England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

National Conservatism 2023: Horror show of racism and transphobia cannot mask Tory crisis

By a civil service worker and PCS union member 

The bleakest stars of the dark world of the right met in London last week at the new ‘National Conservatism’ conference. This event, gathering together representatives of the most utterly reactionary and bigoted sections of the ruling class, were able to piece together an event aimed at attacking any real or imagined threats to their rule. This includes everyone from Marxists, to pagans, to sex education classes, anti-racists, LGBTQIA+ people and much more. Backed by shady US think tank the Edmund Burke Foundation, the gathering was addressed by two cabinet ministers – Suella Braverman and Michael Gove – along with a plethora of Tory MPs, including arch-right winger Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Testing the waters for right-wing populism 

This conference branded itself as stressing the importance of ‘national identity’, summed up well by the plenary address title: “Faith, Family, Flag, Freedom”. Inspired very clear by the reactionary right-populist and far-right governments of Hungary and Italy, the conference was unabashedly anti-immigrant, pro-gender roles, pro-nuclear family. In fact, they were in favour of all round regression backwardness, unless it concerned their leaders’ bank accounts.

Crucially however, it has been used as a sounding board for the increasingly Trumpified Tory right wing. Braverman, Gove, Rees-Mogg and the other culture warriors want to test the water to see how far their party can embrace the rotten, racist, right-wing rule of the likes of Meloni, Orban and Trump.

Blaming anything but capitalism 

What quickly became clear that NatCon was never going to be designed to actually address any of the issues really facing working class people – whether that is the rising cost of food or the escalating climate crisis. This was a millionaires’ conference, situated in Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, which acts as a hub for the rich and powerful in Britain’s ruling capitalist elite.

The event was billed as a ‘forum for sharing ideas in challenging times’. The actual content of the key speeches, however, revealed some deeply disturbing ideas. Disgraced racist ‘historian’ David Starkey came out of his cave for NatCon to make a speech which claimed that “the reason the left has such ire for the Jews is jealousy. They want to replace the Holocaust with slavery in order to wield its legacy as a weapon against Western culture”.

If pitting the victims of the Holocaust against those of the slave trade in competition wasn’t bad enough, Douglas Murray, an academic poster child for the European far right claimed from the platform that the Holocaust was simply a case of “the Germans mucking up”. US-Israeli writer Yoram Hazony meanwhile, delivered a deranged rant against “the plague of Neo-Marxism” (whatever that means) and ‘wokeness’ while making a call for a return of National Service.

Reactionary nonsense

Perhaps the most interesting examples of the unique tone this conference struck came from culture war stalwart Suella Braverman and the new Tory poster child Miriam Cates. In a moment of overt and blatant racism, backbencher Cates bemoaned the low “Western” (i.e. white) birth rate. Not only does it indicate a shift to toxic nationalism and racism on the part of the Tory high-ups, but also a willingness to tear a page out the book of the US religious right, rehashing the Christian right’s vision of women as sheer ‘baby makers’ for society.

Of course the reality is that for many workers from the Gen Z and Millenial generations, the financial means to raise a family is simply out of the picture. Decades of low wages with high profits, a total lack of freely accessible child care and a rising cost of living place this well out of reach for many. This wasn’t Cates’ diagnosis, however. Cates focused instead of the menace of “excessive education”, and a “devaluing of motherhood”. She bashed women for pursuing university degrees, as well as the freedom of women to flee often abusive marriages through no fault divorce. In other words, women are too educated, have too many rights and need to be forced back into the home!

Another question which Cates set out to answer was, why are young people in Britain today so unhappy? Why is there a brewing mental health crisis? Here is Cates’ diagnosis:

“When culture, schools and universities openly teach that our country is racist, our heroes are villains, humanity is killing the Earth, you are what you desire, diversity is theology, boundaries are tyranny and self restraint is oppression, is it any wonder that mental health conditions, self harm and suicide, and epidemic levels of anxiety and confusion characterise the emerging generation?”

Forget about rapid transphobia and racism, a rotten for-profit job market and virtually non-existent NHS mental health services under the Tories. Pointing those things out as factors would make you too much of a socialist!

Not-so-hidden Tory crisis on show

In a moment of rare honesty during NatCon2023, Rees-Mogg provided a window into the chaos of the increasingly weak Tories by acknowledging the truth of their ‘voter ID’ scheme. We knew all along that this was an anti-democratic manoeuvre, designed to penalise working class people – particularly people of colour. Now he has come clean, but only because it backfired!

“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding that their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found out by insisting on voter ID for elections. The people who didn’t have ID were elderly, and they by-and-large voted Conservative…”

Beneath everything – all the rhetoric and grandstanding – it is obviously clear that something much more worrisome for the Tories is brewing. Their party and their capitalist system are in crisis. After their local election meltdown the other week, a coordinated wave of strike action – not least in my own union, the PCS, could still drive them out office. Bold, anti-Tory, anti-capitalism and trade union-led Pride contingents can play a huge rule in pushing these reactionary divisive ideas where they belong: behind closed doors.

We need a movement that will not only drive the Tories out, but challenge capitalism itself and fight for socialist society, based on solidarity, internationalism and an end to oppression.


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