Danny Kruger is MP for Devizes and co-chair of the New Conservatives. His book Covenant: the New Politics of Home, Neighbourhood and Nation is out now.
Our party is in deep trouble. The cause isn’t bad policy, or scandals, though we’ve had some of both. It’s not our personnel and it’s not our philosophy. We have good people at the top and fundamentally we have the right ideas.
The reason we’re in trouble is our failure over many years to address the profound faults in the Western economic, cultural and political model – faults which afflict the UK perhaps more than any other country.
The faults are well known and should be particularly apparent to conservatives. Twenty years of cheap money (low interest rates and quantitative easing), cheap labour (low-skilled immigration) and cheap imports (globalisation) have created a zombie economy.
Asset inflation has further enriched the rich and further impoverished the poor. We have some famous brands and some exuberantly successful firms, but not many. Most British businesses have chronically low rates of investment and consequently we have chronically low productivity. We are the most geographically unequal nation in the developed world, with extremes of disparity between the southeast and the rest.
Only the strong pound – the effect of our financialised economy, of the trillions in foreign cash fructifying in the City of London – has given us the impression of being richer than we are. But it has completed the ruin of our manufacturing sector. We are a nation of consumers, not producers, and we are unhappier for it.
We have five million working age adults living on benefits; epidemic levels of obesity and mental ill health; public services overwhelmed with demand. Taxes, debt and spending are all their highest since the Second World War. And after all that, with interest rates also now painfully high, we are teetering on the brink of a jobs-destroying recession.
Worst of all, the real source of wealth – people – is drying up. The crisis of fertility is now acute across the West. The UK ceased years ago to reproduce itself, and our population only keeps growing because of immigration. And of course that is just a stopgap, for migrants get old too. In 2025, for the first time in our history, more people in the UK will die than are born.
Meanwhile, our culture is eating itself. The understandings that sustain a society – and indeed a capitalist economy – are dissolving beneath us. The toxin that is rotting the culture is self-created, a perversion of the liberalism that is one of the greatest achievements of the West.
And it’s not a sideshow. Too many conservatives think the culture war is beneath them, the obsession of rival fanatics – that the real business of politics is steady management of the ship of state, with just the occasional touch on the tiller as we run before the wind.
But the culture war matters enormously. For the objective of the ultra-liberals – the destination the wind is pushing us to – is nothing less than the dismantling of Western civilisation: the repudiation of our common inheritance and the attempted creation of a new, more ‘modern’ model in its place.
Except the attempt to create a new society cannot work. Self-styled progressives are not creating something new, but something old, and bad. The politics of ‘racial justice’, in denying the common interests of all, means a return to the atavistic contest of rival tribes. The radicals of the green movement, with their aspirations for ‘degrowth’, their nature worship and their dislike of humanity itself, echo the pagans. The confusion of the sexes is a licence for male abuse of women, and a new form of old-fashioned sexual oppression.
The wind is blowing us to disaster. But there is another way – if we get our politics right. To be sure, we are subject to global economic trends, and culture is upstream of government. But politics is about more than policy. The very subject recognises we have a common life, that we are a national community; politics entails a conversation among people who, while disagreeing about superficial things, share interests and values. And the right conversations can change the direction of the wind.
The rallies in Whitehall on recent Saturdays, openly calling for the destruction of Israel, challenge the idea that we in Britain have a common life and shared values. A profound offence is being committed in the heart of our democracy: the hijacking of the great liberal right, the freedom of association, in the name of a malignant movement that hates the West.
Yet this nightmare might, by its very horror, jerk us awake. The time has come for a wholesale resumption of the values of the West, and of the UK in particular.
That is the mission of ARC, the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, which is holding its inaugural meeting in London this week. Yesterday, we heard from the new House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson and the Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy; from the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, my colleague Miriam Cates, the British hedge funder Sir Paul Marshall, the activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Australia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson.
All spoke of the crisis of identity in the West, but also of the possibilities of this moment. Because the things that threaten us – including technology in all its forms, and the cult of woke – also contain the seeds of renewal. Properly managed, tech can help make a richer, safer, gentler life for all. Woke is a religious movement, reflecting the need humans have to serve a higher purpose, and their desire for justice between people. This can be tamed and put to good purpose, and rather than serving the old pagan gods the next generation of young people might serve society itself.
The UK has a tremendous role to play here. We may be one of the worst afflicted by the economic and cultural mistakes of the twenty-first century, but we also have the most to offer and the most to gain from these times.
The 2016 Brexit vote and the 2019 election were a great cry for change. The public want a better, more productive and dignified economy, and a politics and a public culture which honours their values. Conservatives have the ideology and the instincts which can create these things, whereas Labour can only accelerate the journey to disaster. As ARC shows, the ideas are there for a revival of the West, and with it of our Party’s fortunes. For the sake of both, we need to get on with it.