The Tories’ Nativist Natalism

Peering into the strange worldview of the contemporary Tory Party and its even more extreme fascist discontents, Rowan Fortune attempts to place the British right into a coherent context and make sense of its many nightmares.

 

Whatever guise it takes, the political right seeks (to different degrees) to degrade human freedom in two domains within the confines of the modern nation-state, which is itself elevated to a sacred, timeless fact of nature rather than a seventeenth-century byproduct of still-emerging capitalism. Most obviously, the right challenges the freedoms workers have gained over the nature of their work (better pay and conditions), but they also challenge the freedoms of those whose labour society exploits to socially reproduce such workers, who are already ruthlessly underpaid, work double-shifts and are frequently even unpaid.

“The right challenges the freedoms of those whose labour society exploits to socially reproduce such workers.” 

For the most extreme factions of the right, their nativism has them openly seek to maximise the ‘correct’ reproduction of the ‘right’ workers, i.e. to guarantee higher birthrates and worse living standards for non-immigrant cisgender and heterosexual labourers within state-sanctioned relationships, and general debasement for everyone else. To them, migration, reproductive healthcare, no-fault divorce, disabled, queer, and women’s emancipation are all obstacles; the agency of cisgender women, queer and disabled people are considered material threats to the imagined community of the state. 

“For the most extreme factions of the right, their nativism has them openly seek to maximise the ‘correct’ reproduction of the ‘right’ workers.”

This ideology is increasingly on display on the Tory right. Extreme outliers include the disgraced ex-Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, whose anti-vaxxer beliefs has seen him compare life-saving jabs to the historical atrocity of the Holocaust and become the first MP for Laurence Fox’s far-right Reclaim Party, albeit not elected under that banner. Bridgen’s conspiracy theory fuelled opposition to vaccination ignores the evidence base for an effective public health policy, putting everyone at risk, especially clinically vulnerable people. Unsurprisingly, Bridgen also has a parliamentary history opposing abortion and queer rights and has been whipping up the moral panic against transgender people.

But while Bridgen is an outlier, the recent UK NatCon (National Conservativism) conference, a reactionary celebration of nativistic natalism in its full ugliness, shows that such thinking is at the core of the contemporary Conservative Party under the leadership of Rishi Sunak. High-profile speakers included the former Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and former Secretary of State for Business, Jacob Rees-Mogg; the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove; and most prominently, Suella Braverman, a Home Secretary who drifts listlessly from one scandal to the next when she is not dreaming up new cruelties to inflict on refugees.

Rees-Mogg used his speech to admit that the Tory Party attempted to gerrymander the democratic process. Gove made a muted contribution, talking down popularism and culture wars while engaging in ignorant transphobic dog whistles about biological reality. Braverman took the very opposite line, going for a full bingo card of far-right tropes and sloganeering by railing against experts, elites, identity politics, legal migration, the radical left, political correctness, grooming gangs, the apparently wrong genitalia of trans people, attacks on the British Empire, and, in a touch of ignorant irony, the illiberal politics of division. Her diatribe was interpreted as a bungled and disloyal audition for a post-election leadership bid.

However, with remarkable luminaries of Toryism underwhelming or overwhelming an audience of bygone bigots, it fell to a lightweight to articulate the key ideas of the conference; backbench Tory and fascist fantasist Miriam Cates. For her, increasing the UK’s birthrate should be the foremost policy concern of government, with the antisemitic canard of “cultural Marxism” held up as the real problem. In words a neo-Nazi could proudly utter, she warned, “liberal individualism has proved to be completely powerless to resist a cultural Marxism that is systematically destroying our children’s souls.” Developing her post hoc reasoning, she identifies everything from reappraisals of British history to climate change science as causing mental health problems and sapping the young of hope:

“When culture, schools and universities openly teach that our country is racist, our heroes are villains, humanity is killing the Earth, you are what you desire, diversity is theology, boundaries are tyranny and self-restraint is oppression, is it any wonder that mental health conditions, self-harm and suicide, and epidemic levels of anxiety and confusion characterise the emerging generation?”

There might seem to be a contradiction in the Tory Party adopting these ideas now. Never has the public face of British conservatism been so diverse. Both Braverman, who has previously been castigated for using the term “cultural Marxism”, and Sunak, are of Indian heritage. Labour’s front bench is far more uniformly white, especially at the most senior positions, and it struggles with accusations of maintaining a hierarchy of racism that particularly negatively impacts Black members. This contradiction, however, does nothing to change the racist, eugenicist, queerphobic nature of Tory rhetoric and policies, however badly it reflects on an Opposition that is perhaps only slightly less racist, eugenicist, queerphobic. It showcases that the prejudices of the right, lacking substance in the world, are adaptable to changing cultural parameters.

What remains, however, is that core of prejudice as the basis for an ideology of national capital, which needs to divide workers against one another to maintain the domination of the few over the majority at the productive and social reproductive levels. Nativist natalism is at the heart of this ideology, adopting a posture of defending the nation and especially its subjugated breeding stock against nebulous, poorly-defined but always encroaching others, whether the dog whistles vaguely point to Jews, refugees from the Middle East or elsewhere, trans people, or any other fabricated enemies of the Tory mind. 

Whether a stereotype of the far right, like Andrew Bridgen, advocates for this worldview or such thinking is popularised by a woman or someone of Indian heritage, it does nothing to change the trajectory of the core ideas. Both NatCon and Bridgen’s defection to Reclaim might seem to be peculiar spectacles of a party in disarray, but such turns represent a disturbing and continued march of the right towards greater and greater extremes as a panacea for a political crisis that is only an expression of a deeper structural crisis of global capital. 

Such ideas must be taken seriously and robustly opposed by the labour movement as it seeks out a world in which denying anyone’s humanity is unimaginable. Without putting these nightmares to rest, they will continue to find new forms of expression, including in a weak Labour Party bereft of any notion of solidarity.

“Such ideas must be taken seriously and robustly opposed by the labour movement as it seeks out a world in which denying anyone’s humanity is unimaginable.”


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Rowan Fortune authored Writing Nowhere; edited the anthology of utopian short fiction Citizens of Nowhere; and contributed to the collaborative book System Crash. It writes on utopian imagination, revolutionary theory and trans* liberation.

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