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Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders. RANDY QUAN FOR THE GlOBE AND MAIL (Randy Quan/Randy Quan/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders. RANDY QUAN FOR THE GlOBE AND MAIL (Randy Quan/Randy Quan/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)


Conservatives face new reality: Embrace immigrants and gays, or lose power Add to ...

Have you listened to the things that conservatives have been saying about immigrants and gays lately? Some of them are absolutely shocking.

Listen to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and leader of the governing Christian Democratic Union. She has had to confront the fact that Germany’s four million Muslims, most of them ethnic Turks, have been both the subject of neo-Nazi murders and the source of a few violent Islamic extremist criminals. She has started talking heatedly about immigrants.

Germans, she said, should be “very open” about Islam “and say, ‘Yes, this is part of us.’ ” The immigrants’ religion, she said, is an integral part of German society. “We must be incredibly careful that we don’t lump everyone together. The Islamists are not the Islam of Germany.” Her party, she later said, is “immigration-positive.”

She then backed her words with action. Last week, the party selected four politicians from Muslim immigrant backgrounds to join its leadership board, its most senior authority. “Something is happening and it is wonderful – it is a sign of normality,” Aygul Ozkan, a Muslim Christian Democratic minister from Saxony who joined the board, told reporters.

Or listen to David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and head of the Conservative Party, on gays. This week, he introduced legislation that would give same-sex couples full marriage rights, both in civil law and in churches. “I am in favour of gay marriage,” Mr. Cameron said, “because I’m a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution.”

Is this the same Angela Merkel who declared two years ago that “multi-kulti has failed,” who lobbied against Turkey’s membership in the European Union? Is this the same David Cameron who declared a year ago that “we are a Christian country, and we should not be afraid to say so?”

Yes, they are the same politicians and they remain conservatives. Yet, Ms. Merkel is demanding that half her party be made up of women. Mr. Cameron quietly abandoned his promise to cut immigration to “tens of thousands.” (In fact, the number fell from 242,000 a year to 183,000 this year, and that’s during a recession.)

The German Chancellor “has always believed in these things, but there’s one big reason for this new tone,” a former government minister in Berlin told me this week. “It’s called Mitt Romney.”

Conservative analysts in many countries watched the Republican presidential candidate decisively lose last month, and were then horrified to learn that his party had largely disappeared from the electoral landscape because it had been abandoned by visible minorities, religious minorities, young women and well-off urbanites.

Then they examined their own voting base. Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats have lost elections in 18 of the 20 largest German cities during the past two years. Those four million Muslims had remained loyal to the Social Democrats and the Greens, whose co-leader, Cem Ozdemir, is from a Turkish family. Britain’s Prime Minister has expressed fear at the Conservatives’ image as “the nasty party,” and watched chunks of the younger, more urban electorate shift to Labour despite its weak leadership.

They realized something significant: A new generation of voters has come of age in most Western countries, and they simply don’t care about the old hot-button conservative warnings on minorities, gays and birth control. They’ve grown up with ethnic and sexual minorities around them and don’t have the taste for identity politics.

And the leaders themselves are more or less members of this new generation. During the past several years, Ms. Merkel has stealthily worked to purge her party of anti-Semites and bigots, and Mr. Cameron has quietly marginalized the more social-conservative factions within his party (following the advice of one of his ministers, Oliver Letwin, who once said he could double his party’s membership if it lost the most extreme 25 per cent of its MPs).

Canadians will recognize this new tack. Mr. Cameron, I’m told, has asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the way his party has used pro-immigration and pro-minority policies, as well as minority-friendly foreign policy moves, to take the immigrant vote away from Liberals.

Suddenly, the old internal battle within most conservative parties between the “mods” and the “rockers” – that is, the modernizers and the rock-solid social conservatives – seems to have abruptly ended. None of them want a Romneyan demise.

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