10 June 2024

Originally published in The Times.

Given at The In and Out Naval and Military Club, London



Whatever this election’s ultimate result, it won’t be improved by defeatism and declinism about the Conservative Party and about Britain itself.

Sure, it’s a government that’s been in office for several terms, had five prime ministers, disappointed its strongest supporters and sometimes seemed a pallid version of the other side; but politics is a binary choice, often between bad and worse, and there’s also an opposition, promising to be safe change, but bound to let voters down.

That was exactly Australia’s situation two years back.

Even though the Morrison government had secured the AUKUS deal to give Australia nuclear powered submarines, the most important strategic initiative since the formalisation of the US alliance, its response to the pandemic had hardly cheered the adherents of smaller government and greater freedom, in other words, most traditional conservatives.

The Albanese opposition worked the “it’s time” factor but had almost no policies, other than the deeply implausible claim that even more renewable energy would somehow cut power prices.

Two years on, having sponsored a constitutional change that would have created two classes of citizen based on ancestry, that deservedly failed; having sought to inject unions into the management of nearly all businesses; having broken key promises on tax; and utterly failed to deliver on the promised energy transition, there’s every chance that a revitalised Liberal National Coalition could beat a first term government next year.

A bad case of buyer’s remorse is what happens when there’s a strong and clear alternative to a government obsessing over climate and identity. Likewise in Canada, the once all-but-invincible Trudeau government is likely to fall to conservatives promising to axe the tax, build the homes, and stop the crime.

So in Churchill’s words, “success is not final, defeat is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts”. And in the meantime, there’s still an election to fight.

Like most conservatives, I wish that the world hadn’t wasted two years cowering before a virus. That the West hadn’t militarily, industrially and even culturally disarmed in the heady years after winning the First Cold War. That we hadn’t let our hopes for a better world obscure the militarism, and the Islamism, and the totalitarianism that was hiding in plain sight. That we hadn’t let short-term economic advantage of trade with China prejudice long term national interest. That we hadn’t let concern for the only planet we’ve got degenerate into an emissions obsession. That we hadn’t let sympathy for confused kids become indulging fantasies that girls could be boys and vice versa. That we hadn’t let compassion for the poor become a something-for-nothing welfare system. And that we hadn’t let appreciating diversity turn into a reverence for every culture but our own.

But the challenge is not to mope about the past; it’s to make the most of the present and the future.

Who’s more likely affirm pride in Britain, build an economy that rewards effort and excellence, nurture a society where everyone is encouraged to be their best, resist the cancer of identity politics and the politics of envy, support and enlarge the world’s finest military personnel, and meet threats to our way of life and our cherished freedoms that are vastly more existential than any speculative rise in temperature a few decades hence?

Is it the bloke who tried to end the lockdowns sooner, who supports North Sea oil and gas, wants to cut taxes and make government smaller and more efficient and knows from personal experience that no country of earth is less racist than this one? Or is it someone who wanted Jeremy Corbyn to be elected just five years ago, who’d like to slink back into the EU, who genuinely believes that Britain is fundamentally classist and racist and yet is pretending to be Tony Blair even though he still calls himself a socialist and can’t define a woman?

I can respect those who started the Reform Party to make the Conservatives even better, especially Nigel Farage whose Brexit Party helped to give the Conservatives the courage of their convictions. And who largely stood down before the last election to maximise the chances of getting the best possible government. But are Reform supporters really going to feel better, come July 5, if their efforts to punish the Conservatives end up punishing Britain with the worst government in its history?

No government that’s been in office for 14 years can rest on its laurels and the new directions announced so far show that the Sunak government knows that there’s more to do. The national service proposal will remind young Britons that citizenship is a two way street. The proposal to end Mickey Mouse degrees and foster apprenticeships shows a laudable preference for the working class over the talking class. Likewise, ending the green virtue signalling, like ULEZ, that the PM would have the authority to do with a clear mandate of his own. And I’m sure there’ll be more to come, like abolishing some of the quangos that have given too much authority to unelected and unaccountable officials.

No political party anywhere has a longer and prouder record than the Conservatives that steered Britain successfully through two world wars and out of the Great Depression; that revitalised the economy and helped to win the First Cold War under Margaret Thatcher; and that got Brexit done under Boris Johnson, a great historic achievement. And no country on earth is more capable of standing on its own two feet than the one that gave the world its common language, the mother of parliaments, the Industrial Revolution and the emancipation of minorities.

As an Australian conservative, conscious of Britain’s legacy to my country and the wider world, I’ve always found this British diffidence about party and about country quite mystifying, so please snap out of it and get back to being your best selves.