving or staying in the European Union. Followed by
- the dithering leadership of the next Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, who steadfastly refused to talk straight to the nation about the absence of any real solution to the Brexit conundrum that was consistent with both the maintenance of the integrity of the EU and that of the UK.
But none of that begins to match the steady march of the Republican Party in the United States toward the completely unprincipled quest for power at the sacrifice of all the Party’s ostensible traditional values and the disregard for the good of the nation—starting at least with the rise of Newt Gingrich as the leader of the Republican Party.
So when the Tories at least were confronted with Boris Johnson – a demagogue and opportunist and liar willing to assault the normal ways of British democracy to get his way – the Conservative members of Parliament had not already developed the habit of sacrificing everything in a single-minded devotion to their political ambition.
Whereas, those Republicans in Congress faced the challenge of dealing with a President Trump, they had already long before – during the reign of Gingrich, and then of GW Bush and Karl Rove, then of the across-the-board obstructionism of McConnell et al.– been selling their souls at virtually every turn.
So, by the time they arrived at the unthinkable — the rise of a lawless, immoral, dishonest, corrupt, criminal Donald Trump to the Presidency – the habit of disregarding principle in the pursuit of power had been formed.
Like the old lady in the children’s verse who had begun by swallowing a fly, and who eventually reached the point where she swallowed a horse.
(She died of course.)