After the Election – Can the Republicans Learn from Labour?
Of course it’s too early too judge, but as recent leaked policy papers suggest that the Republicans may find themselves facing a sixty seat Democrat majority in the Senate, there’s an eerie similarity to what happened to the British Labour party in the 1980s – and that means a decade in the wilderness – always assuming there’s any wilderness left for the losing party to get lost in!
The term rump is only attractive when applied to steak, but it’s being predicted that the Republicans will become a rump party if Barack Obama wins the way the polls suggest. And for those of us who lived through the Thatcher years, rump came to mean something else: an extremist political group reduced to a few highly vociferous ‘strongholds’ expressing intense focus only about causes and issues that the bulk of the public had no interest in. The Labour Party leaders in the 1980s seemed increasingly out of step with most of the population: can the same be said of the Republicans today?
Issues move – candidates should too
Perhaps not yet, but it’s certainly true that to many outside the USA, who see only the overview, not the local politics, that the role of religion in Republican politics appears key to the party’s own view of success, while environmental concerns and global warming hardly appear to feature on the Republican agenda at all – a strange situation when those very issues are being hotly debated in virtually every religious policy centre around the world, especially those which have strong links to evangelical Africa, as America assuredly does. Instead, gay marriage and abortion have been the key calls to religious action. In the past these issues have delivered fervent evangelical Christian endorsement of the Republican base, but with support for Obama (43%) and McCain (45%) virtually equal in the born-again Christian community, it does seem that even the Christian vote is dividing, with those who are hardline conservatives following McCain and the liberal conservatives finding a home with Obama.
At a moment when America is accelerating away from causes that conservative Christian groups get hot under the collar about, like gay rights and creationism, to issues that concern the wider polity, such as economic equity and energy poverty turning up on our own doorsteps, the Republicans seem likely to find themselves speaking ever more stridently to an ever shrinking pool of concerned opinion.
It took ten years, and John Smith, to turn the Labour Party in the UK from its fixations with ‘loony left’ politics back to the middle ground agenda which brought Tony Blair to power. If we truly only have 100 months to act on climate change, the Republicans can’t afford to spend long in their wilderness or they may well find that their heartland has not just turned away from them, it could have been depopulated altogether by the challenge of global warming.