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What Cameron Can Learn From Gingrich

Posted: 31/01/2012 00:00

From Miami, Florida

This week, I've travelled to Miami - the city about which Will Smith wrote his smash hit, "Men In Black". Also the city that, very soon, could seal the fate of the Republican nomination/might not.

But I haven't come to the States to report on the primary race itself - which has had more false endings than Return of the King, and about two-thirds as much war-mongering rhetoric. I've come here to see if the British Conservative party can learn anything from its morbidly obese cousin. After all, my morbidly obese cousin, Derek, taught me many useful things, like how to seduce women ("tell them you've got a terminal illness that also makes you really good in bed").

It's 30 degrees here, with the political heat making it all the warmer. Not that I'm suggesting Mitt Romney (a Mormon) has suspicious, witch-like weather controlling powers. The heat comes from the fact that Romney's victory had once seemed as inevitable as death (something Republican voters are disproportionately near to experiencing).

But now Newt Gingrich (Google search suggestion: "wives, affairs") may surge ahead like a huge right-wing horse.

When I turn on my hotel TV, I begin to see how Gingrich has managed it. A Joker-like blurred image of Romney appears. We hear how, for example, Romney "earned tens of thousands of dollars" from investments in Freddie Mac. In another, we hear how he has a Cayman Islands bank account and owns shares in Goldman Sachs.

By the end of it, you feel that voting for Romney would be like clubbing a pauper to death with a stick made of bank notes and then building a homeless shelter made of your substantial, unused payslips. Every fibre of social justice in my body was on fire. Though there was a chance I was mixing up 'social justice' with 'my stomach', which had gone into civil war after I 'helped out' an old lady asleep on the plane next to me by consuming her wine and dinner. Simple trick: pretend to flight attendants that the slumbering ancient is your grandma, ask for her dinner 'for when she wakes up', and you've stolen yourself one old person's meal, my friend.

I wanted to see how this seemingly left-wing attack on wealth was going down with local conservatives. I met with Bill, a prominent local Republican, in his South Beach home, and pointed out the potential hypocrisy of this attack line. Gingrich was against taxing the rich more, but also Romney's wealth. A bit hypocritical?

"No way," said Bill, a Gingrich supporter. "The word 'hypocrisy' has to be applied differently to different people." Bill couldn't be more conservative-blooded if he tried. His living room is lined with the stuffed heads of most animals - deer, seals, voles. His coat hooks are made out of baby otter teeth. Over his fireplace is a portrait of Jesus wielding a double-barrel shotgun, above the words "Do Gunto Others".

I ask Bill whether the British Conservatives could learn anything from the Republicans. "Nah, you guys are doing fine. Cutting corporation tax, cutting state benefits and so on. It's the rising tide. It works here," he said, wearing his hat made out of stag eyelids. Wanting to be a tough interviewer, I point out that the US has one of the biggest income disparities in the world, despite its low taxes on the rich.

"Yeh, sometimes the rising tide drowns people. It's like eugenics..." he said, stirring his tea with his teaspoon made of crystallised panda tears and launching into a lengthy and impassioned speech ("weaklings...survival of the fittest...Tax Holocaust"). I eventually remember I have an urgent, panicky engagement very far away, and bid the fellow farewell. "Don't use my real name," Bill shouted from his front door. Although proud of his beliefs, he thought that "socialist, liberal freedom-haters" might come after him. Promising Bill total anonymity, I strolled quickly from his red bungalow on Euclid Avenue and headed uptown.

Musing on the GPS location of Bill's home (57 deg 38' 56.83" N), I began to realise something about the Republican primary - the conservatives here know nothing the UK Tories don't already know. There's a lot in common between Gingrich's position, and, for example, the Tories saying now that Labour's spending caused the financial crash but promising before and shortly after the crash to match and raise Labour's spending. At times, talking about social justice will make you more popular - and so that's when you should do it. Afterwards, you can get back to doing what you believe in.

In the same way one might, say, pretend to be related to an old person on a plane just so you can eat their lasagne, you're only misleading people to get the lasagne. What could be more principled?

Parts of this report are fictionalised, to preserve its truthfulness.

 

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