As leadership campaigns continue for both the PC party in Alberta and the Conservative party in Canada, the advice of the political pundits is fairly unanimous; if any conservative party wants to be taken seriously, it should steer clear of social conservative issues.
History disagrees with the experts.
The theory goes that one can be socially progressive and fiscally conservative at the same time. This doesn’t seem to work out well in reality. And what tends to happen is that this equation slowly drifts increasingly liberal (read: big government) in its fiscal policies as well. Either way, social conservatives (who are also usually fiscal conservatives) have a long history of breaking ranks with political parties that promise to be conservative, but fail to deliver.
And when they break ranks, they bring enough voters of conviction with them that the party that turned their back on them suffers for it.
Why do they do that? Simple; conservatives are more concerned with principle than they are with power. If you find a “conservative” who is eager to get into power, then you have almost certainly found somebody who is going to adamantly defend their “conservative” principles for exactly the length of time that it takes for those same principles to become a headache.
We begin with the formation of the Reform party. Back in the 1980’s the reform party was formed because of great discontent with the existing PC party in Canada. When it formed, it essentially split the political right and (unfortunately) gave the Liberals pretty near unchallenged power for an extended period of time in Canada. As Wikipedia describes it, the reform party was largely socially conservative, and opposed big spending on the part of government.
If only the PC party had stuck with small government and socially conservative principles.
The Wildrose party in Alberta rose to power in large part because of concerns over the big government approach of the PC party. And, as with the Reform party, the Wildrose is generally socially conservative as well. And at this point in our province’s history, the PC party has no choice but to listen to the Wildrose given that they have more seats in the house than the PC party does after the spanking it received in the last election.
If only the PC party would have stuck to its small government, socially conservative, roots.
The Tea Party movement South of the border is also interesting. As with most conservative revolts, it centers around big government and socially conservative issues. Wikipedia claims that the movement is trying to steer clear of socially conservative issues, but that would only be a problem if many of those behind the movement held to socially conservative positions on these issues in the first place. So this particular thorn in the side of the Republican Party is rooted, at least in part, by the fact that socially conservative voters are being ignored.
If only the Republican Party had stood by socially conservative issues, and perhaps kept the national budget under control.
[How Trump fits in all this – well, how he fits into anything at all – seems to be something of a mystery for another day. He is just about as far as you can get from somebody who properly reflects social conservativism. Head scratcher, for sure.]
Today I read about a new movement in Ontario to challenge the new sex-ed program. The article says it all,
The sex-ed issue dominated the Scarborough-Rouge River campaign after Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown’s office released a letter promising that he would scrap the curriculum, then backtracked on it days later.
Brown angered social conservatives by eventually saying he supported the curriculum and the public split has left them looking for a new political home.
And there we go again. If only the PC party in Ontario would have actually stood by its promise.
The pattern is always the same:
- Get into power under some variation of the title “conservative.”
- Find some reason to ditch truly conservative principles (fiscal and/or social) while maintaining the name.
- Real conservatives ditch you.
- Suffer the political consequences.
If only people would learn. In politics you are either truly conservative in a thoroughgoing sense, truly non-conservative and not even pretending to be conservative, or you are soon to be discharged of your duties, as real conservatives set out “looking for a new political home.”
Time to brush up your resume. Don’t forget to include the part about “demolished the party that elected me to power because I refused to actually stand by the principles of those who elected me in the first place.”
So my advice to any potential leader who wants to run under the banner of “conservativism” is this; if you don’t actually deeply embrace conservative principles – both fiscally and socially conservative principles – then run for some other party. If you are not willing to go to the wall for social conservativism, but are willing to throw them under the bus if they prove politically troublesome, then it will cost you in the end.