Britain has had four serious prime ministers since World War Two: Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill (great even in decline), Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. They were right about some things and wrong about others, but they each made a big difference in Britain and in the wider world. The current tenant at Number 10 Downing Street, David Cameron, has made it clear that he wants to join their number.Like Thatcher and Blair, David Cameron wants to put the “Great” back in “Great Britain” and he is taking serious political risks to see his vision fulfilled. Under increasing pressure at home and abroad, he is sticking to his guns. The NYT reports on a recent speech he gave at the Conservative Party conference this week:
Confronted by deepening economic woes at home and in the euro zone nations that are Britain’s major business partners, Prime Minister David Cameron vowed on Wednesday not to bow to growing demands for a retreat from his government’s sweeping austerity measures.
Instead, he promised Britons that they would pull through to better days if they shunned paralyzing “gloom and fear” about the future and embraced the “can-do optimism” that had made the country a worldbeater in the past.
[…]Mr. Cameron admonished those who had pointed to India, China and Brazil as economic models and who had overlooked, he said, the innate potential of Britain and its people.
“I say: We need to become more like us,” he said. “The real us. Hardworking, pioneering, independent, creative, adaptable, optimistic, can-do. That’s the spirit that has made this United Kingdom what it is: a small country that does great things.”
All the mediocrities in Britain will be in a confederacy against these plans, and it is risky for the Prime Minister to shake things up while governing through a coalition which could fissure. But this Prime Minister is a rare thing: A leader with a vision for the future and the courage to stick to it.It is a vision which Britain, and the rest of the world, should respect. Whether or not the Prime Minister’s macroeconomic policies will minimize misery at the moment, for the long term his instincts are essentially right. The examples of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain demonstrate that Western governments can’t go on spending forever.The coalition government’s austerity program has cut an average of 20% of the budget from all governmental institutions. Experiencing these cuts is not pleasant for many Britons, but communities are finding creative solutions to replace government programs and the coalition government is seeking to meet them halfway. The Free School program, which gives communities grants to charter their own schools, is just one example.Cameron and his partners don’t just want to cut spending. They want to make government work better and more efficiently so that it can do what people need it to do — at a cost the country can actually afford. Cutting the budget is a macroeconomic must in the UK, especially given that the country’s economic dependence on a large financial sector means that the UK government needs to retain the ability to step to the defense of the banking sector. But those cuts are also an opportunity to re-imagine and re-engineer the way government works and the relationship of government to civil society so that Britain can achieve something that we in the United States don’t yet have: sustainable governance.Britain and the US have historically been something like the Steve Jobs of the global economy: creative innovators whose power derives ultimately from their ability to perceive and respond to both the opportunities and demands of the future faster and better than others. David Cameron understands that it is time to make another leap into the future; it is too early to predict whether he will succeed, but it is already time to congratulate him on the kind of courage and vision that over the last 300 years have kept Great Britain in the forefront of human affairs.