Over the last 3 days, I had the opportunity to attend the National Conservative conference in London in my capacity as a member of the independent media. It was an interesting event that rightly attracted the attentions of mainstream journalists too. We shall return to them shortly.
But first, let me say that one does not need to be a national conservative, as I am not, to acknowledge that the conference generated a number of important conversations on a whole set of issues that will undoubtedly weigh heavily not only on the next election but on the future of Britain for decades to come.
With net legal immigration expected to reach between 700,000 and 1 million this year, the salience of this issue is difficult to overstate. When I came to Britain in 1996, net legal immigration was 55,000 – we’ve seen an 18-fold increase in less than 30 years. Alongside these extraordinary changes to the levels of legal immigration, we now have tens of thousands of people coming into Britain illegally every year. The British taxpayer is currently spending more than £5.6 million on hotels for them every single day.
This is no natcon talking point – even Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has weighed in on this issue, arguing, quite rightly, that the Government has “lost control of immigration”. It is not surprising, therefore, that a considerable amount of time was devoted to immigration at the conference.
Another issue which was clearly in focus was one that every Western society, and many non-Western societies, will find themselves confronted by in very short order: babies.
Put simply, any country which is unable to get to and maintain itself above the green zone (2.2 children per woman) on this map is going to face a catastrophic demographic environment whereby an expanding elderly population is relying on a shrinking number of working-age taxpayers to support them. How exactly that goes no one knows for sure, but what everyone does know for sure is that it’s not going to go well. Having been misled by people like Paul R. Ehrlich into believing that we face ruin due to a “Population Bomb”, we are, in fact, facing very serious problems for the exact opposite reason.
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A third rail of the conference was religion. Or, more precisely, the lack thereof. While the hall itself was packed with Christians, Jews and other believers, the growing secularism of British society is an inescapable fact. To many of the attendees, this brings with it a number of challenges: not only the falling birth rates which got so much play but also the growing sense of alienation, lack of meaning and purpose and the disintegration of communities which are no longer bound by faith and the values it used to engender. Some might argue, as even agnostics like me have, that the most serious trade-off of the absence of religion is that many human beings appear unable to function without an overarching faith-based narrative and in throwing off the stifling yoke of old religions we merely open up a chasm that must be filled with far simpler, and, therefore, cruder, belief systems like the woke mind virus which is rapidly eating its way through Western society.
Wherever you stand on these issues, there was plenty for an objective journalist to get their teeth into. Certainly, there is no shortage of reasonable criticisms that could – and should – be made.
For starters, if immigration is out of control – which it is – why is the Home Secretary talking about it at a conference instead of actually dealing with it? I have no doubt that Suella Braverman is earnest in her attempts to tackle immigration but let’s be honest: Britain has been governed by her party for the last 13 years. It was her party which promised to Take Back Control in a referendum whose stated purpose was to allow the British Government to implement the expressed wishes of the British people. And, in fairness to the British people, they’ve hardly been unclear about their views: they have repeatedly and consistently voted to reduce immigration and they have been repeatedly and consistently failed by the one party which promised to do this: the Conservative Party. Worse still, try as she might, her own cabinet colleagues will ensure that this failure continues.
If we aren’t having enough babies – which we aren’t – why has the Conservative Party done nothing to address one of the biggest obstacles in the way of family formation: the housing crisis which prevents young people from pairing up and settling down? We’re not going to inspire young women who live in shared, rented accommodation to have children with words. Boosting the fertility rate using the levers of government is extremely hard at the best of times, but when public policy over decades makes having children more difficult instead of less, we stand no chance at all. The Government’s answer? Bring back 100% mortgages. What could possibly go wrong?
If the decline of religion has led us to a lack of purpose and meaning, rather than (or, at least, in addition to) lamenting the secularisation of society, we have to meet people where they are at. I am an agnostic but I do believe that values and cultural practices inherited from our religious forebears are a good starting point for working out who we wish to be in this world. Try to herd people into churches and temples if you wish but if the lack of meaning and purpose is the problem, it is providing meaning and purpose we ought to focus on, wherever it can be found. For some that may well be religion but for many something else is needed.
If it is wokeness that so concerns you, getting an accurate diagnosis must be a priority. And, sadly, almost every speaker at NatCon has a crippling disability which renders them unable to see the trigger that has sent these ideas into overdrive: they’re too old.
The core tenets of radical progressivism, which we call “woke”, are not new. What we have to explain is not where these ideas come from but why their reach and clout have exploded in a matter of years. And there is little doubt, at least in my mind, that the rapid spread of this form of radical progressivism is a disease of the Internet and especially social media. This is why there has been a huge global increase in “woke discourse” from 2014 onwards when social media took off:
The notion that you can change your sex, that there are no differences between men and women, that we live in a society defined by racism and so on can only thrive in a disembodied digital medium where the accuracy of ideas means nothing and how they sound and feel is everything. This is why it is impossible to state basic truths on social media without immediately being attacked – the truth may or may not set you free, but it will definitely piss you off.
The ideas of radical progressivism have spread like wildfire because we increasingly communicate through a medium that rewards bad ideas that make us feel good and punishes good ideas that make us feel bad. The culture war will be won and lost on the Internet and very few at NatCon seem to have any sense of this at all.
These are my critiques. They may be wrong. They may be unfair. But they are, at least, an honest attempt to engage with the substance of the arguments made by serious people about genuinely important issues over the three days of the conference.
So how did mainstream journalists cover NatCon?
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