The British Conservative Party is coming apart, with 21 Tories expelled from the party by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other anti-no-deal Brexit members resigning. These unprecedented developments are in fact just another example of the global political realignment.
Conservative parties in the West have traditionally been coalitions of economically conservative and socially conservative voters. The former prioritized orthodox free-market economics while the latter backed more government intervention in the economy, coupled with appeals to patriotic or religious sentiments. Fear of the Soviet Union united both wings during the Cold War, but their alignment started to waver with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The economically conservative wing took charge of most center-right parties after 1991. They pursued global integration and pro-immigration policies at the expense of more nationalist sentiments in their parties. In the United States, this took the form of Republicans supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement, China’s accession to the World Trade Organization and President George W. Bush’s attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform. In Britain, it took the form of Prime Minister John Major pushing the United Kingdom into the Maastricht Treaty and Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to re-rebrand the Tories as a socially liberal, environmentally conscious party. In both cases, it appeared that the future was on the side of Bush- or Cameron-type conservatives.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.