Douglas Murray's keynote presentation at The Future of Europe international conference, Budapest, 2018 Douglas Murray's keynote presentation at The Future of Europe international conference, Budapest, 2018. Photo: Elekes Andor / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Terina Hine dissects the right-wing regrouping on display in Bournemouth and Westminster last week

Conservative MPs and party members appear to be hurtling towards a general election by preparing for opposition. They are doing so by flirting with dangerous ideas from the fringes of the far-right.

Thirteen years in office and the electorate have had enough of the Tories. The local elections on 4 May saw the Tories routed. They lost more than a thousand councillors and lost control of almost 50 councils – worse than their most dire predictions. Sunak may have stabilised the ship but it is still sinking.

In Bournemouth and Westminster the party was regrouping, revealing where its future may lie, and it was not a pretty sight.

Bournemouth hosted the Conservative Democratic Organisation’s launch event, aka the Bring Back Boris Brigade. Its reception was tepid, the organisation made up of groupies whose hero has passed his prime and didn’t even bother to grace them with his presence. Unable to think of new lyrics their message ‘take control’ invoked their one hit wonder. The ‘backstabber’ Sunak was the enemy, his reneging on his promised EU law bonfire the final straw. But with no appetite in the party for another leadership challenge before the election, the whole operation seems somewhat obsolete.

The slicker and better funded National Conservatism Conference was held a few days later in London, and received considerably more media attention. The conference was put together by the American NatCon movement with the aim of examining the future of the Conservatives in post-Brexit Britain.

If the conference was anything to go by the future Conservative Party will be 80% male and far younger than it is at present, it will also sit much further to the right. The ‘red wall’ voters and the blue-rinse set were nowhere to be seen, instead the conference was attended by ideologues from Oxbridge, US private universities, Israel and central Europe.

The London conference was co-chaired by American NatCon chair Christopher DeMuth, who like many of the participants is a pro-life climate change denier. The NatCon movement originated in the US, and is supported by the right-wing think tank the Edmund Burke Foundation, part of the evangelical Christian ‘revival’ movement. Its purpose is to promote ‘traditional values’ alongside national identity. For traditional values read anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigration, climate change deniers.

The British NatCons are motivated by a shared belief that regardless of 13 years of Tory rule the country is going to the dogs and that it’s everyone’s fault but theirs – the fault of women refusing to have babies and Marxists for infiltrating public institutions (if only). The list of who is to blame for Britain’s woes is a long one, and includes the tech sector, city dwellers, those in the south-east, university graduates (excepting themselves), twitter users who don’t use their real name, those who fail to move their children to a ‘less woke’ school, the godless, gays, trans people, the unmarried and of course immigrants.

Anti-immigration rhetoric was a guaranteed crowd winner at the conference. Attacks on clean energy and wind farms almost as popular. Protectionism was promoted and the family fetishised. It will surprise no-one that speakers at previous NatCon events have included the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán and the far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

In London, speaker after speaker competed to provide the most objectionable positions possible. Douglas Murray told delegates that nationalism was a good thing even if Germany had ‘mucked up twice in a century.’ No one appeared alarmed by his comparison of the Holocaust to ‘mucking-up’ or even shocked at his referencing Nazi Germany as part of a speech promoting nationalism.

Tory MP Danny Kruger was similarly chilling. He provided the audience with crazed ramblings about how Marxism, paganism and narcissism were threatening the basis of civilisation. He went on to attack individualism, suggesting it is the state’s job to protect and promote the family over the individual, that marriage is a ‘public act’ and that procreation the responsibility of good citizens.

The Home Secretary made the key note address. Vile as usual, her speech was even critical of her own department for being too liberal. It is clear that government discipline is breaking down and cabinet members going off-piste. They know the leadership will be up for grabs after the election is lost, and Suella Braverman is reaching for it with both hands, positioning herself as leader of the opposition to rebuild a broken party.

Commentators were quick to pour scorn on the conference and its speakers. The swivel-eyed loons on display are easy targets, and when polls repeatedly show voters are concerned with the cost of living crisis and state of the NHS rather than culture wars, the NatCon ideology can be dismissed as fringe and inconsequential. But when MPs, peers, cabinet ministers, former cabinet ministers, the deputy chair of the Conservative Party, and a host of influential commentators take part at such an event, it is best not to be too complacent. 

Three years ago, Conservative MP Daniel Kawzynski attended a NatCon conference and was forced to apologise – his participation at the ‘far right’ event was deemed unacceptable for a Tory MP. Now senior Cabinet members are not only free to attend an identical event but spew the same racist, misogynist, homophobic rubbish as Trump, De Santos, Orbán and Meloni.

Another attendee from ministerial ranks was Michael Gove, his presence gave legitimacy to an event that should have had none. It made clear the NatCons are no longer a far-right sect, but have become part of the mainstream Conservative Party. The Overton window has shifted. NatCon ideology may not be an election winner, but do not underestimate the influence it could have on the future of British politics if the main opposition party is remade in its image.

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