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What does Abbott's win mean for Cameron?

By Paul Goodman
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Few attempts are made, either on the left or the right, to read across what's happening in the rest of Europe and apply it to Britain.  That far more are made when it comes to America or Canada or Australia is a tribute to the spread of English and the power of the Anglosphere - as an idea, at any rate.  During the past 25 years or so, the Left has gazed abroad to study the electoral success of Bill Clinton and the Right to ponder that of George W.Bush, at least until the Iraq War.  In recent years, we have also had a long look at Stephen Harper's success in Canada: Downing Street aides have visited there to study his success in winning ethnic minority votes.  And today, our eyes will turn to Australia.  Tony Abbott is an old friend of the site (by which I mean that he's a friend of Tim Montgomerie's: I haven't met him, though I hope to), and ConservativeHome congratulates him warmly on his victory.

I can add nothing to the comprehensive study of Abbott which Tim published on the site last week, and am thus automatically in the position of many Tory MPs and party members.  Perhaps the best answer to my question is: "not much" - but some of those members and MPs will be following the news from Australia, will have done a bit of reading up on Abbott, and will draw three conclusions.  First, they will note that, like Harper, Abbott began on the right and moved to the centre (have a look at his parental leave plans), whereas David Cameron is, in important ways, doing the reverse (on immigration, on welfare, on an EU referendum - the so-called "Crosbyisation" of his leadership).  Second, they will clock that Abbott is a Christian, specifically Catholic, conservative, with a strong commitment to social justice and, like Harper, a sense of outreach to minority groups.  Tim wrote about Abbott's commitment to aboriginal Australians and his wife's to abused women. That looks and sounds a lot like the compassionate conservatism that Tim has done much to propagate here. 

Third, British Tories will be struck by how similar the core of Abbott's appeal is to Harper's and Bush's and, moving back in time, to John Howard's and Ronald Reagan's and Margaret Thatcher's.  His main pitch is to Australia's equivalent of the latter's C2s and today's strivers - the hard-pressed voters who are well represented, here, in the northern and midlands marginals that Cameron must hold and win next time round.  Abbott's no-nonsense message to them - lower taxes, less immigration, better infrastructure and no carbon tax - sounds very like the conservatism for Bolton West which this site is pushing.  However, it does sound distinct from parts of the Prime Minister's original programme in opposition, which was more friendly to green taxes and suspicious of infrastructure commitments (which is part of the reason why no decision on airport expansion has been taken).

As I say, there's no automatic read-across from one country to another.  But if he isn't doing so already, shouldn't Cameron ask himself if there are lessons to be learned from Abbott's heartening victory?


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