Originally published in the Spectator
With inflation rampant, growth stagnant, government disintegrating, and nothing working – so I’d read, all due to Brexit, naturally – it was a wonder to fly into Heathrow, breeze through customs, and smartly get to a smoothly-functioning, clean and new London hotel via train and tube. What had happened to the strike-bound Britain that Poland was about to overtake in GDP per person? Largely the re-moaner fantasy, it seems, so prevalent even among Britons who should know better. Mind you, there were plenty of signs about disruption-to-come via a “pride” march; and there was a vital street near Trafalgar Square partially dug up on the Sunday I arrived, somehow still blocked-off a week later, even though the actual roadwork had all been done. No doubt that was just the car-phobic Labor mayor being bloody-minded to the traffic; but in a week of tripping around London and southern England, the tube worked fine and every train was clean and on time.
London has long been the world’s great meeting place; certainly that’s what it was in late June, although I was probably the only Australian not there for the cricket. My trip was for a series of conferences, concluding with the Board of Trade, ably led by the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch, certainly one of the coming stars of the Tory Party, and an exemplar of modern Britain: bright, confident, impatient of nay-sayers, and intensely proud of a country where a black woman whose parents came from Nigeria can rocket into the world’s most multi-ethnic cabinet. After successfully bringing-into-being the Australia-Britain trade deal (building on Liz Truss’ good work) Badenoch’s next challenge is to seal a deal with India, the world’s fastest growing large economy and the essential strategic counter-weight to communist China, and to bed down Britain’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The fact that the world’s best free-trading partnership has welcomed-in “Global Britain” speaks volumes for its standing in the world.
So much for the self-flagellating tosh about Britain being “racist”. In fact, modern Britain, like the rest of the anglosphere, is almost completely colour-blind, as you’d expect in the country that has given the world its common language, the mother of parliaments, the Industrial Revolution and the emancipation of minorities, and whose Royal Navy ended the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Part of Margaret Thatcher’s immense legacy is the International Democrat Union that she created as the equivalent for centre-right political parties of the Socialist International. Now chaired by former Canadian PM, Stephen Harper, its 40th anniversary conference was pondering “where to” for liberal-conservative politics in the era of climate obsessions and identity politics. Not, at least as far as the three Australian representatives were concerned (John Howard, Scott Morrison and me), a weak compromise with the other side: just marginally less spendthrift, overbearing and politically correct.
While the big challenge for Thatcher and for Ronald Reagan had been beating the Marxism embodied in the old Soviet Union, today’s challenge is beating the neo-Marxism now entrenched in so many of our institutions (especially schools and universities); in some ways a harder one because the enemy is within. Or so I told the Danube Institute, the Hungary-based think tank of former Thatcher adviser John O’Sullivan, taking advantage of the presence of so many luminaries to host a conference in London. The typically-conservative preference for freedom, bias to small business, and respect for all that’s shaped us, most expressed by intense pride in country, might currently be out-of-fashion, especially with the brain-washed young; but it’s hard to have successful liberal-democracy without it. At all the bastions of centre-right thinking I visited, Policy Exchange, the Institute for Economic Affairs, and indeed this wonderful magazine, there was no defeatism; rather a conviction that the emissions obsession would not survive the lights going out; gender fluidity the coming wave of court challenges by youngsters who’d been chemically sterilised; and cultural self-loathing a military challenge from any of the -isms, starting with Putin-ism, that currently threaten the West.
The star of the IDU conference was the former Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in Britain, among other things, to buy privately British mine-clearing equipment and military ambulances for his country’s armed forces. On the day of last year’s invasion, he’d called President Zelensky to say that he was no longer leader of the opposition because there would be no opposition for the duration of the war. This is the single-minded patriotism that should drive his country to victory. Funnily enough, none of the Ukrainian IDU delegates seemed that fussed about emissions or the gender balance of the armed forces. Let’s hope countries that have had it so good for so long don’t have to wake up the hard way.
My trip’s sponsor was the Global Warming Policy Foundation, started by the late Nigel Lawson, to question the wisdom of placing emissions reduction ahead of protecting jobs, industries and economic and energy security. If the Sunak government wants to avoid ebbing out of office, why not confound the other side by dropping the coming bans on fossil-fuel powered cars and domestic heating, and once more allowing oil and gas exploration in the North Sea? In every Australian election where climate policy has been an issue – 2010, 2013 and 2019 – it’s been the climate zealots that have come off second best.
A highlight was the dinner to mark the bi-centenary of the Oxford Union. Michael Heseltine gave a fine speech, except for his final instruction to the young people present to lead Britain back into the EU. My role was to propose the toast: “to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth – closer than in decades” I added, “thanks to Brexit”. Cheeky, but I think I got away with it!