The new campaign battleground: 'Society' vs. 'state'
This column by the New York Times' David Brooks (also reprinted in today's National Post) doesn't mention Canada, but it is required reading for anyone who's trying to figure out the underlying politics of our next election campaign.
It revolves around how Conservatives are on the rise in Britain because they've changed - not just their strategy or tactics but their entire thinking.
The role-of-government debate is over; "quality of life" is the new discussion. Raw individualism is out; "society" is in.
"They want voters to think of the Tories as the party of society while Labor is the party of the state. They want the country to see the Tories as the party of decentralized organic networks and the Laborites as the party of top-down mechanistic control," Brooks writes.
It doesn't take too much thinking to see the parallels here in Canada. The child-care debate leaps to mind as a good example of society versus the state.
While the Liberals weren't looking the last few years, Canada's own Conservatives have roughly tacked their policies along the same path, modelling their tax and social platforms around society and neighbourhood and communities. Liberals will try to pitch this simply as the Conservatives' lack of faith in government and institutions - and some of that characterization is well-founded - but they will risk looking anachronistic if they allow themselves to be cast as the advocates of big government. The same is true for the New Democrats. The Greens, interestingly, probably do more talking about society than they do the state, which may explain why they're on the upswing here too in recent years.
We do know that Conservative strategists have been borrowing from the playbook of their counterparts in the U.K. - the high-tech "war room" in Ottawa's suburbs is a direct imitation, according to senior campaign planners.
So it's probably a good idea to look closely at what the U.K. Conservatives are teaching Canadians, and vice versa, about the nature of the political debate in the 21st century.