GREENWICH, England — Call it the anti-Davos — a major conference where right-wing populists take aim at liberal elites and plan their revolution.
Some of the most powerful people in Western politics joined forces for the first Alliance for Responsible Citizenship Conference (ARC) in southeast London this week, from U.S. presidential hopefuls and former Australian prime ministers right through to serving U.K. Cabinet members and even the newly-elected speaker of the U.S. Congress.
But despite a star-studded cast of right-wingers and some high-minded aims, the three-day ARC conference in Greenwich — billed as creating a “better story for the future” — at times struggled to define itself, and may have its work cut out to turn sometimes-competing ideas into concrete action.
“They need to be careful it doesn’t just become a center-right talking shop,” said one attendee.
Another, a theologian, mused that he was having a great time, but didn’t quite understand the point.
ARC of the moral universe
ARC was first announced by right-wing commentator Jordan Peterson earlier this year, with the anti-woke mascot revealing in a YouTube video that he had “set up an international consortium in London” and was “trying to put together something like an alternative vision of the future — an alternative to the apocalyptic narrative.”
The event has been closely watched in the U.K. in particular, where, on current polling, the Conservatives look set to lose the coming election. Tellingly, Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Kemi Badenoch — hotly-tipped as a future Tory leader — put in appearances.
ARC appears to have real clout behind it, too. Paul Marshall, a major investor in the upstart right-wing British broadcaster GB News and funder of the increasingly popular comment and analysis website UnHerd, is one of the directors. Marshall, who is worth £680m according to the Sunday Times Rich List, is rumored to be looking to buy right-leaning staples the Telegraph and the Spectator.
He is joined at the helm of ARC by Alan McCormick, current chairman of GB News, who is also a partner of Dubai-based investment group Legatum, which is partly funding the conference. The list of those backing the event runs long, and includes Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and ex-U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
So what is ARC really here to do? “It’s time for us to rediscover the better story,” offered CEO Philippa Stroud, the former boss of right-wing British think tank the Legatum Institute, as she opened the conference Monday. She told those gathered that the West is in a moment of “decline,” and “society has lost its way.”
ARC, she said, would be about rediscovering “foundations,” including “cultural heritage foundations from our liberal democratic history, and foundations from our precious Judeo-Christian history.” It is time, she said, “to remember who we are” and “identify a clear path forward out of strength, hope and vision.”
That rallying cry to save the West kicked off three days of sometimes doom-laden conversations that ran the gamut from climate “wokeism” to the threat of mass migration.
The ideas that swirled around the exhibition center were mainly socially-conservative — with plenty of religious fervor thrown in. Speaker of the U.S. House, Mike Johnson, delivered a video message urging people to improve the world based on “the best of the classical liberal, the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
British Conservative MP Miriam Cates — who sits on ARC’s advisory board — warned about declining fertility rates, which she argued would set the West on course for a “future of certain economic stagnation or destabilizing mass immigration or both.” Too many children, she said, are still going to school in diapers because too many mothers are going to work rather than staying at home.
Family values were a significant theme. Speaking on Tuesday, psychologist Erica Komisar said the media “has an important role to play in helping to turn around the narrative that work outside the home is more important than mothering.”
But there were pointed — if disparate — attacks on the West’s economic status quo, too.
Long-serving U.K. Cabinet minister Michael Gove said capitalism was now in peril from the “resentment industry,” and warned that the “behavior of the privileged” and a situation in which the “gains of economic growth have increasingly been concentrated in the hands of a few” could undermine the whole enterprise.
In a crowd-pleasing speech, U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy took aim at the “woke capitalism” he argues is rife on Wall Street in the wake of the late-2000s financial crash.
Squaring the circle
Despite the big names and big money behind the conference, however, it remains to be seen if this really is the start of a new global movement.
The conference brought anglophone right-wingers together at a time when the traditional conservative shibboleths of free trade and small government are out of fashion in the Donald Trump-captured Republican Party. That stands in stark contrast to the mainstream of the Conservative Party in the U.K. and the Liberal Party in Australia, where both still broadly follow a standard center-right economic playbook.
It’s that split which really casts into doubt the viability of a pan-western conservative movement. And it was on full display Wednesday afternoon on the conference’s main stage.
ARC attendees watched one economist claim that central bankers are “a bunch of criminals” and should be “suppressed” — just minutes before Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch spoke on stage about fairly mainstream economic policies.
Badenoch also issued a thinly-veiled critique of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his crackdown on the Disney Corporation. DeSantis removed Disney’s tax exemption status directly after the corporation’s criticism of the governor’s LGBT education policies — a move criticized as anti-business by some center-right commentators in the U.S.
Asked if Britain’s Conservative government should use state powers to change corporate attitudes to social issues, Badenoch said flatly: “There is a role for government in terms of shaping culture — government needs to set out the vision for the way society will be. But we must again be careful of overcorrecting. If you license government to step into every single situation, what happens when it’s not a government of your choosing?”
Matthew Lesh, director of public policy at the libertarian Institute for Economic Affairs think tank, said Trumpite Americans have “turned away from free trade,” but that “this disease has not quite filtered through to the United Kingdom and Australia in the same way.”
“ARC speakers have talked about human flourishing, prosperity, and safeguarding Western civilization,” he observed. But he warned: “This will ultimately depend on free exchange, entrepreneurial innovation and globalization.”
A tip back
Conversations with attendees throughout the week all seemed to raise the same point — that ARC represents a coalition of people who all agree on at least something, but who don’t yet have an aligned strategy to turn that into a governing platform, or shape opinion beyond the room.
Others sounded more hopeful — if a little high-minded.
Edward Dutton, an academic in attendance, said attendees should be striving to create a “neo-byzantium” in the face of “civilizational decline” across the West.
“We see civilization as being in decline and it has a lot of problems and we want to arrest that and make things better,” he said. “What I suspect is that there will be among the elite a tip back. I think this is kind of already happening, of more conservative traditional ways of doing things.”
ARC’s founders will hope that rings true.
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