Daniel Hannan: Why Europeans Can't Throw a Tea Party





[Mr. Hannan is a British Conservative member of the European Parliament and the author of "The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America," just out by HarperCollins.]

Tea partiers don't get much positive press here in Europe. They are generally portrayed either as a gaggle of stump-toothed Appalachian mountain men or as a KKK lynch-mob. A typical column in Britain's Guardian newspaper last month described them as "a movement most of whose emergent stars would appear to be better suited to prison or lunatic asylums."

The Guardian is a left-of-center newspaper. But our Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, has also felt it necessary to signal his disapprobation: "How shall I put this? We seem to have drifted apart," he recently told the Financial Times. "There is an element of American conservatism that is headed in a very culture war direction, which is just different. There are differences with the American right."

At the annual Conservative Party conference last week, I discovered that several delegates had no idea that the tea party was campaigning for smaller government. Such is the media coverage that even many Tories believe that it is essentially a fringe of irreconcilables who cannot bring themselves to acknowledge a mixed-race president.

Like any large movement, the tea party has its share of oddballs. Its detractors in the U.S. understandably focus on its extremists and eccentrics, but at least they are aware that its central contention is that the state is spending and borrowing too much. European commentators, who see the tea party simply as a far-right Fronde, are at a loss to explain why it keeps winning.

If tea partiers perform well in next month's election, most opinion-formers will put it down to American particularism, by which they mean an almost demented conservatism. We Europeans, they will say, are more balanced. We understand that you can have a free market and a decent welfare system at the same time.

I suppose there is a teaspoonful of truth in this analysis...

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network