Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat candidate for prime minister and the Susan Boyle of British politics, said something during the first debate on April 15 that resonated with the British public and will be familiar to American tea party activists. Channeling the late Alabama Governor George Wallace, Clegg said basically that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Labour and the Conservative Party and that both parties had tried for 40 years to fix the nation's problems -- and failed. Clegg asked for Britain to try something new: him.
Clegg became "the man of the moment," as one BBC "presenter" called him, but it appears cooler -- or at least traditional -- heads are prevailing and David Cameron's Conservative Party is likely to win a majority of parliamentary seats in Thursday's election. Whether that majority is sufficient to avoid a "hung Parliament" is the question.
If Cameron becomes prime minister with a sufficient parliamentary majority, he will have to make changes not seen -- or tried -- since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, revolutionizing government's role in everything from what it owns, to expectations for its citizens to do more. While Cameron has said on several occasions that his approach to government is unlike that of the "Iron Lady," increasingly in recent weeks his rhetoric on some themes and issues sounds remarkably as if Thatcher could have delivered them.
In his party's "manifesto," released early last month, Cameron promised new powers for public sector workers to "run their services as cooperatives (a clear nod toward Thatcherism, though privatization would be better); for parents to set up academy schools (the British version of American charter schools, except these are established with the help of non-government sponsors); for voters to be able to sack MPs (this in the wake of the expense scandal that exposed many parliamentarians who claimed expenses for things like moat maintenance and second homes in which they rarely or never lived); for residents to veto council taxes and for citizens to elect police chiefs.
The one gaping hole in the Conservative manifesto is taxes. While Labour has promised not to raise income taxes, the Conservative manifesto makes no such promise. Neither does it mention the Value Added Tax (VAT), which Labour and Liberal Democrats claim will be raised to 20 percent (from the current 17.4 percent) to pay for Cameron's plans.
If a Conservative government were to increase taxes -- whether income or the VAT -- while attempting to shift the numerous roles of government to the people, it would feel like a betrayal to many voters who appear ready to trust Conservatives again.
In an editorial last Saturday endorsing David Cameron -- its first for the Conservative Party in 18 years -- the London Times said, "We must choose. Either we are to be a country that has lost confidence in the ingenuity and potential of its people, and concludes that the State must continue to grow and protect us from ourselves. Or we can be a country that cares for the needy but reins in the ever-growing appetite of government and frees up people to grow their businesses, nurture their families and pursue their own hopes and happiness."