National conservatism and its convention in London next week are unknown to most voters. This movement might affect the Tory party and UK politics for years to come.
The nation state-eulogizing branch of a right-wing US thinktank, “NatCon,” conducted its seventh conference in Westminster on 15 May.
Suella Braverman, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and David Frost are among the nearly 50 speakers at this year’s conference, a who’s who of the global populist right. Some see this as a sign of the Conservative party’s future direction.
At a three-day London gathering, populist right leaders will speak.
Supporters view its emergence in the UK as a conceptual boost for post-Brexit, family-oriented conservatism, a more sophisticated home version of the Tea Party movement that changed US Republicans a decade ago.
Some Tory MPs believe that Liz Truss-style low taxation and a focus on staunchly traditional social values may be an electoral cul-de-sac for a party already trying to interact with a younger, more liberal UK.
Some Conservatives like the conference. Culture warrior MPs Miriam Cates, Danny Kruger, and John Hayes spoke with Braverman, Gove, and Frost.
They may preview Braverman’s post-Rishi Sunak leadership challenge and Kemi Badenoch’s (who is not going) business secretary challenge. Former leadership candidates.
Rees-Mogg called national conservatism “a national political ideology by its nature in contradistinction to liberalism or socialism, which since their beginnings have had internationalist ambitions and have attempted to impose similar or identical structures on different nations”.
He added: “A clear area of commonality is that the democratic nation state is the basic legitimate polity and that the liberty of the individual is an essential aspect of conservatism which cannot be subordinated for the convenience of the collective.”
After Truss’s disastrous 48 days in government, Rees-Mogg and Frost’s low-tax, low-regulation state model remains popular in Tory circles.
Cultural themes are also emphasized, with a hint to Trump and Orbán-style populism.
National conservatism UK event may lead Tories or lead nowhere.
JD Vance, the Trump-endorsed Ohio senator, Rod Dreher, a US writer who now resides in Budapest and supports Orbán, and Douglas Murray and Toby Young are additional London speakers.
Some Conservatives sympathetic to the NatCon cause privately support Orbán and Giorgia Meloni’s calls for higher domestic birthrates and greatly reduced immigration, despite the limited UK voter support for overtly bullish populism.
One Tory supporter claimed the party needed to fight the “deliberate and insidious attack on traditional social forms, families, neighbourhoods and cultural inheritance in particular nations”. They included “transgressive” gender concepts and “the teaching of deliberately anti-British history and literature in the context of trying to right the wrongs of the past”.
“I think it is unwitting rather than malignant, but we do have a genuine problem of extreme social and political ideologies infiltrating British schools and universities,” they said. I don’t think we’re immune to America’s problems, but we need a British response.
“It’s marginal, but it needs to stay or be expelled from the margins. Some of this may be beyond the middle of our party’s comfort zone, but I think it’s necessary to talk about it because the country is.”
Party members are less enthusiastic. “If we lose an election, one of these people will try to become leader,” one minister remarked. “Some of them believe in it, and others just follow party members. Both would be electoral disasters.”
Tim Bale, a Queen Mary University of London politics professor who wrote a book about the Conservatives’ post-Brexit populism, predicted a further shift.
He predicted that if the Conservatives lose the next election, they would become an ersatz populist radical-right party.
Bale suggested voters might like this. Culture wars have more political potential than neoliberal Thatcherite economics because more voters will be drawn to culturally conservative agendas.
“But I still think that ultimately, it is a dead end for the Conservative party because this country is becoming socially more liberal.”
Bale claimed immigration is the one culture war topic that Americans care about, despite media attention. However, with policies like Rwanda, the Conservatives may have hit the limit of what most people would consider fair and acceptable.