Re-Branding Conservatives...Canadian Style

David Warren:
Mr. Harper, we have learned, can be a rather nasty operator in close-order political fighting. So what is he doing, appointing all these nice, not to say vapid people, to whom no one can object, except “on principle”? He is stacking the Senate with reliable Tory votes, to be sure—that is his urgent necessity, and he’s still 20 votes short—but what is the message in his particular choice of Christmas presents?

My reader didn’t think he was going to reward people who had shown great courage in public life, did you? Who had made reckless sacrifices for the Tory party; who had taken innumerable hits for the team, and risen consistently above craven personal interest? No: only a bigger man would take that kind of risk.

To my view, Mr. Harper wants nice ineffectual people, who can be bought without knowing they were ever for sale; and whom everybody likes. He wants people who won’t get in his way, while he is manoeuvring; who don’t have ambitions of their own.

I think this is part of the “re-branding” of conservatism, that Mr. Harper is doing up here; what many urbane Republicans now call for, down south of the border. The idea is to take the “meanness” out of conservatism itself, to strip off the Christian or pro-life or “social-conservative” edge. The focus groups want “nice,” we have heard. Down south, Bush Elder tried to deliver this with “kinder and gentler,” his son with the word “compassionate.” But electoral success may now demand more concessions!

The conservative view is founded in personal (as opposed to collective) responsibility; in actual independence and freedom, against a background of fixed moral principles (not relativism). That is the steel in it: why it works. Take away this steel, and replace it with fluff and padding, and presto, you have a much more saleable, “people-friendly” product. Add a few entitlements the competition hasn’t thought of yet, and you are back on the road.

The product becomes interchangeable with every other off the shelf, to the clients of the Nanny State, but at least it is in the supermarket. It is useless in emergencies (as Bush Junior quickly found), but hey, it gets you through the happy times.

As ever, I argue we should move backwards: return to the old brand. Go out and sell personal responsibility; sell the manly virtues. This is rapidly becoming a survival issue, not a “positioning” thing. And part of the sales pitch is, don’t flinch—just as you wouldn’t flinch in saying, “Merry Christmas!”

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