Sunak’s British Reaction
Is the prime minister cultivating a future for the Conservative party?
An apocryphal story goes that, when asked about ethnicity by Daniel O’Connell in the British parliament, Benjamin Disraeli said “while the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”
One doubts Sunak can ever muster the courage to say the same about his ancestors and, say, the Sun Temple of Konark. Disraeli was a giant, quite literally at least half a foot taller than Sunak, at a time when he was presiding over an island that directly ruled over a quarter of the globe and was painting distant uncharted parts of a world map in various shades of pink. Sunak went to Winchester; Disraeli almost did. Sunak is a shy, awkward middle manager by disposition, who inadvertently talks like a mix of Alan Partridge and the Will McKenzie of the British edition of The Inbetweeners—but admittedly one who, unlike either Alan or Will, yet very much like Disraeli, married up to a modern equivalent of marrying a socialite peeress; in this case, a Brahmin billionaire family.
Despite his unprepossessing affect, in recent months, Sunak has single-handedly blocked a gender recognition bill in Scotland and broken up the SNP in the process, initiated a new plan to block seaborne migration to Britain with instant detainment and deportation, formalized a new deal with the E.U. over Northern Ireland with an overwhelming majority in the Parliament, and, in one of the most interesting new developments against anti-social behavior, has planned laws that would mete out near-instant justice against vandals and thugs.
All that might not be enough to save the Tories in the next election after more than a decade of wasted opportunities; Sunak might go down in history as a prime minister who understood what was to be done, but was helpless against the forces of time. There is a strong incumbency factor, and the Tories are staring at near certain rout, but the last few months have given a glimpse of how a conservative government might have looked under better hands, with a return to the classical social conservative roots of the once formidable British conservative and unionist party.
It is a waste of a good writing space to lament just how much the Tories could have done, regarding immigration and crime, and rolling back the social liberalism and the “human-rights NGOcracy”. The parliamentary system gives near dictatorial power to the party and prime minister with a clear and functional majority in a way Americans cannot even imagine; the Tories had massive majorities for two elections straight without any risk of a coalition government.
Britain, much like America, is ruled by a perma-activist bureaucracy, and much like America it was expanded under Tony Blair’s rule and the great War on Terror. The most far-reaching reform for the Tories would have been to simply roll that back. It is a combination of this perma-bureaucracy, activist media, NGOs, and cultural edifice that prevents the government from serious social reforms.
As Matthew Goodwin wrote, there is an enormous gulf between a liberal minority in the media and cultural class shaping the national conversation, with the much larger shy and silent majority, who simply have to watch this conversation from the sides with a sense that they are powerless and voiceless. The majority is justified in seeing things this way. On everything from crime policy, to the death penalty, to immigration and borders, to foreign wars of choice, to education, to cultural patrimony, to repatriation of museum art, to history and revisionism about the empire, to transgenderism and pedophilia, the British cultural elite is significantly to the left of Johnny Public. And yet, somehow, despite repeated elections, these things keep happening, even when no one wants them, and even when most people oppose them when the news of things they don’t like spreads out.
“Liberals are better organized than Conservatives. Conservatives tend to go into business, while Liberals end up in prominent roles in key culture-shaping institutions,” Imogen Sinclair, director of the social conservative think tank New Social Covenant Unit, told me, when I asked her whether social conservatism is a spent force. Why is there no British Chris Rufo, given that the public would overwhelmingly support one, and whistleblowing would create major grassroots movement and pressure?
“It's a costly business, financially as well as the risk to one's reputation. The U.K. is a few years behind the U.S. in terms of the salience of the issues that Rufo is exposing. They’re not yet front and center of key election campaigns over here,” Sinclair said. “But that doesn't mean Brits aren't concerned about culture war issues. There is polling to suggest that Brits do not attribute a great deal of importance to culture war issues when compared to issues like the economy, public services, crime, and immigration. And on this basis, you find all parties avoiding fighting on the cultural front.”
“But culture war issues do not affect the daily lives of British voters—yet,” she continued. “This could change. Look what happens when there is a sudden spike in awareness of culture war issues. In Scotland, for instance, the row over gender recognition lost Nicola Sturgeon her job.”
Sinclair noted that the moment the topics become popular, the distance between the more socially conservative public and their political leadership becomes apparent.
Only recently, the true Tories within the Conservatives have started noticing. “What happens in the room, stays in the room,” a “teacher” apparently told a mother in a Middle England school. The mother instinctively reacted by saying, “That’s what pedophiles say.” This is among the various anecdotes in a shocking story showing that the school culture war has crossed the Atlantic.
The Telegraph reported that MP Miriam Cates forwarded PM Rishi Sunak a dossier of evidence on the “nature and extent of indoctrination” under the garb of sex education in the British schools. “For the last year-and-a-half I’ve been working on this and it’s becoming more and more clear how inappropriate [these] materials are,” Cates told the daily.
But is it already too late? As the cry goes among the online reactionary anons, the once formidable Tories, bearer of centuries old tradition, have been relegated to a party that is controlled, influenced, and led by a combination of eccentric, bed-ridden octogenarians, LGBTQ+ university admin, and NHS bureaucrats, on an island that increasingly looks like a giant health service guarded by two aircraft carriers, where everyone switches off electricity and heat to clap at 8 p.m. for Our Ukraine™.
Cates seemed to be surprisingly optimistic. “Social issues have never been at the fore of our national political conversation, and it often felt like Labour’s progressive agenda became so entrenched during their time in power that countering it was simply too big a task to undertake alongside the other significant economic and constitutional questions,” Cates told me, about the Conservatives’ decade-long wasted opportunity. “However, in the past couple of years cultural and social questions have been given a new relevance, largely through the recognition that a large proportion of the people who voted for Brexit in 2016 and for the Conservatives in 2019 were motivated by a deeply held cultural conservatism. This so-called realignment gives British conservatives a great opportunity to push our agenda forward and mobilize people who had otherwise largely given up on politics.”
Cates feels that things are changing. There is going to be a National Conservative Conference in the UK in 2023, the first on such a major scale, to organize further grassroots movements and form a brains trust. “We are starting to see the Conservative Party identify more and more with conservative policies over liberal ones, empowered by a changing voter base and the need to distinguish ourselves from the vast spread of progressive opposition parties and the march of liberal ideologies through our media and institutions,” she said.
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But after thirteen years of Conservative governance, in the quarter century after “winning” the cold war against the Soviet Union, Britain finds itself observing jobs and university scholarships based on gender, racial, and ideological quotas, medical mutilation in the name of progress, compulsory re-education and psychological profiling for thought crimes and “hate speech” including silent prayers on the streets, relentless foreign military interventions to promote a specific global ideology, and academic and literary censorship and revisionism.
Sunak simply doesn’t have much time. But he can still pave the way for the British reaction to come, just as Disraeli paved the way for the Empire’s peak. The silent majority, the traders and small businesses, are reactionary to the core, as is the nature of the family as a social unit. A simple start may roll back the administrative state and the Blairite revolution, and hand over power to the “normies.” It might start in the school boards with parental rights movements as in the U.S., or it might coalesce around the parents’ forum Mumsnet, but it would spread just as revolutionary movements do. It took nine years from the birth of the Solidarity Movement to the collapse of the Eastern bloc. When the edifice itself is ideological, it is prudent to think like a rebel.
The conservative instinct is apparently that it is good to be in the opposition. It makes them work for the power they want badly. Unfortunately for the King’s realm, when they win, they govern very badly indeed, to the point that governance is almost absent. Given that the Tories are looking at a hard election, they might start thinking long term about their next stint in power.