Since 2010, the Tea Party has been wrought havoc with the Republican Party in the United States. Now, British conservatives are getting a taste of that strong tea as they, like their American mainstream Republican counterparts, suddenly are confronted with their own new--and successful--opposition from the far right.
Tea Party candidates have beaten mainstream Republican candidates in primaries, have pushed mainstream Republicans farther right than they wanted to go, and--worst of all for the Republicans--have lost elections for the Republicans that the GOP should have won.
British conservatives could look across the pond and laugh at the fratricide of their American counterparts--until they suddenly and unexpectedly were confronted with the very same situation.
On March 1, the Conservative Party suffered a surprise in Britain's bi-elections when the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party swept onto the scene, tallying surprisingly large vote numbers. British politicos immediately saw this as a big problem for the Conservatives in the upcoming nationwide general election of 2015.
For example, in Eastleigh, a suburb of Southampton, the Independence Party polled 28 percent of the votes to the Conservatives' 25 percent. The Liberal Democratic Party polled 32 percent to come out on top, with the rightist vote split between the two parties. Put the Independence and Conservative votes together for one set of candidates, and 53 percent wins easily. Instead, the Liberals came out on top.
What's so important about Eastleigh? The Conservatives have never won a general election without carrying Eastleigh since the district was established in the mid-1950s. As Eastleigh goes, so goes the kingdom.
In my book Winning Political Campaigns: A Comprehensive Guide to Electoral Success, I write about the success of the Tea Party in 2010. The American Republican Party could not figure out how to deal with the Tea Party between its emergence that year and the 2012 elections, and that may have cost the GOP the Presidency.
Tea Party candidates caused GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to move to the right to gain the nomination in primaries where Tea Partiers were a force. But Romney's new extremism turned off voters in the general election and President Barack Obama won more easily than anyone expected.
With the United Kingdom coming up on a big election in 2015 that will determine which party controls Parliament, British Conservatives find themselves in the same dilemma as their American counterparts. Do they continue to promote center-right policies that push rightist voters to cast ballots for the Independence Party, or do they go right, pushing centrist voters to cast ballots for leftists? Either way, the Conservatives lose.
Polls show the Conservatives 12 percentage points behind Labour in national polls--ground that will be tough to make up with the Independence Party splitting the rightist vote.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is looking as befuddled as American House Speaker John Boehner in trying to figure out how to govern with new rightist opponents nipping at their heels. On both sides of the ocean, rightist fratricide is giving leftists unexpected opportunities at the voting booth.