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There is a long tradition of simplifying politics into an adversarial game between two opposing tribes, the left and the right. This model has certain attractions. It gives you political friends and opponents, and makes it pretty clear which are which. Of course this model, often deployed subconsciously, has always been highly misleading. But recently, in the Western world at least, it’s become outright dangerous. It blinds moderates, from both the left and right, to the threat from their ‘own’ side. Conservatives fail to appreciate the danger from the hard-right, and social democrats from the hard-left. They see such radicals as hard-line and eccentric allies rather than ideological adversaries. This allows zealots to entrench themselves within mainstream conservative and social-democratic movements, and potentially to take them over. This happened to the Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn, and the Republican Party with Donald Trump. As such, conservatives should clearly identify the threat from the hard-right, and be careful not to regard them as fellow travellers or harmless allies.

At this point I should define what I mean by ‘conservatives’. Definition is king, and doubtless it is possible to concoct an interpretation of conservatism which includes the likes of Trump and the Front National. But I have a more specific meaning in mind. Conservatives to me are those who believe society is best organised along liberal-democratic-capitalist values. Clearly this ideology is challenged by the statist left, who believe the state is better at running substantial parts of the economy than the free market. But it is also challenged by the nationalist-authoritarian right, who refuse to accept the norms and institutions which underwrite the stability of the liberal-democratic, or Western, world.

To be clear, I would argue there are some on the right who are as dangerous, or perhaps more dangerous, to conservative values than the left. Currently one of the greatest threats to the liberal-democratic world order comes from President-elect Donald Trump. The Republican Party is, or at least used to be, one of the great institutions of world conservatism. The party which did much to stand up to protect the liberal-democratic world from Soviet communism, and then to facilitate the spread of liberal-democratic values into new pastures such as Eastern Europe. I may have had disagreements with mainstream Republican thought, particularly over its social conservatism, but there was no doubt that the party was committed to the liberal-democratic form of government. Until now. What happened to the Republican Party is beyond tragedy. Mainstream Republicans, seeking allies against the left, allowed the hard-right to infiltrate the American conservative movement. They tolerated, or turned a blind eye to, zealotry and outright bigotry. They allowed the hard-right to spread absurd racially charged theories about Obama’s place of birth and hence legitimacy as President, and even to shut down the federal government in 2013. By tolerating the hard-right they allowed them to gain strength, until they were able to take over.

As a result, the ‘leader of the free world’ is a man who quite clearly has little or no interest in freedom, and consequently should not be regarded as a conservative. Trump is a typical authoritarian-nationalist who violated just about every democratic norm during the Presidential election campaign. Amongst his more serious offences were vowing to imprison his opponent, and even hinting at her assassination, saying he wouldn’t respect the result of the election unless he won and making wild unsubstantiated allegations about electoral rigging whenever he looked likely to lose. The world leader he has done most to associate himself with is the Russian autocrat Vladamir Putin, for the very good reason that the two men to some extent share a worldview.

British conservatives need to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes as our American cousins, or dare I say it, comrades. Authoritarian-nationalism exists in Britain, and is a threat to us as well as Europe and America. When I hear Nigel Farage taking the Russian position that the war in Ukraine is the result of NATO/EU ‘expansionism’, or campaigning for Trump, I don’t see a wayward conservative. I see an ideological adversary. Someone who is talking down the institutions and values which underlie the liberal-democratic, or Western, world. The authoritarian right may appear weak in Britain, but it would be wrong to underestimate them. We should be wary of seeing them as a potential ally against the left, and indeed in some situations we should conclude that the centre-left are the lesser of two evils. Two years ago the notion that the Labour and Republican parties would fall to a hard-left zealot and an authoritarian-nationalist demagogue would have seemed absurd. British conservatives should be careful not to replicate this complacency.

James Bickerton is a liberal-conservative blogger and former researcher in the House of Commons. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.