Could a Far-Right vs Centre-Left Showdown Be the Future of British Politics?

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Yves here. Your humble blogger is in no position to opine on the UK’s new right wing contenders, the National Conservatives. However, I am bothered by the use of the term “nationalist” as pejorative, since globalization has not worked out so well in terms of delivering secure jobs and rising real incomes for average workers. The piece troublingly also depicts opposition to open borders as fascist, when countries depicted as firmly in the liberal camp, such as Australia and Canada, have tough limits on immigration. This article does link nationalism to a failure to address climate change, but one man’s nationalism is not that far from another’s relocalization.

So shorter: please pipe up with informed commentary on whether the National Conservatives are all that much worse than the familiar bête noire of the Tories.

By Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies in the Department of Peace Studies and International Relations at Bradford University, and an Honorary Fellow at the Joint Service Command and Staff College. He is openDemocracy’s international security correspondent. He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers. Originally published at openDemocracy

The National Conservative (‘NatCon’) movement has recently gravitated from receiving an occasional mention in the mainstream press to a much wider national stage. This is in part thanks to the lucky coincidence of its three-day conference in London this week following immediately after some appalling local election results for Rishi Sunak and his Conservative government.

Despite a touted commitment to free speech, attempts were made to keep left-leaning media away from the meeting by banning openDemocracy, Byline Times and Novara Media. These failed when openDemocracy managed to enter the conference – free of charge, without a ticket, using little more than a plummy accent – to report on some of its wackier elements.

The meeting’s more serious aspects included an all-too-obvious attempt by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, to make a bid for the Tory leadership should Rishi Sunak lose the forthcoming general election.

But the core purpose of the conference was to promote the NatCons’ far-right vision of a strongly nationalist variant of neoliberal conservatism, including a Christian dimension that comes close to lending the movement an evangelical sense of mission.

In its attitude to migration pressures and its core position on the central role of the state, the movement veers uncomfortably close to a fascist outlook. It believes it is, in its own words, “confronted by a rising China abroad and a powerful new Marxism at home”. In response it posits what it calls “an intellectually serious alternative to the excesses of purist libertarianism, and in stark opposition to political theories grounded in race”.

An earlier column discussed the possibility of the movement coming into its own as increasing migration pressures bring the migration/asylum issue into greater prominence. However, others would argue that, in parallel with the NatCons, a more significant political trend in the UK is the rise of a more inclusive and intrinsically cooperative centre-left outlook.

This is the argument from the US-based Progressive Policy Institute’s Project on Center Left Renewal, a “conversation with center-left parties in Europe and around the world”. Its purpose is to “exchange ideas, strategies and tactics for making centre-left parties more competitive and improve their governing performance”.

This is certainly different from the NatCon approach, though plenty of leftist analysts would see it as centrist, if not rightist, in its perspective. This comes across in the PPI’s positive attitude towards Keir Starmer’s Labour Party in the UK, where, it says, the party’s prospects are “looking up after a 13-year exile from government. Over the past two years, party leader Keir Starmer has methodically exorcised the dogmatic socialism that took possession of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.”

The Institute’s project on renewal is led by Claire Ainsley, who served until recently as executive director for policy for Starmer. Writing recently in The Guardian, she pointed to Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party in Australia and the German Social Democrats as examples of progressive thinking, and argued in the UK context that Labour under Starmer is in a position to gain a parliamentary majority by “reconstituting the historical coalition between today’s working-class voters and liberal-leaning middle-class voters”.

Whether that is realistic or not, centrism is a clear trend in British politics, and in contrast to the far-right approach of the NatCons. This raises the question of whether either of these approaches can dominate the national political discourse in the coming years.

It helps to factor in two global trends that will affect them. One is global economic marginalisation and other is climate breakdown. Taking the two together, it is glaringly obvious that we are due to see a massive increase in migration pressure. As many millions of people are pushed to the environmental and economic margins, the pressure to find safer homes in the richer states will become a desperate and probably dominant political force.

Just this week the World Meteorological Organisation reported the two-thirds probability that global heating will exceed a 1.5°C riseon pre-industrial levels by 2027, a far faster rate of heating than previously anticipated.

As if on cue, floods in the north Italian region of Emilia-Romagna have killed 13 people and made thousands homeless. In an ironic twist, they also led to the cancellation of the Italian F1 Grand Prix at that petrolhead mecca, the Imola Circuit.

Back in Britain, with Ed Miliband pushing hard for a green transition, Labour is on the right lines on this one issue, but the NatCons are nowhere near and do not even regard it as significant. Even Labour, though, does not have the leadership quality to prioritise climate breakdown as the dominant and immediate global challenge, bar none.

Many people will argue that Starmer’s Labour Party is not remotely progressive enough to face up to the current challenges, but many more will accept its policies and its chances of election in 2024 are high. To that extent it’s likely it will be Labour, not the Tories and certainly not the NatCons, that will take power within the next couple of years.

In the longer term, though, the huge risk is of a move to the far right in Britain as climate breakdown impacts in earnest and a ‘close the castle gate’ attitude comes to dominate politics, not just in Britain but right across the Global North. To counter that would take a degree of political change that is far greater than anything currently in prospect, in Britain at least. A starting point could have been the Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto, including tax reform, public ownership of key utilities, support for labour rights and effective regulation of financial institutions, but that is dead – even if its ideas doggedly refuse to be buried.

We now have the prospect of a centrist Labour Party under Starmer in power in 18 months’ time, with a Braverman far-right opposition facing it. That scenario would mean many millions of people would be unrepresented by either government or opposition, a recipe for dissatisfaction and uncertainty just when a truly reformist government would be most needed.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think the winner of the next UK election will be ‘none of the above’.

    It is incredibly difficult – literally a one in a century thing – for UK politics to realign significantly. The nature of FPTP voting and the spread of socio economic groups in England specifically makes it extremely difficult to shift incumbents, no matter how unpopular. To win a significant number of seats a party either has to have a very high degree of geographical concentration (i.e. SNP or the Northern Ireland parties), or get 30%+ of the vote if its support is widespread. And add to this, British voters tend not to be keen on strategic voting.

    So ultimately, if you want power, you really have to take over Labour or the Tories. The purpose of far right parties, like the UKIP is to draw the Tories to the right and then infiltrate them. The left has failed miserably to do this to Labour, primarily because of the absence of any successful left wing party (its very difficult to see any party to the left of Labour winning more than a handful of seats in almost any circumstances).

    This is the primary reason why Starmer can just ignore the left. He knows that elections are won or lost based on a relative handful of floating voters over a few dozen key constituencies. Unless there is electoral reform or a genuine political earthquake, the UK is stuck with what it has.

    1. Carolinian

      Of course some professor could write much the same article about the United States with the McConnell Republicans being the Tories, the Dems Labour and the religious Buchanan Paleocons–of which Trump is an offshoot–being the “extreme” right. Why it’s almost as though some invisible hand is running the whole show.

      The main thing is to keep the working class–capitalism’s ideological enemy–down. The article seems fairly complacent about this. Thatcher, wherever she’s planted, would be too?

    2. Tom Bradford

      The trigger for a significant re-alignment of (British) politics – rare as it is – is the equally rare appearance of a new factor that impinges on a voter’s political prejudices. Yet this happened with ‘the Brexit vote’ when the overriding question people faced was non-political in the traditional sense and which triggered many people to vote Tory who never would have previously considered it.

      However as the author of the piece points out, the novelty of the climate crisis is gathering pace and the response to it of the various established political parties is increasingly likely to weigh on voters’ intentions, to the point that an individual’s shade of Green is going to be as decisive for their vote as their shade of Blue or Red.

      1. Anonymous 2

        I would argue that the trigger for the most significant realignment of British politics in modern times was the arrival on the scene of Rupert Murdoch. He bought the Sun which had always previously been solidly pro-Labour and turned it into a pro-Tory newspaper at the 1979 election and from then on after ( apart from the Blair era but Murdoch’s support for New Labour was clearly conditional on New Labour accepting all of the Thatcher era reforms so was definitely not Labour in the traditional sense).

        The switch of the Sun to right wing politics meant that where previously there had been two Tory tabloids and two Labour, the balance shifted to three Tory and one Labour (the Mirror). The UK has moved in stages further and further to the right ever since. This is not a coincidence. People are influenced by the newspapers they read.

    3. Ben

      What has been forgotten is that one third of the electorate could not find a party to vote for at the last general election. I don’t belive any party will get these people out to vote and with the labour party moving right they still have no party to vote for.

  2. KD

    The piece troublingly also depicts opposition to open borders as fascist, when countries depicted as firmly in the liberal camp, such as Australia and Canada, have tough limits on immigration.

    I don’t know, I believe it is probably easier to have a debate on the merits of fascism than to rationally justify open borders as a coherent public policy. Further, the more you can moralize public policy, the more it becomes a badge of just being a good person, rather than something subject to justification or debate.

    As far as “nationalism”, we are living in the end of history and nations, patriotism and wars are going to wither away with the state, in the Progressive Left/Hayekian reformulation of the Communist pie in the sky historical outcome. You take Hayek, ingraft the utopian myths of Marxism and Hegel, and mix it with Frankfurt School Leftism, moving from politics as class struggle to performative virtue signaling that you are “kind” and not “mean” or “authoritarian” and you have the Neoliberal “centre left,” with a train of billionaires writing checks, NGO’s and nice white people with BLM signs in front of their third home in Chilmark. As for all the homeless people, the deaths of despair, the working classes crushed with debt and stress and declining standards of living, the collapse of life expectancy, and the increasing unaffordability of health care and higher education (all those things the Dems have been “improving” for 30 years), well, “empathetically” set up a new nonprofit to fund middle class jobs for useless PMC to address the “structural roots” of the problem.

    The real question is what will come when the workers finally revolt against a system grinding them into dust, and its not going to look like NatCon or Starmer or Biden/DNC.

  3. The Rev Kev

    In a recent video, the boys at The Duran were making the point that politically the UK is exhausted. Both parties are at a dead end and there is a state of stagnation there. So it may be that the National Conservatives will be one of the alternatives that will try to establish themselves with probably more parties to come. Perhaps we will see a National Labour as well soon- (20:31 mins)

    1. Michaelmas

      Perhaps we will see a National Labour as well soon-

      How about Real Labour led by the likes of Mick Lynch instead?

      1. alfia

        UK is in sore need of the likes of Mick Lynch. The current Labour Party in the UK does not represent true labour values.

      2. some guy

        I am not British, so I can only wonder whether firm and semi-hard leftists and workerists and unionists might get somewhere with a new party which they could call Old Labor? Would the mere cheekiness of calling it Old Labor get some respectful attention?

  4. Revenant

    This article risks being misinterpreted if you don’t have the background knowledge that UK politics is a duopoly and the two parties were always broad churches with competing internal ideological factions (although Starker is purging Labour to make it safe for PMC neoliberals who identify as socialists but refuse to have the surgery in their wallet area).

    The National Conservatives referred to are not a political party. They are an ideology. They have the same relationship to the Tories as the Tea Party to the Republicans.

    To date, the best analogy to the Tea Party is the Brexiteers, who effectively seized power from within in the eternal rats-in-a-sack coalition that is the Tory party. The National Conservatives are the latest thing: whether they have the ideological drive to subvert the Tory party from within remains to be seen.

    The Brexiteers did it because they represented an ideology that had “cross-party” support. Irony quotes because Brexit had in fact cross-party suppression and only the Brexiteers, themselves infra dig outcasts, were willing to acknowledge the silent majority. They also had a lot of financial support from mavericks, like hedge fund tycoons and retailing scrappers etc. The Tory mainstream had only shallow and wide support from Big Business and, in the UK, political donations are still more about individuals than corporates (which prefer to hedge their bets).

    I don’t see any hope for NatCons as described. Tony Blair famously didn’t do God (while he ran for office) because Britain is irreligious and distrustful of moralising. Fittingly, it is always sex scandal that brings the Tories down and it is always money scandal that brings Labour down, their two great neuroses.

    Every political altitude survey shows that the British public is to the left of Westminster politically and to the right “culturally”, to whit we should spend more on public services, less on bankers, renationalise rail and utilities, and that while homosexuality has been decriminalised and mixed race marriage is commonplace these days, immigration is too high, violent crime is rife, there are too few police on the beat and they are more interested in absurd thought crime than collaring villains, prison sentences are too short, that trans activism is unacceptable and Extinction Rebellion / Stop the Oil are dangerous disorder.

    A party that ran on 1950’s or even 1970’s economic and cultural values would wipe the floor with the Tories, the other Tories (Labour) and the NatCons.

    Oh, and the idea that centrism is a “clear trend in British politics” and Corbyn was a “dogmatic socialist” tells you all you need to know about the author’s PMC, triangulating-Clinton sympathies.

    Also the claim that the NatCons are far right. Both Starmer and the NatCons are neoliberals / corporatists and pretty far right already. The idea of brown shirt street skinheads seizing power is a laughable bogeyman: the activists are infiltrated by MI5 and the fellow travellers are coopted into the Tory party by its dogwhistling on race and immigration (but fail to see the Tories have no intention of delivering). We’d be as likely and as lucky to see Militant Tendency depose Starker for Trotskyism.

    1. digi_owl

      Pretty much the story all over.

      Ease back on the cultural stuff, it changes at generational time frames anyways, and roll back the crazy neolib economics stuff, and you got yourself a platform that will last decades (Corbyn seemed to get close tho this and that is why he was outed with such fervor).

      But that, as Adam Curtis put it in one of his series, leave the politicians as mere custodians of the status quo. And that freaks them out.

    2. c_heale

      I have to take issue with the phrase “the silent majority”, especially in the context of Brexit. There is no silent majority, because the so-called silent majority is anything but silent.

      In the case of Brexit specifically, the mass media – especially the majority of the newspapers – never stopped promoting Brexit, and the BBC and other TV stations gave UKIP, especially Nigel Farage, never ending opportunities to promote his message, although as a politician he has never won any kind of power.

  5. Aurelien

    Rogers has some areas of expertise, but British Politics clearly isn’t one of them. Equally clearly, he is (and as I recall always has been) a soft-left “centrist,” and it’s obvious that he believes his time has come round at last, so long as the ideological menace of the “extreme right” can be contained. I know little more than is in the article about the NatCons, but I struggle to understand how a “neoliberal party” could be both religious and nationalist, since neoliberalism undermines both. And unlike US politics, evangelicalism has never been feature of British politics. And I have no idea what “In its attitude to migration pressures and its core position on the central role of the state, the movement veers uncomfortably close to a fascist outlook” is supposed to mean. It certainly has nothing to do with the actual ideologies of actual fascist parties in the 20s and 30s.

    As PK says above, the two-party structure of British politics issue strong that power can only come from taking over one of them. This happened to the Tories, and it nearly happened to Labour in the 1980s with the Militant Tendency, that failed to take over the Party but did much to lose the 1983 General Election. I’ve argued in my latest essay that the thesis of Left vs Right electoral competition, as presented here, is outmoded. Rather it’s the Elite vs the Excluded, and the problem is that the Elite (which includes all the major political leaders in Britain) is losing credibility and support, whilst the Excluded (of which the NatCons are a symptom) are inherently too divided and leaderless to take advantage of the fact.

      1. Aurelien

        But as I pointed out in my essay, leaders by themselves don’t mean very much. They need other factors as well.

    1. goldbach

      I agree with your characterisation of Paul Rogers as a “centrist”.
      There is one other thing that seems to influence his thinking too. That is his closeness to certain sections of the British state. This is, in all probability, a function of his field of study and the fact that he has close contact with members of the UK armed services through his involvement with the Joint Services institute.
      That is not to say that he is not genuinely expressing his views, but that his views may have been influenced by those with whom he maintains regular contact.

    2. Sibiriak

      I struggle to understand how a “neoliberal party” could be both religious and nationalist…

      Like India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)?

      In my view, a neoliberal economic agenda is perfectly compatible with BOTH a wokish multicultural identity politics AND an (ethno)nationalist/religious identity politics, and may in fact require at least some degree of alliance with one or the other, or some other variation of identity politics, in order to obtain popular support in a “democratic” society.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Indeed the neoliberal economic agenda certainly needs scapegoats to point at when people start to notice that they are getting poorer by the year. So I would agree that it requires alliances with groups that already are blaming some “others” for the ails they face.

    3. Polar Socialist

      Isn’t the two party structure an inevitable consequence of a first-past-the-post electoral system?

      My knowledge of the history of British politics I certainly very limited, but wasn’t Labor technically a split from the Liberal Party, which then quickly replaced Liberals in the parliament? Precisely because the working class was very unsatisfied with Liberals.

      1. Anonymous 2

        Labour was established by the Trade Unions to represent their interests in a way the Liberals were never going to do. They replaced the Liberals because universal suffrage came in in 1918 and the Liberals at that time obligingly and foolishly split in two – the Asquith Liberals and the Lloyd George Liberals – creating a gap which Labour occupied, sending the Liberals into many decades of mostly irrelevance.

      2. Revenant

        No, Labour was a grassroots movement of the trade unions. They sponsored the Independent Parliamentary Labour Party. It only had seats in the 1920’s in any meaningful number. One of the first union politicians was Keir Hardie – Starmer’s better namesake.

        The Liberals imploded after 1909 (?). See the Stranfe Death of Liberal England. They were killed by WW1 and the universal franchise and their rump like the Tories fell apart on Home Rule and Empire Preference: both, you will note, the same forces at work today in deciding devolution and trade and immigration borders. Everything must change for everything to stay the same.

        What you may be muddling up is the SDP, the Social Democratic Party, splitting from Labour in the 1980’s. Tony Benn and Michael Foot wrote a radical socialist manifesto for the 1983 election, which Robin Cook called the longest suicide note in history. Four rightwing Labour grandees left to form the SDLP, split the left vote and created Thatcherism. The rump Liberal party eventually merged with this SDP to form the Liberal Democrats, who took their cue from the Holy Roman Empire to rule as neither in coalition with the Tories in 2012. This killed support for triangulating Clintonists for good, they have almost no MPs.

        1. digi_owl

          Reading all that i am once more reminded oh how Norwegian politics seems to copy all the worst parts of our neighbors (though FPTP is luckily not yet one of them).

  6. jrkrideau

    I am bothered by the use of the term “nationalist” as pejorative

    It may be a dialect difference. Someone like Aurelien is better placed than me, as a Canadian, to comment but “Nationalist” screams “fascist” or “racist” to me. Rogers may be thinking of the UK National Front.

    1. Michaelmas

      jkrideau: It may be a dialect difference … “Nationalist” screams “fascist” or “racist” to me. Rogers may be thinking of the UK National Front.

      That and Enoch Powell, sure.

      But Rogers was born in 1943 and is eighty years old. Whereas it’s 2023 and, while the Tories may be awful, three out of the four top Tories holding the four top posts in the current government — including Bravermann who’s at the NatCon conference auditioning to succeed Sunak — look like this :-

      So that ship has pretty much sailed.

      1. jrkrideau

        I don’t live in the UK so I may be completely out to lunch but I was thinking more class than race. From what I have seen Suella Braverman and her attitude toward immigrants is shading into fascist.

  7. Michaelmas

    Revenant’s is an accurate, comprehensive sitrep, I’d say. Especially: –

    The Brexiteers did it because they represented an ideology that had “cross-party” support. Irony quotes because Brexit had in fact cross-party suppression and only the Brexiteers, themselves infra dig outcasts, were willing to acknowledge the silent majority.

    A truth universally unacknowledged in PMC land, and thus in local and global media, is that Brexit happened in no small measure because being in the EU resulted in the decades-long immiseration of the British working classes, as Freedom of Movement made it possible for UK employers to move factories over to places like Poland and pay workers there a quarter what they’d have had to pay UK workers — indeed, made it possible to bring in people from over there and sometimes pay them less on the downlow in the UK than the legal minimum wage.

    Meanwhile, some 10 million people were added to the UK population after Tony Blair pushed through FOM in 2004, placing an enormous strain on resources like the NHS, housing, and other services.

    Those services are important. There’s a continual tendency to translate the UK into US terms and vice versa. But some deep facts about the UK and the class war here (as I am here now) don’t translate into US terms and the class war in the US. For instance, 20 percent of housing in London is social housing and the city couldn’t function without that; the City’s bankers wouldn’t have their housekeepers, etcetera. Likewise, Uber got closed down in their effort to undercut the regular taxi system here and put it out of business, then jack up prices, because Londoners depend on an affordable taxi system and the London government is charging ICE car owners 12 GBP daily if they want own and operate ICE cars within London (hybrids and electrics are okay).

    Another longstanding UK cultural idiosyncracy is that the British have historically refused to accept being legally forced to carry national identity cards. The nearest thing I can translate that to in US terms is the right to bear arms. Obviously, as cultural idiosyncracies go, the UK’s is hardly as harmful But it makes it very hard to enforce control immigrant labor control once that immigrant labor gets inside the UK.

    Consequently, once the UK working-classes had the chance to vote on the EU and FOM, the world saw the result in 2016 that it saw. The wave of trade union strike actions, the rise of figures like Mick Lynch, and such traction as they’ve gotten has been greatly enabled by that result.

    If you tried to translate it into US terms, one way of thinking about Brexit may be that it would be as if the mass of US voters could actually vote on cheap Mexican labor being brought into the country, and the results of that vote might actually be enforced. It doesn’t really translate, does it?

    1. digi_owl

      Because to the PMC the FOM is a boon, as they can put their electronics in a carry-on bag, and pop off to the riviera or similar without missing a beat at work.

      This similar to some PMC in Seattle can fly of to Miami and still conduct business as usual.

      People in industrial and service work can’t, while they see more and more of their coworkers getting replaced by some contractor out of eastern Europe.

      There is a reason why people unironically was singing “ding dong the witch is dead” when the news of Thatchers passing was announced.

    2. c_heale

      The statement that the working classes were the main support for Brexit is a myth. In fact an analysis by an Oxford University professor (I think it was Danny Dorling), showed that the strongest Brexit support came from relatively rich areas in the South which had relatively low immigration. There was the Red Wall in the North and Midlands, but as someone who knows some of these areas, imo the vote wasn’t for Brexit per se, but it was a f*** you to all the political classes who since the 1980s completely destroyed industry and jobs in these regions. Imo too, immigration affected the South much more at the time – especially London, not the North.
      The lie about the NHS also convinced some people to vote for Brexit.

      1. Michaelmas

        The statement that the working classes were the main support for Brexit is a myth…

        And an Oxford professor said that? Heavens, it must be true.

        Alternatively, there’s this from the London School of Economicss blog and someone who actually went out and talked to the working-class people who voted for Brexit. But what do those oiks and gammons know?

        ‘We don’t exist to them, do we?’: why working-class people voted for Brexit

        Working-class people were more likely to vote for Brexit. Lisa Mckenzie (Middlesex University) takes issue with the notion that these people were ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. They saw Brexit, with all the uncertainties it would bring, as an alternative to the status quo. De-industrialisation and austerity has taken a heavy toll on working-class communities – one which the middle-class often fails to grasp.

        Many working-class people believe in Brexit. Who can blame them?
        Many working-class people believed – and continue to believe – that Brexit will bring about a positive change in their circumstances. Lisa Mckenzie (Middlesex University) argues that their voices have been ignored for 40 years, and the better-off mock and dismiss their attachment to leaving the EU. It is time to recognise the systematic way the working class has been excluded from British society.

        Well worth reading, including the comment threads.

        1. Revenant

          “the strongest Brexit support came from relatively rich areas in the South which had relatively low immigration”

          I think you are trying to say the word countryside but failing. The English countryside looks prosperous in aggregate because of rich retirees inflating the mean income and wealth and generally high property ownership (because the landless dispossessed fled two centuries ago to the British cities to become the industrial working class). However, there are plenty of poors in the shires. The farmer and his labourer both voted for Brexit….

  8. Don

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Tories? National Conservatives? Who cares who’s worse?

    But who is going to play the part of the “Centre Left”?

      1. lambert strether

        “Centre Left” indeed, except for the left part.

        You can’t hop into bed with the spooks to advance your career, as did Starmer, and be part of the left, even today’s left.

        1. digi_owl

          There really are not much proper (economic) left politics going round any more, beyond some very fringe skeletal parties. That most of big ones seem to consider worse than outright goose stepping brown shirts at the other end for some reason…

  9. Jeff W

    “…attempts were made to keep left-leaning media away from the meeting by banning openDemocracy, Byline Times and Novara Media.”

    PoliticsJOE was also barred from attending the conference but its reporter Ed Campbell just stood outside the center where the conference took place and interviewed a few of the attendees who, without exception, expressed some far-out-of-the-mainstream views. (One person interviewed was concerned about the “sexual chaos” raging in the country and another interviewee said of the people currently in charge, “It’s not really a right-wing government.”)

    Not mentioned by the OpenDemocracy piece is the fact that the conference is funded by a US right-wing think tank, the Edmund Burke Foundation, and some of the evangelical Christian views expressed seemed very out-of-step with British politics even for right-wing Tories. The Guardian pointed out that “…culture war talking points and often rarefied debates about nationalism versus liberalism pushed out more or less all discussion of the subjects UK voters mainly care about”—which is to say, cost-of-living issues.

    I’m not so sure the cabinet ministers—Suella Braverman and Michael Gove—or the Tory MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg who attended particularly care about National Conservatism per se. It seemed like they just saw the conference as an opportunity to spout whatever they had to say in a very conservative venue, whether or not it aligned with National Conservatism (e.g., Braverman’s culture wars) or not (e.g., Rees-Mogg’s odd admission that the recent voter ID scheme enacted by the Tories was an attempt to “gerrymander” [his word] the election).

  10. JonnyJames

    Definitions please. Based on a wide spectrum of policy platforms, the so-called Labour party of the UK is right-wing/authoritarian. So in effect, we have a possible showdown of moderate right-wing authoritarians and far-right authoritarians. See (

    Very similar in the USA, The Ds and Rs are firmly in the upper-right quadrant: right-wing authoritarian.

    If you are not right-wing authoritarian, electoral politics is indeed a dead-end

  11. Kouros

    I read nationalist as sovereigntist and I don’t think it is wrong.

    But Canada having very tight quotas for immigration, that is factually not true and I think Yves has not checked the latest Stats Canada numbers and the latest Liberal commitments which indicate ~ 400,000 immigrants per year for the next several years.

    And because I work with such numbers as a day job decently paid, I can say that the area where I live cannot cope (with the percentage of the 400K that my wash on our shores). Never mind the fact that the existing infrastructure cannot support the present demands of the public. We will be Standing in Zanzibar soon…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The restrictions on those 400,000 is tight, either the points system which favors the young and educated, or invest to start a Canadian business, or meet provincial job quotas for certain categories. The application process is strict. I can’t get in and neither can most people over 40.

      1. Kouros

        True, true. But all this quantity, despite some positive qualitative attributes, creates a huge problem, which is exacerbated by the relentless push for privatization and profits.

        As such, creating a viable environment for the population at large, no matter the inherent good qualities of the said population are fundamentally undercut by the zeitgeist of our “betters”…

    2. Joe Well

      >>But Canada having very tight quotas for immigration

      But Canada does, in fact, have very tight quotas for immigration relative to the enormous potential demand. If they truly flung the doors open, the population of the country could double in a month, no exaggeration.

      As an aside, I helped someone go through the student visa application to Canada years ago and the level of scrutiny was insane, all kinds of proof of employment and assets required, and then he got a grilling by the border guard who it seemed almost didn’t let him in despite having a valid visa.

      Another aside: Canada is fortunate to have an enormous buffer state between itself and Latin America. No caravans marching up to their borders. Anecdotally from speaking to Latin Americans, Canada is seen as a desirable country to immigrate to, but there aren’t well known established routes to enter without a visa.

      1. Kouros

        And where would all those people live, in tents? There is not sufficient infrastructure for the existing people. Children going to school in ad hoc makeshift buildings, no doctors, sky rocketing housing costs (renters and would be buyers), competition to put a kid through any after school program, schedule opens at 6:00 am or 12:pm, and in 10 minutes all is gone, etc…

        Heck, where I am, with population pressure and a couple of years of drought, there won’t be enough water to go around.

  12. Dida

    Any commentator that is trying to engage me in electoral politics as if it mattered is a propagandist designed to distract me from the hard reality, which is that all political parties have been captured at this point. The political process has become irrelevant: it is at most a contest between various gangs of oligarchs for subsidies, tax cuts and monopolistic rents. A bit like a wildlife show with hyenas disputing feeding right to a moribund animal.

    In addition, the system precludes the appearance of any white knight, something I learned from watching Corbyn’s well orchestrated destruction, the warmongering career of the German greens, and AOC’s fast descent into empty demagoguery. Just think of the speed with which Bernie dismantled whatever movement he had built, after he conceded the race to a visibly senile candidate without securing any substantial concessions in return! No meaningful politics is possible here.

    And that is because Western capitalism has reached the end of the road, at least in its current incarnation. The internationalized and financialized imperial economy that the US hegemon has built is unsustainable. Unfortunately for us all, the predatory model has certain limits, beyond which the entire architecture comes crashing down, like a trophic pyramid heavy at the top.

    There is no resolution coming from the ruling classes, because no resolution is possible, they cannot turn the behemoth back on its tracks, that would mean undoing everything they have created over the last 50 years. And the sooner we face the reality the better.

  13. Pokhara

    ‘the conference is funded by a US right-wing think tank, the Edmund Burke Foundation’

    That is the key point. National conservatism is a US import — basically white nationalism in a suit and tie, carrying a Bible, and rabbiting on about industrial policy and DARPA. The whole thing is Peter Thiel’s baby; he has spoken at three NatCon conferences, and his proxy J. D. Vance addressed the London conference via videolink. According to a recent biography, Thiel sees national conservatism as ‘Trumpism beyond Trump’.

    It is giving too much credit to people like Braverman or Jacob Rees-Mogg to think that they came up with any of this ‘neo-reactionary’ crap themselves. People used to talk about the transatlantic ruling class; what that means nowadays is that English politics is entirely cut and pasted from a US script. Same was true under New Labour, who just imported Clintonism wholesale.

    1. Noor Safi

      “The Tories in England had long imagined that they were enthusiastic about the monarchy, the church and beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about ground rent.” – Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

      As apt now as it was in 1852.

      You are quite correct – the Tories have zero interest in nationalist projects or culture wars. I’d go as far to say that they’d be revolted at the suggestion that they may share something in common with the average British person. They are no master strategists, they’re a group of generalists who have opened up Britain to finance capital at every turn. It appears easy to manipulate the levers of power to enrich oneself, actually having a political project that could grant Britain the sovereignty many claim to desire would require the ability to actually construct a coherent theoretical basis and set themselves on the long hard road towards its implementation.

      Instead, they’ll stick to “anti-woke” culture-war bullshit, all the while Britain sinks into the sea.

      A piece in the Palladium, by Mcilhagga, titled “Britain is Dead” speaks to this in more eloquent terms.

  14. goldbach

    “National Conservatives” are simply a sideshow. The overwhelming majority of people here in the UK have probably never heard of them and, almost certainly, have no interest in them.
    What we have is a country where the parameters of political debate have become increasingly circumscribed, to the extent that politicians are arguing about very minor differences in policy.
    2017 was a blip.
    The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party created real political debate. Our media, however, seemed determined that such debate should not happen and engaged in all kinds of activities to divert from discussing policies. They were successful, and now we have a provisional policy document that the Labour Party has produced which is, at best, a list of pious hopes with a very limited number of minor commitments.
    Projections based on the results of recent local elections in England indicate that, if people voted similarly at the next General Election, there would be a hung parliament.
    However, a hung parliament, a Labour government or the Conservatives returned again would have little impact on policy.
    I’m left wondering what is the lowest turnout there has ever been in a UK General Election. We may beat it in 2024.

    1. Pokhara

      But the problem is that, by going all-in for culture war (Lee Anderson MP, the deputy chair of the Conservative Party, said recently that the next election would be fought on a ‘mix of culture wars and trans debate’), the Tories, and the ‘respectable’ right-wing press (Daily Telegraph, Spectator), are rapidly mainstreaming the ideas and rhetoric of the far right. A case in point is ‘cultural Marxism’.

      ‘White genocide’ and/or the Great Replacement theory are also coming out of the shadows, in the form of pseudo-intellectual grifters like Douglas Murray, and evangelical MPs like Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, with their pro-natalist policy fantasies.

      In a post-imperial country where ethnic minorities are a small but significant fraction of the population, where inequality just continues to rise while the economy shrinks, and where politics has been reduced to PR by other means, this stuff is dangerous.

      Jacob Rees-Mogg MP — whose investment firm, Somerset Capital, moved to Dublin after Brexit — has described national conservatism as a ‘national political ideology’, which ‘by its nature [is] in contradistinction to liberalism or socialism’. Now where have we heard that before?

      1. goldbach

        Culture wars.
        It’s another way of avoiding debate about the principle issue, which is the power structure of the country and the way it further enriches the most wealthy whilst steadily putting more economic pressure on the great majority.

        1. Anonymous 2

          I sympathise with much of what you, Dida and Pokhara say above. I have not time to write a properly structured contribution but here are a few related thoughts.

          To me ‘nationalism’ is a dogwhistle to those in the UK looking for a more authoritarian government of the far right. For many in the UK – at least of my generation – it has resonances of National Socialism, the National Front and the British Union of Fascists. There is an important distinction IMO between ‘patriotism’ – love of one’s country and fellow citizens – and ‘nationalism’ – hatred of other nationalities and people.

          Until Brexit the Tories were a coalition of pro-business right wingers and a fringe of nationalists who were largely regarded as harmless eccentrics. Now this has changed, the nationalists have taken over, have expelled many of the pro-business people and have been stoking hostility towards all the UK’s neighbours. Individual liberties have been reduced, with a thus far rather ham-fisted attempt at voter suppression but also restrictions on the right to protest and mooted further restrictions on the right to strike. The press is controlled by the press barons, the oligarchs who, with their allies, are the real government of the UK, so freedom of speech is in practice quite limited. The Tory party politicians are merely the oligarchs’ puppets. As for Labour, it is very difficult to tell what their real agenda is. I am not hopeful about them. But the prospects for anyone who comes to power in the UK in 2024 or 2025 are bleak so the chances they will be a one-term government replaced by a far right government are considerable. Anyone should be worried who cares about democracy. Oligarchy could slide in time towards dictatorship. After all, that is the classic slide from democracy to oligarchy to dictatorship. Whether one calls that fascism or not seems to me almost irrelevant. Right wing dictatorships are just that: right wing dictatorships. Don’t expect them to look after the interests of the ordinary citizen in any serious way or to run countries where there is significant liberty.

          The National Conservative event put a marker in the ground that the Tory party will not be recaptured in the near future by pro-business forces without a considerable fight from the Far Right. It provided Suella Braverman with a platform fairly obviously to campaign to replace Sunak replacement when he (probably fairly soon) is dropped by the Tories after the next election. Sunak was of course put in by the slightly more sensible elements of the Tory party after the lunacy of the Truss reign. It is telling that Truss’s fall came when Murdoch (owner of the Sun tabloid) rang Rothermere (owner of the Mail tabloid) to persuade him to ditch Truss. In a fairly extraordinary move, she criticised her own government’s policies on migration when she is herself the minister responsible for these policies!

          Meanwhile, the prospects for the British economy look increasingly dire. Developments relating to the car industry, EVs etc threaten the possibility (I put it no stronger) that over the next five or ten years we will see the almost complete collapse of much of what is left of British manufacturing. If that happens, the events of the last seven years will seem like a children’s picnic in comparison.

          1. Revenant

            Anon 2, your analysis is I’ll founded. The purpose of the tyrant / dictator is to overthrow the oligarchs. At least, that was what the Greeks said. The tyrant was the oblt ruler who could defeat oligarchy, which would enslave the people. Whether he was tyrannical in the modern sense is the gamble. The tyrant had to move with the mood of street though. Maybe King Charles III is our tyrant…?

      2. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        Ethnic minorities are small which is true, but they are very significant in urban areas which if people start to get really hungry & perhaps very cold especially in large parts of London …..

        I have an occasional friend as my neighbour in the palatial once Blacksmith’s house dating from the turn of the 18th century, owned as a holiday home by a once relatively well known Labour MP, whose main residence is in a certain wealthy part of London. He spends a lot more time here nowadays & states that the atmosphere in the Big Smoke can now be cut with a knife, which happens to be the weapon of choice – perhaps paranoia but he now hates having to return.

  15. Terry Flynn

    So much politics is local. Try asking people in Ashfield Borough what they think of their councillors – a bunch of people who were “Labour who hated alphabet stuff popular in London, people who came from the anti-NUM miners strike in the 1980s”. Then you begin to understand local fall of the red wall.

    People round here are “gobby”. They don’t necessarily follow major trends. Thus Ken Clarke (hated brexit) kept south nottm tory through the “transition” to Brexit. Tory Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry stayed around because we don’t like being bossed around and she wasn’t afraid to call out the leadership for being crap.

    One thing that keeps happening… New parties aiming to shake things up get in… Show incompetence in governing because they are “intellectually challenged” … Then disappear into nothingness. Already the “notts donut” is going Labour again. DOES NOT mean Starmer victory but it certainly indicates interesting times ahead.

  16. DFWCom

    I listened to a sermon today, from which I learned the first question of theology is, ‘what is the time?’ – much akin to Machiavelli’s concept of, ‘fortuna’. What is the time are we in? Which way is the wind blowing?

    I have always had a soft spot for Paul Rogers and hadn’t really thought of him as WEC – white, English, and comfortable – or mushy left or old – much like me! But, of course, we are – his time and mine, the time when the world and our lives resonated was decades ago.

    As an outsider, if I were to describe our time, I would not start with a cranky conference funded by an American oligarch. Or maybe I would – it speaks to the corruption of our politics and, more tellingly, to the vast diminution of our political imaginations – of the stories we can share about ways of our salvation.

    Somewhere though, I would mention the polycrisis or system crisis – that we may be in the final doubling time of our economic, environmental, biodiversity, inequality, and climate crisis. That the demands of growth can simply no longer be met and the system will shudder and fall. Many would say it already is falling.

    Life will become difficult and survival its purpose. Whether, even then, England can shake off its centuries of class imperative is for the future to reveal. But I would guess not, and if not, neither centre-right or centre-left policy will cut muster. In fact, they already don’t – England is a fading country – not yet a backwater but momentum is building. So much history, pride, and selfish grasping with no vision whatsoever for a future other than as a fossil ‘Nation’, adrift in its time – but not of its time.

    England, like all of us, needs a new story. Sadly, it’s not one that I, of my time, can write.

  17. Isla White

    A useful topic but surely the first political party to effectively address the perceived changing of the British ‘character’ will win through. As it is supra-political and impacts on all levels of society; minority races and minority ethnic groups and intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike.

    This linked article usefully tackles ‘perceptions’ by native British – presumably mirrored in all advanced economies facing an influx of immigrants from substantially different levels of social and cultural development.
    Particularly relevant to those incomers bringing baggage from historic Contra os Bretoes grievances and re-visiting social values accepted centuries ago but seen as ‘wrong’ now like slavery.

    The UK is further down the curve than much of the EU in accepting, for example, other faiths and allowing them their places of worship. Also political squabbles, such as about Kashmir, that are irrelevant to the British. Even at the risk of importing terrorism and ‘settling scores on UK turf – as with Russia killing its anti-Putin troublemakers here.

    Britons are overwhelmingly swayed by myths about immigration – these are the five facts we often get wrong

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