LONDON =The word "conservative" for the Brits means much the same as it does in the United States or South Korea. Conservatives generally favor less regulation, fewer rules, less social welfare and greater enforcement of law and order rather than the easy-going tolerance and welfare giveaways associated with Labor Party leadership. That's the impression one gets from the record of David Cameron as the Conservative Party leader and prime minister of a coalition built on an alliance with the minority Liberal Democrats. The conservatives' partner may be more liberal, but Cameron needed the coalition after his party failed to obtain a clear majority in the parliamentary elections that gave him the post of prime minister in May 2010.
Philosophically the Conservative Party in Britain may be the equivalent of the Grand National Party in Korea, but there is one difference that Koreans might want to consider. Nobody in Britain is talking about stripping away the term "conservative" and giving the party a new name. Korean strategists may believe, on the basis of faltering poll results and concerns about the possible rise of leftist leadership in elections this year, that the word "conservative" has connotations that are likely to turn off voters. That's not the case in the United Kingdom, where the Conservative Party traces its origins back to the 18th and 19th centuries and venerates the memory of Winston Churchill as the conservative prime minister who led the country through the darkest hours of World War II.
Cameron's conservatives would appear to have two fundamental concerns that differentiate its outlook from that of Labor. Internationally, Britain under Cameron stands apart from the rest of the European Union, notably France and Germany. The Brits for years resisted demands to bring their hallowed currency into line with the euro. The British pound sterling reigns supreme in the United Kingdom while France has long since given up the franc and Germany the deutsche mark. The financial turbulence that has gripped Europe for the past two years confirms, as far as the Brits are concerned, the wisdom of sticking to sterling. Nobody is talking now about giving up the pound.
The refusal to give up sterling, from a foreigner's perspective, epitomizes Britain's standoffish attitude toward the whole concept of European unity in the face of economic malaise. The conservatives are most opposed to joining their "tight little island" with the European landmass, from which Britain has always been separated by more than just the English channel. The latest sign of Britain's distaste for European unity was Cameron's vow to veto any special tax on financial transactions. At stake as far as Cameron and the conservatives are concerned is "the city" meaning the "city of London" that remains one of the world's three leading financial hubs along with New York's Wall Street and Frankfurt. The rest of the Europeans could do whatever they wished, said Cameron, but he was not going to give Britain's consent unless the tax were not just for transactions in Europe but worldwide.
Domestically, Cameron has a vague name that covers the conservatives' underlying view that less government is preferable to more government in the form of a bloated bureaucracy that's spending too much on programs that should be the province of local communities, private organizations and individuals. Cameron calls his idea "the Big Society" a term that conjures memories of "the Great Society" promoted by Lyndon Johnson when he served as president of the U.S after the assassination of John Fitzgerald in 1963. While the Democratic Party's LBJ introduced or expanded social programs, Cameron's goal is to see powers of the central government taken over by local governments as well as non-profit organizations. The vagueness of the term, however, gives rise to criticism. It's "enough to stand both for small incremental change or a new revolution" wrote Steve Richards in "The Independent" a rather liberal British national paper. "Some suggest Cameron regards his idea mainly as local volunteering. Others think it includes sweeping public service reforms."
Inevitably the discussion evokes memories of Margaret Thatcher, the arch-conservative whom the press of the old Soviet Union called "the Iron Lady" for her strongly anti-Communist policies as Britain's first female prime minister in the 1980s. It seems appropriate that Thatcher's policies, in step with the conservatism of her great friend, Ronald Reagan, should be remembered when the film "The Iron Lady" starring Meryl Streep in possibly her greatest role, has just opened here and critics are referring to Cameron's policies as "reheated Thatcherism." (Future Korea)
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