How strange, for a pessimistic English Tory, to find oneself at a conference thronged with friendly, cheerful, mostly Christian conservatives who have flown in from around the world and are full of hope.
The Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, usually abbreviated to ARC, has been meeting for three days in Magazine London, a vast events space in North Greenwich with a dramatic view across the Thames of the Docklands skyscrapers.
Uplifting maxims hang from the ceiling, by Winston Churchill (“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in one word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope”), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children”), Martin Luther King (“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”) and Bob Dylan (“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom”).
There is more uplift at ground level: a buzz of excited conversation, and speakers who convey the belief that a better, kinder, wiser politics is possible.
Kemi Badenoch, the Business and Trade Secretary, called herself “a cynical optimist”, but betrayed no sign of cynicism during her interview with Freddie Sayers, Editor in Chief of Unherd.
Asked whether she thinks the more extreme ideas on gender ideology are being defeated, she replied that she thinks they are.
The problem had begun because the Government “allowed other people to start telling us what to do”. The best example of this was Stonewall, “but they’re not the only one, when they started advising Government, saying this is what you need to do in order to serve a particular community.”
Stonewall then “over-reached, and started giving people legal advice, or advice that was certainly different from what the Equality Act said”:
“I think we were able to turn the tide once we stopped being influenced by people who had an agenda, pretending to be neutral, pretending to be charities rather than activists.”
Badenoch sketched how decolonisation had “spread out from academia all over the place”, and led to the impossible demand that we “refight the battles of a hundred or two hundred years ago”.
Advocates of decolonisation are not actually interested in history, and “not really looking for equity”, but “are trying to unmake the world we have”.
And here, she warned, “we have to be very careful”, for in the last few weeks we have seen their arguments “suddenly being used to justify terrorism”.
How, the Business Secretary was asked, can Britain become more prosperous? “We talk about risk as if it’s a bad thing rather than something that generates creativity and innovation,” she replied.
“We ask the government to intervene in things that it never used to intervene before.” Her admirers will feel strengthened in the conviction that if Badenoch were to become the next Conservative leader, she would advocate a smaller state.
“In a low-growth environment,” she remarked, “businesses are now competing not on who can make the most profit but who can demonstrate the most virtue.”
The implicit message of this conference is that when the Christian tradition of virtue is forgotten, the resulting vacuum is filled by gimcrack ideologies invented in the last five minutes.
Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress of Michaela Community School, insisted that “multiculturalism can succeed”, but only if children are taught “to satisfy their desire for belonging by being British”.
She won applause when she said they should learn “to embrace the idea of self-sacrifice for the betterment of the whole”.
John Howard, who as Prime Minister of Australia won three general elections, was interviewed by Danny Kruger MP and said:
“Multiculturalism is a concept that I’ve always had trouble with. I take the view that if people want to emigrate to a country, then they adopt the values and practices of that country.”
Asked about the Anglosphere, he said “it is almost instinctive in the upper reaches of the military that when we get into a scrap those countries come together.”
Australia was well represented. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, was chatting to his friend the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Michael Stead.
And at lunch I found myself sitting at a round table of erudite young Australians, discussing Gladstone on Church and State and Enoch Powell on immigration.
I also introduced myself to a man in a Gunner tie, Timothy Wilson, who was delighted by “the range and depth of the speakers”, and observed with pleasure that “people aren’t trying to tell you what to think – they’re trying to persuade. And that in this day and age is relatively rare.”