The Blog

Out of the Shadows?

David Cameron and his Conservatives get ready for their turn.

12:00 AM, May 6, 2008 • By NILE GARDINER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In all probability, under a conservative administration, government policy on most domestic issues is unlikely to be radically different to that of the current Labour government, with the exception perhaps of immigration and law and order. There has emerged a dispiriting left-right consensus among political elites in Britain over the past decade that the state will continue to play a dominant role in the provision of public services, and there will be no moves towards major market reforms in the National Health Service for example, or a significant reduction in the size of the welfare state. While the British public undoubtedly seeks a change of government, it is unfortunately demonstrating little appetite for the kind of far-reaching changes implemented in the 1980s that will be needed to maintain Britain's position as the most competitive large economy in Europe.

It is in the arena of European policy that a Cameron government can make the biggest difference, and where there is clear blue water dividing the two parties. In contrast to Gordon Brown, the Conservative leader is opposed to the new European Union Reform Treaty (Treaty of Lisbon), an almost identical document to the European Constitution rejected three years ago by voters in France and Holland, and which is in effect a blueprint for a European superstate. The Treaty, which proposes the creation of an EU foreign minister, as well as an EU foreign service and diplomatic corps, has already passed through the House of Commons, and is currently undergoing scrutiny in the House of Lords. Cameron has rightly called for a public referendum on the Treaty, calling on Brown to honor a campaign pledge by the Blair government to allow a public vote on the Constitution.

Opinion polls show that the Lisbon Treaty would be opposed by a large margin in a British popular vote. A rejection of the treaty would force a reassessment of Britain's relationship with the EU. A Conservative government would be handed a prime opportunity to renegotiate the future of Britain's ties to Brussels. As Margaret Thatcher argued in her seminal book Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, Britain should withdraw from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy, and European Security and Defense Policy, as well as retake control of its trade policy, in order to reassert itself as a sovereign nation state. Such a move would be popular with the British electorate, and as the Iron Lady once put it--"that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era."

It remains to be seen whether David Cameron as prime minister would embark upon a major confrontation with the European Union, but if he does so he will be remembered as a leader who changed the course of British history and reasserted Britain's place as an independent nation state. He must also be prepared to reverse years of defense cuts that threaten to cripple Britain's hugely overstretched armed services, currently suffering from the lowest levels of defense spending since the 1930s. And Cameron must work to strengthen the Anglo-American Special Relationship, a unique partnership between two great nations that has been considerably weakened under Gordon Brown. The world needs a Britain that is more powerful, self-confident, and in control of her own destiny, and for the next prime minister these must be top priorities.

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.