I’ve noticed a trend amongst a particular yet large section of the Right in Britain since Trump won. It is something that actually started after June 23rd came and went, but that the Trump victory has made a lot stronger. It is a triumphalism based on a set of perceived centre-right values that has not only changed since May 2015, but in most cases has actually come to be the opposite of what it was only a short time ago. This has redefined what it means to be a “conservative” so much that the term has already begun to lose any and all meaning.
Going back to May of 2015, the values of the centre-right could be summarised as free-market, free-trade, anti-protectionist, pro-business, small-state, fiscally disciplined, pro-NATO, pro-west, anti-any force that set itself up as being anti-western. What is amazing is that in the shadow of Brexit and the impending Trump presidency, every single one of those hasn’t so much been abandon as we’ve witnessed the exact opposite of each of them be taken on board as part of a new conservative value system.
The main planks of Trump’s economic plans during the campaign were a ripping up of free-trade deals, both ones that already exist and certainly those that are still being negotiated, and a stimulus package of 1 trillion dollars that mostly seems to be about propping up moribund industries. To put this into perspective, either policy could have been pushed by Jeremy Corbyn (and actually have been, almost exactly, come to think of it). Prior to Trump winning the presidential election, the idea of stimulating the economy via borrowing large amounts of imaginary money was considered absolutely verboten by the Right in Britain. In fact, the whole economic plan since the Tories regained Number 10 in 2010 had been built solidly around the idea that fiscal discipline was not only desired but absolutely necessary. Now, since November 8th, that has all been cast aside as if it had never been core to everything the Tories preached over the last six years.
The Right in Britain have also mercilessly gone to town on Corbyn for his pro-Russian overtures – quite rightly as well. But now many have fully embraced a new world order in which appeasement of Russia, even a rather extreme version of this, is part of the deal. The hypocrisy here is galling. I want to stress that this does not apply to all Tories by any means whatsoever, and there are many Conservatives who are horrified by these U-turns. But this does feel like it is becoming the main narrative on the British Right post-Trump.
Most of this has suddenly put the Tories on the opposite side of many issues to the business community. It started with Brexit and has been getting worse ever since. The idea here seems to be this: business will stay with the Conservatives because they have nowhere else to go. Labour are now vocally, viscerally anti-business, the Lib Dems are trying hard but it isn’t working, and there is no one else in town. The suits will just have to put up with it, the logic goes.
But what happens if the centre-left, or a newfound liberalism that is a pact between the centre-right and the centre-left, emerges in a winnable form? It might become hard for the Right to roll back on all the protectionist, Putinist, anti-business nonsense that happens to be all the rage in 2016. It is easy to get sucked into something that seems to have wide consent. Yet when you stray too far from your values in the name of populism, there is usually a heavy price to be paid.