Mayor Bloomberg praised the leadership of British Prime Minister David Cameron, discussed the importance of political integrity in the face of economic or international adversity, and compared the triumphs and challenges of Britain to those of New York City in a speech today at the 2012 Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, England.
Bloomberg, a moderate Republican with economic views that tend to drift conservative, spoke on the final day of the Conservatives’ conference primarily in support of Cameron’s ability to keep Britain away from the economic fray that threatens to bring the rest of Europe to its knees.
“In 2010, when David Cameron entered 10 Downing Street [the prime minister’s residence], the British economy and the entire European Union was in dire straits,” Bloomberg said. “But very few governments have charted new courses that will lead them to clear skies. And I think the United Kingdom has been an exception and the Conservative Party has been the reason.”
Yet, Britain’s Conservative Party, known colloquially as the Tory Party, has practiced relatively stringent austerity measures—on par with those advocated by the equally conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a policy which some economists blame for weighing down the already drowning Greek economy. And notably absent from the speech was that a key factor in keeping Britain afloat is that it still uses the pound, keeping the island nation discrete from the rest of the European economy.
Bloomberg’s speech, however, was not meant as policy analysis. His remarks, rather, were an attempt—as was the midterm conference in general—to buoy the Tory Party’s poll numbers, which Reuters reports have fallen behind those of the opposition Labour Party’s.
The British parliamentary system awards seats proportionally. So if the Tories do not win the 2015 election outright, which will prove difficult if current trends continue, the Conservative Party will have to form a coalition government to maintain its majority.
“Those who confuse popularity with leadership sacrifice progress for power,” Bloomberg said, trying to assuage the growing unease over Cameron’s austerity. “We see that all too often in politics, but fortunately for Britain, not with Prime Minister David Cameron. He understands that if you do what you believe is right, over time, even if people don’t support a particular policy, they’ll respect you and support you.”
But Bloomberg’s assertion may underestimate the power of a struggling economy to turn the political tide. In Greece, for example, the austerity measures imposed by the government by way of Merkel’s demands have led to violent protests. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent, lost the presidency to the Socialist Party’s François Hollande. And even in the United States, poll numbers and analysts alike confirm that an economy that is struggling to rebound is President Obama’s greatest impediment to re-election.
Bloomberg, though, attempted to use New York’s relative economic and social progress as a way to swing support toward Cameron, despite Bloomberg’s own approval numbers being below 50 percent, according to the most recent NY1-Marrist poll in April.
“In New York City, we’ve seen how accountability and innovation have led to transformations in public safety, public education, and public assistance,” he said. “Crime in New York City is down more than 30 percent compared to a decade ago. High school graduation rates are up 40 percent. And the welfare rolls are down 25 percent. And that didn’t happen just because we spent more money. It happened because accountability and innovation have become an integral part of the work.”
Bloomberg then brought the focus back to the British prime minister: “Tough problems are not solved by waving a magic wand, and that charting the right course rather than the easy course takes courage. And I don’t have any doubt that David Cameron has the courage of his convictions, and I believe that he is charting the right course for Britain.”
Those words could be applied to Bloomberg, as well, who has been a mercurial politician, switching from Republican, to Democrat, back to Republican and then to Independent. The socially liberal, economically conservative Bloomberg invoked former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in “putting the common good ahead of party politics and the next election …”
He then finished his speech with another reference to Churchill and a turn of phrase that, in many ways, reflects what both Cameron and Bloomberg hope is the legacy of their decisions and poor poll numbers: “The tough decisions you are making honor Churchill’s legacy of putting national interest ahead of party politics and, I believe, will lead you to a better and brighter tomorrow.”