There’s a new right-wing institute, soaked in muscular traditionalism and religiosity, on the Westminster block. Meet the innocuously titled Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, a self-styled “international community with a vision for a better world” which gathered for its inaugural meeting in Greenwich, south-east London, this week.
ARC, a new forum for the forces of the international right to collect and solemnise, is ostensibly an off-shoot of the Legatum Institute, a London-based think-tank with an ideologically libertarian and socially conservative agenda. Its lead advocate and principal architect is Jordan Peterson, the well-connected Canadian psychologist-turn-mascot for the culture war right. In a YouTube video announcing ARC’s launch, Peterson described the body’s core mission as “trying to put together something like an alternative vision of the future — an alternative to the apocalyptic narrative”.
But beyond Peterson’s consummate patronage and a name in “ARC”, which for the religious right will conjure images of a safe vessel constructed ahead of a coming cataclysm, this “international community” is backed by real financial clout. Paul Marshall, who is worth £680 million according to the Sunday Times Rich List, and a GB News and UnHerd investor, sits on ARC’s Advisory Board.
The implicit strategy of ARC, not some mere minnow having drawn over 1500 people to its cause this week, is to act as a kind of cultural vanguard. Politically, its mission to recuperate the right’s confidence and restore severed societal bonds is founded on the analytical and ideological preconception that the Christian tradition is increasingly shunned in “Western society”. The resultant vacuum has been filled by what Peterson refers to as “hedonism” — which encompasses all kinds of enemies, both real and imagined.
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On the surface, ARC’s ambitions would suggest a natural affinity with another right-wing mission-driven organisation, the National Conservatives, which captured the collective attention of SW1 earlier this year.
But there are, in fact, significant differences in these organisations’ operations — contrasts that are gaugeable through a breakdown of their respective speaking lists. In May, the National Conservative conference’s intellectual crescendo reached its zenith with a closing call to action from “Red Wall rottweiler” Lee Anderson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. ARC’s conference boasted a rather more star-studded cast of contributors, including US presidential hopefuls, past and present speakers of the US House of Representatives and at least three former Australian prime ministers: a truly kaleidoscopic display of the anglophone right.
This difference in personnel is a consequence, in part, of ARC and the National Conservatives’ contrasting strategies. While they might struggle to disagree on their core missions and the advancement of faith and family, the archetypal National Conservative views as the key vessel for progress the perspective and the established institutions of the nation-state. For ARC, conversely — besides the obligatory references to Margaret Thatcher — most of the speakers at the conference cared little for the specificities of Britain’s political context. Peterson and co saw this get-together as a means of inspiring a genuinely global revolt against the harbingers of chaos and decline. It has been termed the “anti-Davos”: an unapologetically supranational body built to forge cross-border consensus. It avoids the paradox at the heart of the Nat Con project — that this was an American-founded body, travelling across the world to inspire distinctive national revivals.
Still, one conspicuous crossover between May’s National Conservative conference and ARC’s this week was the presence of Michael Gove, levelling up secretary and de facto minister for the future of conservatism. (Gove attended Nat Con, it was confirmed by No 10 at the time, in an official government capacity).
Alongside Gove, Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, the co-chairs of the New Conservatives, were also attendees at both right-wing fêtes. In fact, they serve together on ARC’s advisory board — with Kruger writing this week for Conservative Home: “Our party is in deep trouble. The cause isn’t bad policy, or scandals, though we’ve had some of both. It’s not our personnel and it’s not our philosophy. We have good people at the top and fundamentally we have the right ideas.
“The reason we’re in trouble is our failure over many years to address the profound faults in the Western economic, cultural and political model – faults which afflict the UK perhaps more than any other country”
Of course, the unspoken subtext of Kruger’s contribution, here, and perhaps the ARC conference generally, is that the UK Conservative Party, facing a potential electoral doomsday, are finding time to debate what comes next.
And who better to discuss this pertinent matter than business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch, the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Sunak as the next Conservative leader?
Some suspect Badenoch is already making contingency plans in the event of an electoral defeat next year and, in her sit-down with UnHerd editor-in-chief Freddie Sayers, she seemed to be setting out her distinctive political stall. She told the conference floor that “silly things like pronouns” and considering “people’s skin colour” were distracting the UK from major challenges like the rise of China.
But she also implicitly criticised Florida governor and US presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, who has previously praised the business and trade secretary and equalities minister, and his crackdown on the Disney Corporation. Asked if Britain’s Conservative government should use state powers to change corporate attitudes to social issues, Badenoch explained: “There is a role for government in terms of shaping culture — government needs to set out the vision for the way society will be. But we must again be careful of overcorrecting. If you license government to step into every single situation, what happens when it’s not a government of your choosing?”.
This response underlines both the central problem for ARC and the issue it is intended to address: the lack of cohesion in conservatism generally, especially on the role of the state in culture and the economy.
In her contribution, for example, Conservative MP Cates warned about declining fertility rates, which she argued would set the West on course for a “future of certain economic stagnation or destabilising mass immigration or both.”
Peterson himself led a panel discussing how the “great loser of the sexual revolution has been children”.
The newly selected US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson praised the “Judeo-Christian tradition” and “classical liberal” values that he said shaped the West.
John Howard, who as PM of Australia won three general elections, insisted: “Multiculturalism is a concept that I’ve always had trouble with”.
Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress of Michaela Community School, argued “multiculturalism can succeed”, but only if children are taught “to satisfy their desire for belonging by being British”.
US Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy took aim at the “woke capitalism” which he argued is rife on Wall Street.
And one wonders what hat Gove was wearing when he argued that capitalism was now in peril from the “resentment industry” and warned attendees about the “behaviour of the privileged” and a situation in which the “gains of economic growth have increasingly been concentrated in the hands of a few” could undermine the whole enterprise.
If the goal of ARC is to turn the right’s competing ideas into concrete action, its inaugural conference failed on its own terms. But its organisers will stress that the conference was only the beginning — as US, Australian and UK groups work to align strategy with a view to cohering a shared governing platform in time.
Of course, a crucial point to make here is that, in the US, Canada and Australia, right-wingers are all respectively dispossessed of the highest office in the land — crucial because it is their status as languishing in political wildernesses which is now focusing minds on whether conservatives can again find common purpose and vision.
Contrast this to the situation in the UK, where the Conservative Party won an 80-seat majority at the 2019 election, in theory, a platform to make real advances.
But you would not have guessed that the Conservative Party has been in power for 13 years based on the rhetoric and substance of Gove and Badenoch’s speeches.
So this was a conference for the future of conservatism and, in this way, Conservatives in the UK — such as Kruger, Cates and Badenoch — seem to be looking more and more over the horizon of the next election, planning for what might come next.
Of course, as far as British ARC supporters are concerned, Sunak will always be too technocratic, too nice, too managerial and not ideological enough for their liking. His problem now is that intellectual energy which conferences like this stoke will begin to flow into other channels — namely into the political stall of potential heirs like Kemi Badenoch and her supporters (Michael Gove, remember, is her prime patron).
If Sunak does lose in 2024 or 2025, it would be up to his successor in opposition to choose how far it associates with the mode of conservatism advanced by the likes of ARC. But although the right-wing revival project has a long way to go as it bids to project unity and common purpose, Badenoch — alongside her international and domestic admirers — likely sees herself as a crucial component.
Josh Self is Editor of Politics.co.uk, follow him on Twitter here.
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