In the midst of various global crises, the National Conservatism Conference in Westminster sparked fiery debates on nationalism, conservatism, and the future of the political right.
Against the backdrop of the Ukraine vs Russia war, inflation at a 45-year high, the bird flu menace threatening another pandemic, the pros and cons of Net Zero, a crisis regarding batteries for electric vehicles, a crisis over the supply of semiconductors, the advance of woke culture, the council election in Northern Ireland, the unfinished Windsor Framework, the CCP as an enemy to freedom, escalating immigration, and one in five taxpayers predicted to be paying income tax at 40% by 2027/8, the National Conservatism 3-day conference was held in the Emmanuelle Centre, Westminster. The eclectic cast brought together an international collection of Ministers, MPs, Senators, intellectuals, priests, and wonks to share their views on nationalism and conservatism. Not all these folks are ideologically on the same page, but they all shared the same Burkean platform, with the consensus being that the conference shifts this tranche of conservative thinking to the right. This has left more liberal Tories and those in the centre exasperated, and the Labour Left fuming.
Jacob Rees Mogg MP focused on the legitimacy of the nation-state, the importance of family, and the road to prosperity being free markets, free enterprise, and free trade. In his inimitable style, JRM gave many historical examples to make his point.
Suella Braverman, Home Secretary, gave an acclaimed speech about her heritage, woke culture, and immigration. “It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration is unsustainable, nor is it bigoted to say that there are too many asylum seekers in this country. It’s not racist for anyone to want to control our borders,” she said. If there is ever another leadership, this speech will be recalled.
Douglas Murray’s talk was entitled “Love, Gratitude, and Aspiration”. With extraordinary panache, he offered these as solutions to the Left’s envy, resentment, pursuit of equality, and social justice.
David Frost, peer turned Tory candidate, found the lockdowns a profoundly inhumane and disturbing policy and advocated that the right thing to do is to reverse the powers of government in everyday lives (#education #property). Things are going wrong because the UK is becoming fiscally over-directed and over-regulated.
Matt Goodwin, a non-Tory voting academic, blamed hyper-globalisation, unaccountable ‘governance’ structures by technocrats, and uncontrolled immigration for the conservatives’ current dystopian feelings. He concluded, “The Conservative Party has simply never invested in the people who invested in it…they have failed to reinvent…this explains why the conservatives are heading for defeat at the election next year”.
David Starkey claimed that movements like Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter are not benign and not what they pretend to be. He said they are an attempt at destroying the entire legitimacy of the Western political and cultural tradition. They want to replace the Holocaust with slavery in order to wield its legacy as a weapon against Western culture.
Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, highlighted what he sees as the challenges facing free speech and free expression. He said, “The “woke” morality has a totalitarian character because its priests refuse to assume robes of office.” Young later wrote in an edition of The Daily Sceptic, “There was no cutting-edge intellectual agenda being formulated… and the signals being sent were in many regards undesirable.”
Richard Dearlove, previously head of MI6, warned that Britain faced two autocratic polities focused on the destruction of allied values. He said the UK Government has allowed its guard to drop in the expectation that Russia and China would change. Russia and China’s active measures work best in a fertile social and political environment where naivety is rife. He is concerned when eminent members of the British elite do the work of the UK’s foremost enemies for them. He also said high IQ was not a protection against idiotic behaviour, as Stalin had seduced the Webbs, George Bernard Shaw, and HG Wells.
Yoram Hazony, the Chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, claimed, “Conservatism has been in a state of confusion almost continuously since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and an aspect of that confusion is its capitulation to liberalism in Britain, America, and elsewhere. That’s a polite way of saying conservatism has virtually ceased to exist.” A perception has become mainstream that if you are not a leftist, you are a fascist. Hazony’s solution is to “build a coalition” of “anti-Marxist liberals, Christians, and nationalists”.
The themes of family, history, patriotism, policy, sovereignty, tradition, education, belonging, and the views of the majority were dominant. Many speakers claimed that “nationalism” was no longer a dirty word and should be embraced by post-Brexit Conservatives. Whether these views are too extreme for backbench Tories, only time will tell. After the Tory turbulence of the past five years, it is in the national interest that conservatives with both a small ‘c’ and a capital ‘C’ find some common ground if they want to avoid a Labour government in 2024.