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Sunday, September 23, 2012

European Conservatism Isn't Done For Yet

By Daniel Hannan

Oxford this year, Cambridge next
Conservatives, while often gloomy in their political outlook, tend to be warm and merry in their personality. I’ve just spent the weekend in Oxford with 120 young activists from around Europe, and found myself lifted by their optimism.

They came from across the continent, from Iceland and the Faroe Islands to Turkey and Moldova. There were delegates, too, from our Anglosphere allies: Young Republicans from the US, Young Liberals from Australia, a Francophone Tory from Quebec. Some were libertarians, others conservatives. A few wanted to become MPs, but most were simply interested in advancing their ideas. They were fizzing with energy – some Polish girls, having stayed up all night with everyone else, cheerfully went straight on to Mass on Sunday morning – and they could all see very clearly what most of their national media refuse to contemplate: that the root cause of Europe’s financial crisis is excessive state spending.

Why am I telling you about my weekend? For three reasons. First, because it’s refreshing to see how immune some young people are to the approved dogmas of our age. They understand that the rescue of banks by taxpayers is not capitalism but corporatism. They wish neither to subsidise the rich through bailouts nor exile them through punitive taxation. They grasp that the EU is the problem, not the solution. They know that patriotism, far from being discreditable, is what makes people behave unselfishly. In telling each other these truths, they are reassured that they are not alone.

Second, because it is worth looking at where and why conservatism flourishes. In Europe, the Right locked itself into corporatism, thus opening the door to the populist Left. In the Anglosphere, by contrast, the Right is heaping up mounds of votes.

In a superb speech on Saturday night, Tim Montgomerie invoked four conservative winners: Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Key in New Zealand, Stephen Harper in Canada and Boris Johnson in London. All four men, he argued, had managed to reduce the size of the state without being seen as ideologues. Their cheerfulness and their common touch convinced their electorates that small government, far from being some academic doctrine cooked up by Ayn Rand or FW Hayek, was sensible and practical.

If taxes fall, and bureaucracy dwindles, the conservative voter-base expands. It’s a remarkable (though rarely remarked) fact that the British Conservatives are the most Left-wing of all the Centre-Right parties in the Anglosphere and the least electorally successful.

My third reason? To plug the European Young Conservatives, who hosted the weekend and through whom, in the early 1990s, I made friends from across Europe with whom I’m still in close touch. Unlike some of these political organisations, they offer raw, argumentative politics rather than photo-opportunities with European Commissioners. Next year’s EYC Freedom Summit will, I’m told, be held in Cambridge. Do come along.

Daniel Hannan is a writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the European Union is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free.

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