A statesman for the west
Published in: Daily Mail
The excellent Tim Montgomerie makes the point in a Guardian column today that, having headed a minority government for five years, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper last May led his Conservative party to its first majority in two decades. Montgomerie cites this to help his case that David Cameron called it wrong when he decided to ditch conservative ideas for left-wing ones – an argument which I myself have made repeatedly since Cameron was elected party leader.
But Harper deserves attention on his own account. For he is a party leader who appears to have defied political gravity. As a country, Canada is hardly a byword for conservatism: indeed, it is known for its liberal approach to social issues. Yet Harper not only hung on to power for five years as the leader of a minority government but has now pulled off the feat of achieving majority rule.
Part of the explanation is the fact that the opposition Liberal party simply imploded. But the Liberals previously had cause to believe they were the natural party of Canadian government. So what explains this apparent inversion of the natural Canadian order?
Three reasons, and they are closely linked. The first is that -- providing a very clear contrast to the Liberals -- Harper espoused policies which were free of ideology and connected instead to reality, common sense and people’s lived experience.
Second, Harper’s approach is a principled one, cemented as it is into a clear division between right and wrong, truth and lies and thus standing four-square against the ruinous moral relativism and nihilism of the times.
Third, he has had the courage and backbone to stand up for these principles rather than bending to fashion or intimidation. In short, Harper is a leader not a follower.
That is not to say he doesn’t change his position nor take note of public opinion. He is a politician, after all, not a saint. And he has done some things which I personally think were unwise – such as helping depose Gaddafy in Libya.
But the point about Harper is that he is patently guided in large measure by his passionate concern to defend Canada’s national interests which he understands are inescapably attached to the bedrock freedoms and other values of the west.
He has shown he is not afraid to take positions which are unpopular with much of the rest of the world, such as downgrading the importance of multilateral institutions or his unflinching support for Israel which cost Canada a seat on the UN Security Council.
He has shown consistently that he understands the civilisational battle in which the west finds itself but which his fellow western leaders minimise or deny.
Unlike the UK, US and other western nations which appear to be suffering from the political equivalent of auto-immune disease, Harper demonstrates that he knows who are Canada’s friends and who its enemies. The result is a bullish stance which provides a stark contrast with the wimpish hand-wringing by the US, UK and Europeans. Two weeks ago, for example, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared:
‘Canada will continue to work with its like-minded allies to take the necessary action for Iran to abandon its nuclear program . . . It is not a question of if, but to what extent, we will act.’
To a large extent, Harper’s foreign policy is founded upon principle. He told Maclean’s magazine that global politics is a ‘struggle between good and bad’ and his actions would be guided by ‘moral clarity.’ At his party’s convention last summer, he said:
‘Strength is not an option. Moral ambiguity, moral equivalence are not options, they are dangerous illusions.’
At home, although he long ago accepted that the battle over gay marriage was lost, he has shown he understands the need to reverse the left’s ‘long march through the institutions’ by, for example, de-funding a range of radical pressure groups and supporting more mainstream ones.
The fundamental reason for Harper’s stunning success is that – unlike the callow Cameroons who have succumbed to the linguistic legerdemain of the left -- he really is a politician of the centre-ground. He does not kow-tow to fashionable left-wing opinion but connects instead with the conservative instincts of the public – the true centre-ground of politics. Indeed one might say that, far from defying political gravity Harper’s success is due to the fact that he does not deny it, because he identifies so strongly with those whose feet remain firmly on the ground.
As a former Canadian Conservative Party staffer Sebastian Way wrote last summer, Harper is also immeasurably boosted by the healthy state of his country’s finances, which to be fair is the result of prudent economic policies going back some two decades during which time the Liberals were in power.
British Conservatives can only dream of such propitious economic circumstances – not to mention majority rule. But the lessons for them of Harper’s success are staring them in the face, if only they could actually see.
Stephen Harper is a gold standard politician. In a world run by political pygmies, he stands out as a true statesman. It may be more than the Canadians who give thanks that he is up there on the world stage in the terrifying months ahead.