Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

The English right’s Trump temptation

Labour’s election then re-election of Jeremy Corbyn was the equivalent of a suicidal man who, when the noose snaps and gives him a second chance, decides to throw himself off a cliff instead. The Liberal Democrats are too small to get a hearing. The Scottish nationalists will speak only for Scotland. The only arguments that matter in England now are the arguments within the right.

But what is the right today? What does it mean to say you are right-wing? You only have to look at the triumph of Donald Trump to guess the answer. He not only beat Hillary Clinton but the old Republican party, which looks like it is close to disappearing now.

The same battles are being fought and victories won across Europe. Austria’s Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the UK Independence Party, Hungary’s Fidesz, Poland’s Law and Justice, like Donald Trump himself, oppose globalisation, free trade and international cooperation of any kind. Some promise strong welfare states, but for natives only. Crucially, like the communists of the 20th century, they are all in Russia’s pocket to varying degrees. The left-wing fellow travellers with Stalin have been replaced by the right-wing fellow travellers with Putin. Anne Applebaum calls them ‘the populist international’ whose success will destroy Nato and the very idea of ‘the West’. German ministers prefer ‘the authoritarian international’.

Whatever the name, the point is that they are a world away the traditional right of the 20th century, and not only because they do not believe in free markets. European Christian democracy at its best displayed the power of the Catholic conscience. French Gaullists believed in the power of the now despised experts to order society. And British conservatism? What did it believe in?

As I said in the Observer  at the weekend it once subscribed to a comforting story about Britain that was not wholly a lie.

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