Margaret Thatcher ‘totally on board’ with National Conservatism conference

Monday’s gathering of conservatives in London began with an invocation of the spirit of Margaret Thatcher.

Opening the National Conservatism conference in Westminster’s Emmanuel Centre, chairman Christopher DeMuth said he had been “communing” with the late prime minister about the conference.

He told delegates: “I am happy to report that she is totally on board.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Monday’s meeting was the start of a three-day event bringing together right-wing politicians, journalists and thinkers to discuss the potential of “national conservatism” to provide a path towards renewal for the Conservative Party.

The conference is a project of the Edmund Burke Foundation, a “public affairs institute” based in Washington DC which has held conferences across Europe and America since 2019 to promote the ideas of national conservatism.

Among the speakers on Monday were Home Secretary Suella Braverman, former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Donald Trump-supporting US senator JD Vance.

Other Tories including Michael Gove and Lee Anderson are expected to appear later in the week.

Contributions on the first day ranged from esoteric discussions of “biopolitics” to a discourse on constitutional history from Mr Rees-Mogg and a defence of the Government’s migration policy from the Home Secretary.

But many speakers stressed they did not have many answers, and were engaging in a discussion about what national conservatism should be and where the Conservative Party should head next.

Theodore Dalrymple, one of the speakers and a cultural critic, acknowledged that he “didn’t have any solutions to offer, and no recipe for making whole eggs out of those that have been scrambled”.

Even so, there was a clear focus on national pride and family, with many speakers stressing the importance of having children.

Michael Gove
Michael Gove is expected to appear later in the week (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Tory backbencher Miriam Cates was among the first speakers, and identified falling birth rates as the “overarching threat” to UK and western society.

Fellow backbencher Danny Kruger, who has worked with Ms Cates at the New Social Covenant Unit think tank, said supporting the family was a key role of government, while also acknowledging the tension in national conservatism between a desire for freedom and a desire for belonging.

But if the conference avoided offering any easy solutions, it was clear what its contributors were against.

Multiple speakers decried the impact of “wokeism” on British society, particularly Katharine Birbalsingh, former chairwoman of the Social Mobility Commission, who was once dubbed “Britain’s strictest headteacher”.

Katharine Birbalsingh
Katharine Birbalsingh (PA)

She urged conservative parents to take their children out of schools that were “too woke”, and criticised private schools for being even more “woke” than their state-funded counterparts.

Ms Cates criticised “woke” teaching for “destroying our children’s souls” and causing self-harm and suicide among young people, while Mr Kruger attacked “a mix of Marxism and narcissism and paganism” that caused “the radicalisation of a generation”.

The national conservatism project has found support among some Tory politicians, with its focus on family, nation, strong borders and pride in Britain’s culture.

But it will compete with other strands of conservative thinking that could determine the future of the Tories beyond the next election, including the Future of Conservatism project being run by the centre-right think tank Onward, at whose launch Mr Gove also spoke.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the delegates at Emmanuel Centre will hope to thrash out a potential path forward for the Conservatives that can prove popular enough to boost the party’s ailing polling numbers.