It’s a measure of how things look for the Conservatives that many of the party’s top figures are already planning what comes next. Conservative think tanks are running projects on the future of conservatism, MPs are issuing pamphlets on the right way forward. Now into this mix comes a troubling import.
Next week, London will host the National Conservatism conference, an event organized by the Edmund Burke Foundation, a group led by American and Israeli right-wingers dedicated to building a new movement across the Western world. Viktor Orbán, the authoritarian Hungarian leader, spoke at an earlier conference, as did Giorgia Meloni, the populist Italian prime minister.
Along with a belief in the nation state and free enterprise, the project 10 fundamental principles they also include a central role for religion and family values. They warn against “unbridled individualism. . . that encourages increasingly radical forms of sexual license and experimentation.” No nation, they add, “can remain long without humility and gratitude before God.”
Even support for free enterprise is tempered with warnings against globalized markets and transnational corporations that allow “hostile foreign powers to plunder America.”
A number of British Tories, including Suella Braverman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lord David Frost and Michael Gove, are expected to speak at the event. Not all participants share the NatCons agenda. But the speakers also include prominent culture warriors representing their nations as victims of a godless and globalist liberal agenda.
The importance of a conference can be exaggerated, but this one is timely because many Conservatives are thinking about a post-election repositioning.
The financial crisis and the collapse of the liberal economic order destroyed the open, conservative, modern Cameron-era model of global free trade that brought prosperity to all. Brexit offered a rival history of national self-renewal and many prominent Tories see a permanent future in a populist model built around nationalism and the defense of traditional values.
However, while it may appeal to many parliamentarians and activists, importing the US NatCon model is a dead end for two important reasons.
The first and most obvious is that the United States is a superpower. You can unilaterally alter the global terms of trade and stay out of multilateral organizations without risking their influence. Great Britain does not enjoy this luxury.
The second is that the religious right is not a force in British politics, nor is it likely to be. In it last census of England and Wales, less than half the population, 46 percent, classified themselves as Christian, while 37 percent said they had no religion. Nations where the NatCon agenda has taken root mostly have a powerful religious identity or a leader who is capable of mobilizing a religious vote. The UK, by contrast, has largely kept matters of religious conscience out of partisan politics, although, as the recent contest for the leadership of the Scottish National Party has shown, this separation is becoming more difficult to sustain in recent years. progressive parties.
The lack of a strong religious group limits the scope of the culture wars. There is room for Tories to back down against what can be described as creeping overreach in social policy, but Britain is not polarized in the same way as the United States and does not want to be. The right to abortion, for example, enjoys overwhelming support in the UKeven among conservatives.
The UK is hardly immune to racial injustice and public opinion supports limits on immigration. But Britain’s divisions cannot be compared to those of the United States, whose politics to this day remain marked by the Confederate cause. A carefully calibrated nod to immigration can work, but overplaying racial politics risks losing centrist voters. Conservatives must be the voice of the comfortable and the angry.
Clearly, a British NatCon offer will vary. It’s possible to see some mileage in more support for families, but it can’t be restricted to the nuclear kind. A hard line on immigration can also work with targeted voters. However, conservatives already know all this. Still, some strategists believe the party’s new voter base calls for a deeper embrace of culture wars and nationalism.
But NatCon’s insular model offers no solution to the disconnect between free-market conservatives and the more active state that new supporters demand. It has little to offer on climate change or the impact of new technologies. The rejection of multilateral institutions is also difficult for a post-Brexit UK. More important is the danger of grumpy prioritization of issues that matter less to voters than family income, housing, and the state of public services. Pathways to economic growth are where the Tories need to focus.
Therefore, mainstream conservatives should be very wary of grafting themselves into American-style cultural conflicts, especially those espoused by a movement with a narrow view of liberties and undue regard for leaders with shaky records. in democracy.
A degree of social conservatism aligned with pro-growth policies can be electorally attractive. But historical success has been based on balancing the old with adapting to the new.
Going from this tried and tested approach of soft modernity to an angry reaction is a dead end for conservatives in a country that is becoming less religious, increasingly tolerant of non-traditional lifestyles, and mostly wanting to find center. of the land instead of burning it.