The Far-Right Takeover of the Tory Party Is No Laughing Matter

The Far-Right Takeover of the Tory Party Is No Laughing Matter
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaking during the National Conservatism Conference, London, May 15, 2023 (Press Association photo via AP Images).

Sometimes British politics can generate spectacles so absurd that it becomes difficult to distinguish genuine events from elaborate satire. Last week in London, a conference organized by the self-described National Conservatives in partnership with the U.S.-based Edmund Burke Foundation produced a succession of such surreal moments. Whether it was a head teacher and activist shouting out a monologue from the film “Gladiator” in a speech condemning so-called cultural Marxism or a prominent Conservative Party MP declaring that John Lennon’s supposedly “woke” dystopia was a threat to young people, the conference swiftly attracted widespread mockery even among less politicized corners of U.K. social media.

Yet if one looks beyond such rhetorical theatrics, a starker picture begins to emerge. Alongside more right-wing activists and commentators, the speakers included senior figures among the Tories, including Home Secretary Suella Braverman as well as the party’s deputy chairman and MP, Lee Anderson. Broadly speaking, the conference’s participants embraced an agenda that blends Christian conservatism, visceral hostility to the European Union and nativist nationalism into a National Conservative brand.

This hard ideological edge reverberated through the gathering’s speeches, such as the writer Douglas Murray’s flippant complaint that he saw “no reason why every other country in the world should be prevented from feeling pride in itself because the Germans mucked up twice in a century.” Christian conservative MPs such as Danny Kruger expressed hostility to equal status for LGBTQ communities, which runs counter to longstanding efforts by more moderate Tories to acknowledge the changed social norms on the issue. The willingness of senior MPs and a Cabinet minister to espouse views that align with those of far-right parties in other European countries is an indication of how strong these factions—which just a decade ago were still largely kept at the outer fringes of the Conservative Party—have now become.

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