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The ‘GB news crowd’ can still hurt us from crazy island

As Tories grapple with potential electoral defeat, the faction that fancies its chances is the Trumpite culture warriors that worry even the rabid Thatcherite wing of the party. We can’t just point and laugh, warns SOLOMON HUGHES

THERE is a general, and I think generally correct, assumption that the Tories will swing even harder right if they lose the next election. The questions are — how hard right will they go, and where will this leave them?
 
I got a bit of a feeling for this at the last Tory conference, where there was a lot of just-below-the-surface jockeying for who would take charge of the party if it lost an election.
 
One sign of the shape of the things to come is the Tories who think of themselves as “sensible” are anxious power is slipping from their hands and into the grasp of “culture warriors.” It’s especially bad because in Tory land, the people who think of themselves as the “sensible centre” are already pretty barking.
 
I went to a meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) — this is the think tank founded by Margaret Thatcher herself in 1974, to provide policies for the Tory Party’s shift to free-market Thatcherism. The CPS is currently led by Robert Colville, one of the co-authors of the 2019 Tory manifesto.
 
So the CPS represents a big chunk of the Tory Party. The meeting showed it was an unhappy chunk. Colville was joined by Dan Hannan, a Tory lord, former MEP and one-time vice chair of the Conservatives. Hannan was an important player in the Tory move towards Brexit.
 
This pretty influential bunch were feeling very unhappy. They were very worried the Tories were going to go towards a Trump-esque right wing, leaving behind what they defined as the “sensible centre.”
 
Robert Colville emphasised his “sensible” position, saying: “We call the CPS the think tank of the centre right, a way of saying we are grown-up and moderate and promote a sensible range of policies.”
 
For Colvillese this is quite a “vibes-based” definition of sensibilism. He told us: “The centre right is by definition in relation to the centre and the right. When you talk about the centre right you are sort of talking about the bit of the right that can go kind of go to dinner parties in London and not be viewed as beneath their soles.”
 
“Sensible grown-up moderates” losing power to crazier folk sounds worrying. It is especially worrying when you realise what Colville thinks is sensible, grown-up and moderate: they are an avowedly Thatcherite group, so they are seeing Thatcherism as moderate, which is alarming enough.

Worse, they have, sensibly, moderately and in a grown-up way, adapted to the Tories’ rightwards shift. The CPS was promoting its pamphlet “Stopping the Crossings: How Britain can take back control of its immigration and asylum system” at the meeting.

This CPS anti-asylum-seeker pamphlet was written by “culture warrior” and former Theresa May-aide Nick Timothy, with a foreword by Suella Braverman. The pamphlet is all about deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
 
So, the sensible, moderate, Suella Braverman Rwanda-deportations mob are losing their ground to an even crazier fringe.
 
This new right is what you might call the “GB News crowd.” They had big, well-attended meetings at the Tory conference. Unlike Colville and Co, they didn’t seem depressed.

I think both groups believe the Tories will lose the next election, but this makes the CPS mob sad, while the GB news crowd happily see it as an opportunity to take over the Tories. The GB News crowd are a coalition of MPs like William Rees-Mogg, who are really interested in low-tax, extreme-deregulation Liz-Truss-type policies, and MPs like Miriam Cates who are pushing strong culture war themes.

These two addressed a meeting funded by Legatum, where Cates lectured about how “strong and stable families are the good and fertile soil that will allow us to cultivate prosperous citizens and a prosperous nation for the future.”

Cates claimed this “fertile soil” is under attack from “socialist economic policies,” “extreme left-wing ideologies” including “net zero,” “critical race theory” and “gender ideology.” She said the Tories must reject “liberal individualism” because it “undermines families and in doing so it undermines prosperity.”
 
Cates said: “Many conservatives are uncomfortable talking about these things. Some think that being Conservative means being pro-tax cuts and pro-business, but that is not enough. Unless you are pro-family, it is not enough.”

Rees-Mogg was clearly mostly interested in the pro-tax cuts, pro-business side, but was happy to nod along to Cates’s culture war slogans. Legatum, who organised the meeting, are a think tank run by an investment fund based in Dubai, which also part-owns GB News, so they too are arguably interested in Cates’s “culture war” policies as a cover for their free-market fundamentalism, but they are certainly happy to go quite far down this road.
 
What would a post-election Tory shift to this GB News right mean? Some worry that Keir Starmer’s big poll leads are entirely based on Tory collapse and that a Starmer Labour government will offer so little that the Tories will be back in power after only one term. This means the GB News crackpots may be in charge of the government soon.
 
Some, more optimistically, think the Tories moving further right will cut them off from the public, even if Starmer stumbles. That they will play to their own gallery, sail off to crazy island, and thus allow Labour at least two terms — as the Tories did under Michael Howard and William Hague in the 2000s, which gave a lot of space for Tony Blair.
 
I think the latter option is possible. But even if that is a bit better, it is still a big problem — because even if the Tory turn right keeps them from winning elections, it won’t stop them from being influential.

Starmer’s instincts are to bend to the right at every turn. Even if the Tories are too right wing to win elections, they won’t be too right wing to, with the help of the Tory press, pressure a Starmer government into more reactionary responses to events.

Follow Solomon on X @SolHughesWriter.

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