Fred Barnes: Lessons for the GOP from the U.K.

May 10, 2010 06:28

Conservatives came in first in Thursday’s election in Great Britain, but it’s their failure to win a majority that Republicans should examine for the lessons it teaches.

Fred Barnes via Washington Examiner

If the GOP listens, it will improve its chance of winning control of Congress in the congressional midterm election on Nov. 2.

A few months ago, Conservatives held a lead of 15 to 20 percentage points in opinion polls over the ruling Labor party — a lead that translated into a landslide of historic proportions and a majority of seats in Parliament.

But by Election Day, their lead had shrunk to six to eight points and they fell 20 seats short of a majority. Three things happened to limit Conservatives’ gains.

First, they put too much faith in the staggering unpopularity of Labor, led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. There seemed to be no bottom to his decline in support. And the party had been in power since 1997, when Tony Blair led what he called “New Labor” to a massive victory over the ruling Conservatives. In 2010, people had grown weary of Labor.

But simply being the opposition party, and nothing more, often minimizes the size of a party’s victory. It’s the easy we’re-not-them approach. Relying on it — and a bad economy, in the British case — a party is prone to neglect the importance of making a strong case for itself.

In the British election, this was one reason Labor was able to turn out its core vote and keep Conservatives from winning a majority. The lesson for Republican, facing an unpopular Democratic Party, is obvious: Don’t expect circumstances to win for you. You need to run an aggressive campaign.


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