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From climate change to immigration, the Tories have been moving further and further to the right, stoking hate and even conspiracy theories and courting far-right figures. 

Today in PMQs Keir Starmer said the Conservatives had become the “political wing of flat earth society”, as Rishi Sunak again refused to rule out the far-right Ukip founder Nigel Farage joining the party.

While Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate wrote today in The Guardian that the “battle for the soul of the Conservative party had begun. And so far, the radical right is winning.” 

So what’s behind the Tories radical right-wing trajectory?

Culture wars distraction 

Author of ‘Tory Nation: How One Party Took Over’, Samuel Earle, said that Conservative Party has always contained “darker, apocalyptic undercurrents” that are usually repressed in the interests of electability, but that they come to the surface at times of crisis. 

Economic disaster and declining living standards across the UK over the last decade mean Tory MPs are keen to distract from a succession of failures and erosion of any Conservative legacy. 

This is ripe ground to bring into the ring culture war narratives, scapegoats and conspiracy theories, while researchers have said that increased inequality makes people more likely to embrace right wing parties, presenting an electoral tactic. 

Those on the populist right of the Tory party have continually used culture war narratives, whether it’s against trans people, migrants or activists, to distract from what they don’t want people to be talking about, which is the state of this country after 14 years of Tory rule. 

Right wing media influence

Spreading polarising views in order to gain viewers, sites such as GB News have led to what’s been dubbed the Foxification of right wing news in the UK. 

Allowing misinformation and conspiracy theorists to go unchallenged has lead fringe ideas, that for example undermine trust in institutions or the government itself, to grow. While Tory MPs seem obsessed with appeasing the right wing media, a number of them now boast their own channels on GB News, leaving them all the more in cahoots with the right wing media agenda.

Right-wing media has played a role in pushing polarisation as a political tool, for example seen in Braverman’s infamous attack on the “tofu-eating wokerati”. While tabloids label climate activists “eco-zealots” which then gets legitimised by politicians in Parliament.

Threat of Reform UK

Pressure from the rise of the fringe right-wing party Reform UK, formerly Brexit Party, may have put pressure on Rishi Sunak to adopt more right-wing policy. 

Martin Shaw in ByLine Times wrote that the Conservative Party had undergone a decade of tracking the far-right, shifting under Thatcher and then since Nigel Farage’s UKIP leadership and success in pushing racist anti-immigration politics, emboldening the Tory right. Since Brexit, Tory MPs, further embraced Farage’s Brexiteer ideology and with it a narrative of “order and control”. 

Now Reform UK, with a leader who spouts climate denial conspiracies and flogs itself on right wing populism, has posed a threat to the party in the general election, arguably emboldening the Tory right even further.

Resurgence of far right in Europe and Trump

Further emboldening the extreme right of the party could be the resurgence of the far right across Europe and in the US. Extreme right-wing parties have become legitimised in recent years moving steadily into the mainstream, for example in Italy, Austria, France and Germany. 

Enhanced by the cost of living crisis from the pandemic recovery and war in Ukraine, right wing groups have also found new causes to stroke up distrust, from migration to the climate crisis and trans people. 

Liz Truss got close to endorsing Trump last week, while Boris Johnson has said Trump in the White House could be “what the world needs”, making it not hard to see Tory rhetoric taken straight from the Trump handbook.

Tory Party disunity 

Tory members are known to be generally more right wing than most Tory MPs, and since the ousting of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, many on the right of the party have apparently been left with “enormous frustration” according to Tim Montgomerie, Conservative commentator and activist. 

This has left the more right wing fringes of the party to propose their own policy ideas, “in the absence of the leadership”, Montgomerie said. Time will tell what the future of the Party holds and whether the general election will throw it further down the rabbit hole and further to the far right. 

(Image credit: UK Government / Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

The post What’s behind the Tories right-wing trajectory? appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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