Those who think that the Tories have been too timid in the culture wars, would do well to take a look at Reclaim. The Reclaim party, founded and led by actor Laurence Fox, believe that the Conservative party ‘aren’t being remotely conservative’ and take aim at the Tories over climate change, lockdown, statues, and all manner of institutional wokery over which the government have presided. Reclaim sites itself on the Conservative’s right flank – with a view to pressuring the government to get serious about conservatism. Afterall it does seem quite the curiosity that ‘being offensive is an offense’ police campaigns, cancel culture, and a breakdown of law and order have been allowed to ferment unmolested under a decade of Conservative governance. And early indicators would suggest that Reclaim are achieving their desired result.
The government’s tone has shifted notably from last summer, when it was petrified in place by BLM, to something which is now a bit more robust. Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has been empowered to take the fight to the institutions. He recently summoned some 25 organisations, including the National Trust, to a meeting to establish a programme to protect heritage for future generations. This annoyed all the right people, causing the Museum Association to complain that ‘[Dowden] implies that government funding may be withheld if museums do not comply; and denies museums the responsibility to take carefully considered decisions about contested heritage in consultation with staff and their communities’. He’s has also introduced a ‘free speech champion’ initiative in English universities – this ‘champion’ will be a regulator, equipped with the power to issue universities or student unions with fines if they wrongly restrict speech, or discipline or sack workers for their views. Mr. Dowden also questioned the future of the BBC, a future which under the premiership of Boris we know to be assured, but that he’s keeping them on their toes and critiquing its lack of ‘genuine diversity’ are not insignificant interventions.
So how much of this can Reclaim take credit for? Well, they can take credit for as much as they like, which they do. Intriguingly the Conservative party social media output now makes heavy use of the word ‘reclaim’ themselves – as though the Tories want to reclaim the Reclaim supporters, or more likely, their donors. Because while Reclaim doesn’t show up in the polls, nor do they have any apparent plans for the May elections, what they do have is cash. By September of last year Reclaim had already raised £5Million, much of it reportedly deriving from the wallets of former Tory donors. And it’s here that Reclaim can stick the knife into the Tories – which is actually a damning indictment of the Conservative parties’ own inner workings – Reclaim have identified a wound and continue to mercilessly press upon it.
But it is quite apparent that Reclaim are running out of road. Although they have the cash to agitate throughout the entirety of this Parliament, and they’ll no doubt continue to serve as a right-wing Tory pressure group, as a party they don’t have much else to offer. They made a big thing of opposing the lockdown, but with public opinion firmly on the side of tough restrictions, and the vaccine rollout set to enable unlocking in record time, that campaign is sure to speedily go the way of the dodo. Moreover, they have little to nothing to say about economic policy, which is something they’ll need to rectify if they hope to elect representatives to local councils or devolved assemblies. And now that the government have dispatched Dowden to shoot Reclaim’ s Fox – there isn’t much left for them to do but agitate.
Reclaim is a party which is hard to categorise. They occupy the intersection between social conservatism, libertarianism and civic nationalism. It makes the party look a tad confused. Are they for state intervention in the market to enforce certain social values – or are they for the free market place of ideas? Are they for open borders or restrictions on the right of movement? Since the party is one man’s brainchild, it’s hard to identify clear ideological continuity. But that doesn’t really matter in the final analysis. If like me you want to see statues stay up, and the institutions taken down, then you probably don’t mind how imperfect the culture warriors might be. So, while Reclaim might be on a road to nowhere in the polls, it would seem that their donor network has won half the battle already. Apart from being a positive force in the view of us social conservatives, perhaps the second claim to fame of Reclaim is to expose the total lack of democracy and the undue influence of big donors at the heart of the Conservative party – and we can thank them for that too.