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January 20, 2005

The Need for a British Neoconservatism

Posted by Douglas Murray

On the day of George W. Bush's inauguration for a second Presidential term, bestselling author Douglas Murray makes the case for a British neoconservatism. As with everything the Social Affairs Unit publishes, the views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

"Things must change if they are to remain the same", wrote Giuseppe di Lampedusa in The Leopard. In Britain in 2005, we have to consider different changes to those of Lampedusa's Sicilians, but we have problems in common. We have allowed a lot of change, but is that change 'progress'? Are we being propelled into something good, or fooled into losing everything? How, most crucially of all, do we identify the moment when there has been so much change that nothing is the same?

Demographically, culturally, spiritually and politically, Britain today is fast becoming unrecognisable. Not just the look of the country has changed - the character and actual behaviour of the country seems to be altering. Our rights as a nation to make our own decisions are increasingly ceded to unwieldy multinational systems like the EU and the UN. Our national faith lies utterly demoralised, fatally caught between a generation in the media intensely hostile to it, and a generation of children kept all but utterly ignorant of it. A side-effect of the attack on faith is that strains of citizenship and goodness once taken for granted can no longer be assumed. Even the noble British tradition of 'liberalism' has been hijacked in name by the most befuddled in our country, to the end that a government can outlaw what it is prejudiced against, while simultaneously threatening to jail individuals who declare certain prejudices of their own. We are experiencing great change, much of it allowed because it has come hand-in-hand with a great confusion.

In these circumstances a conservative might decide to sustain the new order of things (even though it may be an order with which he is utterly out of sympathy). He might, in other words, sustain any status-quo out of a kind of habit. Or and this is a much harder thing for a conservative to do - he might become 'unconservative' in pursuing his conservative beliefs, become a new type of conservative - a radical. Richard Perle once said of American neoconservatives: "We're closer to being revolutionaries than conservatives". There is political aid here for British conservatives. It seems to me that it is time for a British neoconservatism. And though many people seem to think that neoconservatism is only about foreign policy, it is not. Neoconservatism - like so many good things - starts at home.

I know that in many households in Britain even hearing the term 'neoconservatism', let alone 'Richard Perle', is enough to cause upset. Mention 'neoconservatism' in Britain and you are usually received with a shudder. Posit a degree of support for 'neoconservatism' and you will be greeted with disbelief. State that you may be among the few dozen people in Britain actually willing to be described as a 'neocon', and you will invite the kind of reception normally granted to celebrated child-murderers.

This is a shame, because if there's one thing that conservatism in Britain needs right now, it's a conservative revolution. With the natural party of conservative voters flatlining in the polls, and proving incapable of mopping up votes from Labour's hari-kiri, voters in Britain still remain hard-pushed to locate any policy differences between the two main parties and so the public, in larger and larger numbers, stay at home on ballot-day. "Trust us, not them", "We care more than they do" the Conservative party has been wooed with supreme brilliance by New Labour onto ground conservatism should not be on - ground that it cannot win on.

Michael Howard may think he'll pick up voters by demanding that the Prime Minster cut short his holiday to deal with a tsunami, or by declaring how many times a 20-year old Prince should apologise for a tasteless joke, but no percentage points swing the Conservative way. Nobody appears to think, "he obviously cares the most I'll vote for Mr Howard". Shadow Ministers may think they gain voter attention from stressing how much better they would do exactly the same job as the Ministerial incumbents, but they're not in power, and there's no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt. The best that the Conservative party seems able to hope for is that the public will at some point just get weary of the same old faces, and vote in new ones: which means a Labour government until roughly 2014. Conservatism in Britain is at a bleak point and not just because the battle is being so poorly fought. Another way must be looked for.

Neoconservatism in America grew out of the 'counter-culture' of the '60s, spear-headed by thinkers who recognised that the 'counter-culture' was not simply a variant or alternative outlook on culture, but something which actually destroyed the culture - which wanted to do away with the culture. Polls of public opinion in Britain continually show a similar conservative streak in the general public not satisfied by any of the major political parties. The neoconservative movement recognises that a free and democratic society has been knocked off course, and that only bold, major changes are going to return us to the right track.

The time is ripe for British conservatism to have its own revolution. Technically, this conservative movement could thrive outside of the Conservative party but if the Conservative party adopted it, it would make life easier for everyone. Neoconservatism in Britain would declare its unwillingness to play the Labour game, and cut through vast swathes of apathy by fundamentally changing this nation's current, allegedly unalterable, course. As was demonstrated in America, the first myth to be done away with would be the myth that politics cannot change people's lives for the better.

When the Prime Minister says that Britain can't get out of the European Constitution, or the mega-state, even if we wanted to, the electorate are right to ask 'why not'? When victims of crime are told that there's nothing the police can do about a known drug-dealer or terrorising youth-gang, they are right to ask 'why not'? And when people pay soaring taxes in a city as badly run as London and still can't get decent, safe transport, pleasant streets, or freedom from the degrading bureaucrats who now make up yet another layer of government, they are right to ask 'why not'?

Last month, The Economist published a poll confirming that three quarters of the British people consider there are too many immigrants arriving into the UK. The government is doing little more than juggling statistics to deal with the problem, while the Conservatives, tricked onto New Labour's non-offence-giving ground, are similarly atrophied. The Conservative let-down here is not just a let-down of ideas, but a let-down caused by their perceptions of what is and what is not permissible to say in New Labour's Britain. Again, the ground they are on simply does not allow them to be tough on immigration. This is pure New Labour reasoning, and as offensively bogus a claim as could be made. Three-quarters of the British people need and want something done, and the main opposition party, the party supposedly dedicated to the conservative cause is all but disabled from dealing with one of the public's biggest concerns because of a piece of presentational false-reasoning. The public is right to be angry, and in these demeaning circumstances, is it really any wonder that the thugs of the British National Party garnered over 800,000 votes at the 2004 Euro-elections?

Huge questions on the future of Britain hang in the balance, and the public should not be fobbed off with the lie that there is nothing to be done - that no change is possible from our current, I would say devastating, course. For those of us who wish to restore our national institutions and identity, and wish to secure our borders as tightly as we do our rights, liberal tradition and national self-determination, the challenge is great. That challenge cannot be met by the tinkering proposed by the current Conservative party. A neoconservatism in Britain must face up to the real issues that affect people's lives, with firm first-principles of national sovereignty, and confidence both in our historical legacy and our future responsibilities.

With the status-quo deathly solidified, true conservatives, revolutionary conservatives neoconservatives must start proposing an agenda, because in Britain during the coming decade, we will have to go far further than Lampedusa. Nevermind staying the same, a lot is going to have to change in Britain for things to remain even recognisable.

Douglas Murray is a bestselling author and freelance journalist. His forthcoming book - Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - will be published in October 2005 by the Social Affairs Unit.

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With you every step of the way... but what do we do now? Let's face it, those of us who are immediately open to the arguments are small in number and without a political party. Am I the only one who worries that we are scribbling while Rome burns (if you'll excuse...), but without any clear route to actually impact the political or even cultural scene.

Posted by: Blimpish at January 20, 2005 09:40 PM

"this conservative movement could thrive outside of the Conservative party "

No the conservative party is the only route to government. Neocons, if they are to succed, must change the conservative party from the inside. There is no other alternative.

Posted by: Giles at January 22, 2005 10:35 PM

Absolutely agree. How refreshing to hear an alternative that might actually save Britain from its rapid decline. All the way.. I know alot of people think like me. I feel a breath of fresh air suddenly.

Posted by: Anita Pereira at January 24, 2005 01:48 PM

Rejuvenate Britain? By all means! Elect the Conservatives? Splendid. But NeoConservative? Really?

If you wanted someone to bust Britain's budget beyond recognition, drive a truck through traditional rights and liberties and drag the country into a bundle of foreign wars that will take you a generation from which to extricate yourselves, why not stick with the government you've got?

Speaking as an American conservative, I'm grateful for the kind thoughts but be careful what you ask for.

Posted by: s masty at January 25, 2005 10:45 PM

S Masty

What a pity you haven't worked out that the tendency of the current British government to support your President during the Iraq campaign was based only on the fact that (a) Tony Blair was fully aware that Bush would have gone it alone anyway and (2) that he wished to benefit from any vainglorious upshot that might come his way as a result. His party was agin him, but as the 'government' comprises Blair, his cronies and the Prime Minister in waiting Gordon Brown (a so far thwarted opportunist) then of course Blair got his way. As he should have, of course, but for all the wrong reasons. He is fundamentally anti-English and pro European who wishes to head a new European hegemony to oppose and weaken the American one. Blair is a fool who pretends to be a wise man, unlike your President who is a very wise man who pretends to be a fool. Your 'liberal' countrymen learned that to their cost in November. History will show that Bush was right; history will also show that Blair was a lightweight opportunist. Be brave S Masty, just as we had to be in 1939 and you finally decided to be a couple of years later (when it was in your interest rather than ours). This is the time for all conservatives to have resolve and stop whingeing. It's the demographics, stupid.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at January 26, 2005 03:19 PM

My dear Mister Pulley, if you think that President Bush's reelection is somehow proof of wisdom rather than popularlity, you do not have an historian's sense of perspective much less patience. We will need some time for to see if you are right. Meanwhile every expert on the Middle East that I know (independent of the Likud Party) maintains that Bush is the best recruiting agent that Al Qaeda ever had. I stand second to none in my admiration of Churchill, and he was never so incompetent to drive a quarter of the planet to prefer Hitler as Bush has done with bin Laden from Morocco to Java. Opposing Islamist extremism is too important to leave it to the incompetent and the disreputable.

Posted by: s masty at January 26, 2005 07:32 PM


"Opposing Islamist extremism is too important to leave it to the incompetent and the disreputable"

Tell that to the Marines ... who are opposing Islamist extremism on the front line. They would be somewhat dismayed by your lack of confidence, methinks. Perhaps you would like to suggest who, in your opinion, is competent, reputable and willing to replace them? Kofi Annan's band of chisellers perhaps?
WW2 was hardly a well-organised affair; had it not been for Hitler's madness we could well have lost it, as I'm sure you know. The logistics at times were even more confused than during the current Iraq war and the casualties among the 'liberated' in Europe during the push would make even the Lancet's estimates of Iraqi civilians dead look positively acceptable. War is hell but sometimes it has to be waged to oppose meglomaniac tyrants and it is inevitably messy. As for the 'Arab Street's' opinion of President Bush, are you suggesting that a weaker response to the outrages on 9/11 would have made friends of them? It is the weakness shown by the anti-American - anti-Bush liberal literati and media in within the West that ecourages miltant Islam. They think they have a chance when people like you undermine your own President in time of war. There is a time for toothsucking and a time for action. Our troops need unequivocal support, not backsliding and party, or factional intra-party, politics. But your allusion to the Likud party probably explains your real gripe.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at January 27, 2005 01:07 AM

Does Douglas Murray know anything about the British electoral system? Is he old enough to remember the SDP? 25% of the vote and 23 seats in the general election.

"Thrive outside the Conservative Party"?

Posted by: Tubby Isaacs at December 4, 2005 08:35 PM
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