Why the right must reject populism


May 29, 2024By Pete North

Nigel Farage has said Reform UK is becoming a "brand new Conservative movement". Sadly, it isn’t. It might be getting somewhere if it was. But ultimately, your party is what your website says it is. And if you didn't think it was important enough to update, you aren't to be taken seriously. We're now in an election period and Reform only has a working draft "policy" paper on its website - and it's lightweight drivel. I would vote for a new conservative movement, but I'm not voting for incompetent, lazy populists.

This is because we’ve seen what happens when you come to power on the back of flim-flam and bluster. We got Boris Johnson, a woefully squandered majority, and Net Zero (because the policy cupboard was bare).

Without thinking about what you’re going to do with power, there’s no real point in acquiring it. 

By now, most people on the right should understand what needs to be done.  In interview after interview, Liz Truss outlines how she was sabotaged by the blob, noting that ministers no longer have any real power over their areas of competence. Blair’s constitutional mischief - a stealth revolution - must be reversed.

This sounds like the sort of thing the Tories could and should have done with an eighty seat majority, but now we have to rebuild from the ground up and wait at least another five to ten years. Whether we succeed or not is entirely dependent on whether we have an "oven ready" intellectual product, with all the disagreements ironed out in advance. The last thing we want is opposition from our own side when we get hold of power.

Then, as I keep saying, it’s not enough to simply roll back to last known working configuration. A restoration of parliamentary sovereignty overlooks that parliament did all this to us to begin with.  Repealing Blairism is all well and good, but we still need some thought as to what replaces it. 

In a lengthy post, I spelled this out for Reform, but even if they understood it, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. I don’t think there’s any likelihood Reform will go away and do the thinking. They’re relying almost entirely on tub-thumping Farage speeches made up on the fly. The problem with that is that he's selling Farage rather than Reform, which means that the party, in policy terms, is getting relatively little exposure. 

Everything I'm reading about what Labour will do suggests Labour will finish the work of dismantling what's left of British democracy: the disastrous legacy of the last seven prime ministers.

It's all reversible, of course, but it's going to require a National Conservative movement with a fully mapped out Restoration Act, and a plan to get busy on day one. But that’s just not how populists roll.

If there is a way out of this mess, it will take a robustly conservative party that knows why it exists, what it wants to achieve, and how to do it. I’ve already set out the foundational principles of what a National Conservative party should look like, and what a subsequent immigration policy should look like, but we must also think about governmental and democratic reforms. The most populists ever have to say on the matter is a forlorn plea for proportional representation.

But the chief reason to choose principle over populism is that populism isn’t all that popular. Reform thinks it’s offering what the people want, but it’s not riding high in the polls, and conservative voters are more likely to stay at home (if the local election results are anything to go by). Even those who like Farage know he’s an unserious figure, and the electorate knows what he’s about. Reform may speak the same language as the politically homeless, but few believe they present as a credible alternative that’s ready for power.

Without building a movement based on a coherent foundation, it could only ever be a protest vote dustbin, and sadly, it’s not even good at that. Farage hinted yesterday that he could be willing to make an election pact with the Tories, but with the Gaza effect eating away at Labour, Farage does not hold the same leverage that Ukip once did, and the Tory party doesn’t mind if Reform threatens MPs on the right of the party. Protest party politics doesn’t work if the target party has a death-wish. 

This is not to say Reform doesn’t have its uses. I won’t vote for the local candidate but will recommend Reform to people in my constituency with a view to degrading the safe seat majority of the Tory wet incumbent. That makes him easier to deselect next time around. Given the dismal conditions of this election, it’s probably never been more important to think locally, and about the longer term future. 

After the election, though, Reform doesn’t have much of a future. It may limp on as a protest vessel to keep the Tories out of power, but the real work is in popularising National Conservatism and beating the Tory party into shape.

To that end, I have today joined New Culture Forum with a view to getting involved. Though I think entryism is the only game in town after the election, we also have to make the case for a robust nationalist centre right. Ultimately, the populist parties exist because there is no conservative party to speak of, so if we want real power, we have to go about building one. It’s difficult, but not impossible. 

This may sound deluded to some, but a thought that wormed its way into my head recently is that a degree of self-delusion is essential for any participation in politics. You have to believe in the impossible. Me especially. 

If I followed all my arguments through to their logical conclusion, I would have to admit that conservatism is vanquished and that Britain is a defeated, colonised country, and it's too late to take it back. If I conceded on that, though, I would simply give up. Instead, I cling on to the idea that nothing is irreversible. That may be a delusion, but it's my delusion, and the one that sustains me. 

Here I have to remind myself that leaving the EU was once a delusion. Twenty years ago the possibility was so remote, but we all kept our eyes on the prize. We kept buggering on with our delusions. Which is what we must do now. We are still the majority. All it takes is determination and patience.

If we are going to win, though, we're going to have to engage like never before. Voting alone won't fix this. It requires each of us to do more - to step outside of our comfort zones and be leaders - even if that's just standing up to speak your mind when nobody else will. Join a party or organisation even if you think it's futile. It doesn't matter which. Just get out and promote the idea that we *can* win. Later for all that politics bullshit. 

Looking at the political landscape right now, the British people have been frozen out their politics. Politics is now occupied by post-nation squatters. The Tory wets are consolidating their control over what's left of the Tory party, and the Labour party is poised to twist the knife. But they're surviving on borrowed time. Their age is over. They just don't know it yet. 

The political class are dinosaurs. They are relics of the old world order. They're clinging on by their fingernails. They may be fortified in an impenetrable Westminster bunker, with the media as their Imperial Guard, but soon they'll discover that they're going one way, and the people are going the other. Hell, even reality is going in the opposite direction to them. So just have faith in the law of political gravity. We can win. We will win. Faith turns delusion into the possible.

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