BELFAST, N. IRELAND - British Prime Minister Tony Blair returns from a late-summer vacation in Barbados with his ruling Labor Party approval rating at a 19-year low of 31 percent. Conservatives, under new leader David Cameron, enjoy 40 percent approval, according to the latest Guardian/ICM Poll.
Seeking to take advantage of Blair's troubles and their popularity surge, the Tories last week borrowed a page from what now seems like an ancient Republican Party playbook, publishing a type of "contract with Britain."
Titled "Built to Last: The Aims and Values of the Conservative Party," Cameron lays out his party's philosophy in the opening lines: "Our Party seeks to cherish freedom, advance opportunity and nurture responsibility. By trusting people, we help individuals grow stronger; by sharing responsibility, we help society grow stronger. We believe that there is such a thing as society, but it is not the same thing as the state."
This last sentence is a middle ground between Ronald Reagan's (and Margaret Thatcher's) "government is the problem" world view and President Bush's "compassionate conservative" position. There are a few "bones" for almost everyone: "Top-down government seems to belong to another age. Monolithic, unreformed public services do not provide the personalised response people expect. High taxes and poor education make us steadily less competitive."
There is also an appeal to do more to fight HIV/AIDS and endemic poverty in Africa. The word "revolution" is repeated several times as in a "revolution in personal responsibility." There is great concern throughout the UK that lawlessness, declining test scores in public schools (Conservatives propose school choice vouchers for the poor) and general cultural drift have caused Britain to fall behind where a majority thinks the country ought to be. The party calls for "a revolution in civic responsibility."
While the Conservative Party document does acknowledge the need for "new efforts to integrate at home," there is nothing else in its eight points that addresses the public's growing concern about unrestrained immigration (more than 1 million non-European Union foreigners have been allowed to settle in Britain since Labor came to power in 1997). A significant number of those are Muslims, who refuse to embrace the cultural values of Britain. According to a Telegraph YouGov poll, a majority of Britons (53 percent) now view Islam, not just Muslim extremists, as a threat to society. And 18 percent of those polled believe "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism," up from 10 percent from a year ago.