UK values and traditions at forefront of push for national conservatism

Tory right-wingers, scholars, students and political campaigners flock to conference in London

Conservative figures from the areas of politics, education and activism gathered in Westminster on Monday. Reuters
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An American think tank dedicated to helping democratic nations become more assertive as part of a return to the core roots of national identity is forwarding its agenda at a gathering of right-wing cabinet ministers in Britain.

The Edmund Burke Foundation, a Washington-based public affairs institute, opened a three-day event in London on Monday called the National Conservatism Conference.

Conservative figures from the areas of politics, education and activism gathered at a centre in Westminster, close to the Houses of Parliament, to discuss the ideals they share and how to tackle “woke” trends.

What is national conservatism?

Founded in 2019, the Edmund Burke Foundation takes its name from the Anglo-Irish statesman who served as a Whig Party MP in the UK in the late 1700s. Some pundits have called him the father of modern conservatism, due to his staunch advocacy for the institutions of church and family and his scepticism towards taxation and the French Revolution.

National Conservatism in the UK is a project run by the think tank, which sees itself as working towards “restoring a world of independent nations”.

Organisers of the conference said it is a space to bring together figures who “understand that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably tied to the idea of the nation”, as well as to national independence and the revival of national traditions. Only these factors can put countries on a path which enables populations to flourish, they argue.

The group stressed that conservatism is the best tool that nations can use to forward their democratic principles in a world confronted by a rising China and a “powerful new Marxism at home”.

National conservatism aims to “solidify and energise national conservatives” by offering them an institutional base and ideas on the areas of public policy, political theory and economics, they said.

Tory MPs are attending the London conference amid rumbles following the party’s battering in local elections and mounting pressure on Rishi Sunak to deliver on his pledges.

It includes keynote speeches from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and senior Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The assembly of right-wingers in the ruling party comes as Downing Street seeks to move on from the disastrous election results by focusing on Mr Sunak’s talks with world leaders. On Monday the Prime Minister hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Chequers following the UK’s pledge of hundreds of long-range attack drones for Kyiv.

Leading MPs to the right of the Tory party are using the event to urge the Sunak administration to resist a pull to the centre after the local election disaster. The Tories lost control of more than 40 councils in the ballot and more than a thousand Conservative seats changed hands.

Mr Rees-Mogg has remained a staunch ally of Boris Johnson since he left Downing Street last September, and has said he believes he was a “better prime minister” than Mr Sunak. During his speech on Monday morning, the MP was interrupted by a protester who barged on stage.

The demonstrator told the audience “I would like to draw your attention to a few characteristics of fascism” before he was removed by security guards.

Extinction Rebellion claimed the man was one of its members.

He was booed and jeered at by the audience while Mr Rees-Mogg made light of the interruption, calling him a “jolly good fellow”. He said “we believe in freedom of speech” and that the protester could have his say at a “national loonies' conference” instead.

Mr Rees-Mogg used his platform to criticise the government’s new rules on voter ID.

Many voters reported challenges and even being unable to vote in the local elections earlier this month due to the changes. The requirement for voters to present a valid form of photo identification at polling stations was introduced as part of the Elections Act 2022.

He also hit out at the government’s decision to scale back post-Brexit plans to scrap EU laws, calling the repeal “pathetically under-ambitious”.

Mr Rees-Mogg said it was “very unfortunate” that Mr Sunak had broken his promise, adding: “The surrender to the blob risks exposing the government to ridicule.”

However, he warned it was “essential” to support the government because “the alternative is far worse”.

Mr Rees-Mogg went on to say that the Tories must ask themselves if achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is realistic. He said in working towards the goal, the UK is making its industries inefficient which risks making the country poorer.

Asked if the Prime Minister still believes net zero by 2050 is achievable, his official spokesman told reporters on Monday that there are “no plans to change” the target.

“It is important to the UK and the world,” the spokesman added. “It’s something that the Prime Minister remains committed to.”

'Stand up to cultural Marxism'

Conservative MP Miriam Cates used her speech to draw on the event organisers’ anti-Marxist views.

She argued that “cultural Marxism” is “destroying our children’s souls” and claimed that young people would not have children if they did not have “hope for the future”.

“That hope is sadly diminishing in so many of our young people today, because liberal individualism has proven to be completely powerless to resist the cultural Marxism that is systematically destroying our children’s souls,” she said.

Ms Cates lambasted schools and universities, claiming they are teaching students that Britain is racist, national heroes are villains and humans are killing the Earth.

Issuing a clarion call to guests to tackle head-on what she views as harmful trends, she said: “We must end the indoctrination of our children with destructive and narcissistic ideologies, instead protecting childhood, training children in the timeless virtues and teaching them how to love our country.”

Ms Braverman was expected to use her time at the lectern to argue that controlling borders is not a racist policy.

Updated: May 16, 2023, 9:35 AM