Should we pay attention to the National Conservatism conference?
Welcome to Thursday’s Early Edition from i.
In 2020, Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski received a formal warning from his party for attending a conference with some of Europe’s most notorious far-right political figures. The MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham had appeared alongside Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League. The event in question? The National Conservatism Conference. This week, the same organisation has been making headlines again as it holds a conference in London. But there’s a key difference. This year it wasn’t just one lone Tory MP among the list of speakers willing to share their views among subscribers to national conservatism. Cabinet ministers Suella Braverman and Michael Gove took to the podium. Jacob Rees-Mogg and backbenchers Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, along with former Brexit minister Lord Frost and Conservative Party Chair Lee Anderson, also spoke at the event. Topics have included culture wars, migration, “normative families” “cultural Marxism” and declining birth rates. While some will point to the conference and the movement it represents as still being on the fringes of the party, others have raised questions over whether the ideas spouted at it are shaping the Conservatives and potentially a future leader. What’s being said, and should we be paying attention? We’ll take a look, after the headlines.
Today’s news, and why it matters
Liz Truss is at loggerheads with Rishi Sunak over China policy after he snubbed her calls to let Taiwan join the Pacific trade bloc. Her punchy stance towards China has drawn a backlash from Communist Party officials there, who accused her of being on a “sinister” mission which would only make war more likely. But experts told i the intervention would end up being no more than an “annoyance” to Mr Sunak – and would not seriously trouble the Chinese government.
Michael Gove has not ruled out building on the green belt as housing continues to cause friction within the Conservative Party. Speaking to i on the same day his historic Renters’ Reform Bill – the biggest shake-up of renting since the 80s – was announced in Parliament, Mr Gove said “the absolute fact” is that the green belt “is there to prevent urban sprawl” and for “recreation”.
Suella Braverman’s plans to crack down on visas for foreign students taking “low-quality” degrees are in doubt after ministers warned it could leave the Government open to legal challenges, i has been told. Ministers have discussed the possibility of only allowing foreign students who will study at top-ranking British universities to bring family members with them to the UK, in a bid to reduce net migration, i understands.
The current Brexit deal is “unrealistic and counterproductive” for electric car manufacturing and needs to be changed, Jaguar Land Rover has warned. JLR, which employs around 30,000 people, has joined Vauxhall maker Stellantis in criticising the current requirements of the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson and the EU.
Rishi Sunak has refused to commit to meeting the Conservative manifesto promise of lowering net migration amid Cabinet battles over a visa crackdown. Speaking on his way to Japan for a G7 summit, he told reporters: “I do think most people’s number one priority when it comes to migration is illegal migration, that is crystal clear to me.
National Conservatism conference – the key questions:
Who is behind the conference? National conservatism is a project of a US rightwing think-tank called the Edmund Burke Foundation. The website for it describes it as “a public affairs institute dedicated to developing a revitalised conservatism for the age of nationalism already upon us”. The movement itself lists core principles as in favour of national independence, and against imperialism and globalisation. It states: “Public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision”. Its broader vision is outlined as: “We see the tradition of independent, self-governed nations as the foundation for restoring a proper public orientation toward patriotism and courage, honour and loyalty, religion and wisdom, congregation and family, man and woman, the sabbath and the sacred, and reason and justice.”
What’s been said? Speakers outside the Tory party have made the most notorious headlines. Historian David Starkey sparked anger after saying left-wing activists are “jealous” of the Holocaust and want to replace it with slavery. A deleted tweet featuring the quote was widely condemned. (You can read the full story here). Douglas Murray was also accused of downplaying the Holocaust and Nazism in his speech at the event. Other notable moments of controversy included Katharine Birbalsingh, the former social mobility tsar, taking aim at “woke schools” and giving a passionate but slightly bizarre recital of Russell Crowe’s lines in Gladiator. These speeches have already raised questions on why senior Tories would want to share a platform with them. Citing a deleted tweet from Mr Starkey’s speech, Christian Wakeford, Labour MP for Bury South asked Rishi Sunak if he had “anything to say about this or are you happy to have your ministers like Suella Braverman and Michael Gove share platforms with deplorable and antisemitic individuals like David Starkey?” But also notable have been the deliveries from those in the Conservative Party themselves. Suella Braverman used hers as a presumable play for the top job, railing against the radical left, “elites”, and pushing forward her own ideas on migration and suggesting white people should not feel guilty for their historic role in slavery. Jacob Rees-Mogg made an unusual admission in his that voter ID was brought in to boost support for the Conservatives, rather than curb electoral fraud. “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections,” he said. Backbencher Danny Kruger attacked “a mix of Marxism and narcissism and paganism” that caused “the radicalisation of a generation,” and also stirred the pot with his views on “the normative family”. Miriam Cates, meanwhile, described Britain’s low birth rate as “the one overarching threat to British conservatism, and to the whole of Western society”, and was a greater concern that the climate emergency, Russia or China. She also said the UK’s mental health crisis and a wider lack of hope among younger people was in part due to “a cultural Marxism that is systematically destroying our children’s souls”. That all made Michael Gove the most moderate person to stride onto the stage. The Levelling Up used his platform to warn his party against focusing too much on culture wars.
Is it all worth our attention? Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson has been clear to distance the PM from what’s been said this week, saying he doesn’t agree with Danny Kruger’s statement that the normative family with a mother and a father is the only basis for a functioning society. “Some Government ministers have chosen to speak at the event. But beyond that, there’s no change in our policy,” the spokesperson said, but added that Mr Gove’s appearance was in a Government capacity. But is that enough? It is easy to dismiss much of the wider content at the event as “going down an internet rabbit hole”, as Lewis Goodall on the News Agents podcast put it. “To me it was the apotheosis of what has been happening on the British right for 10 years, which was going down an internet rabbit hole,” he said. Others suggest the language being used is merely the “language of opposition”. But Ian Dunt, writing for i, warns: “It provides an alarming prospect for the right. It suggests a likely direction of travel in the years to come, into the sordid edges of political extremism. And that should frighten every single one of us.”
Around the world
The world is now more likely than not to breach 1.5°C of warming by 2027, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. It is, on the face of it, a moment of failure. Since the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, the objective of global efforts to halt climate change has been to keep warming below that 1.5 degree threshold.
An alleged car chase of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by “numerous photographers” was “challenging” for escorting police officers, the NYPD said on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the couple claimed they had been subjected to a “relentless pursuit” involving a dozen blacked-out vehicles which lasted two hours and was “near catastrophic”.
The Chinese government is forcing thousands of Uyghur Muslims to pick cotton in a disturbing echo of last century’s racist Jim Crow laws in the US, new research suggests. Even the elderly and mothers of young children are forced into the work, according to the study of the coercive labour in the cotton harvest in China’s north-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Meet the British expats running in local elections in parts of Spain popular with Brexit refugees. The British candidates hope to have some sway in towns filled with UK migrants and Brexit refugees, reports Graham Keeley.
Watch out for…
Rishi Sunak as he holds talks with Joe Biden and other world leaders at the G7 summit, which starts today.
Thoughts for the day
From Boris Johnson’s chum to failed Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost is all wrong for the Commons. The former whisky exec has presented himself as a common-sense guru with enough conviction that other people have believed it, explains Eliot Wilson.
I was wrong about our political system – compulsory voting is one way to fix it. When bad actors get hold of power in our system, there is very little we can do to stop them, argues Alastair Campbell.
We need to restore public order. The police should arrest everyone, every day, just in case, says Mark Steel.
It’s time to stop trauma dumping – treat your dark thoughts with the respect they deserve. Increasingly, we seem to expect people to tell us not only what makes them tick but also what makes them crumble, writes Greg James.
Taylor Swift fans aren’t supporting her with AI voice clips – they’re taking her agency away. Synthetic media that imitates a celebrity’s likeness is cropping up more and more. Experts weigh in on the moral and legal implications.
The Big Read
“We’re being taken advantage of’: The grandparents retiring early to plug a broken childcare system. A “silver army” is “filling the cracks of a broken childcare system”, as figures reveal one in four grandparents are retiring early to pick up the childcare slack, reports Aasma Day.
Super League Magic Weekend set to continue in 2024 after clubs oppose IMG’s plans to cancel. The two-day event where six games are played in one stadium remains a favourite with fans, players and broadcasters, writes John Davidson.
Something to brighten your day
In Cardiff on 17 May Beyoncé’s first UK show of her Renaissance tour, there was a feeling of pilgrimage. Her vocals and the spectacle were as flawless as ever, writes Emily Bootle.