The present long period of Conservative Party rule in Britain, which has now endured for almost 16 years, has fooled many into believing that we live in a right-wing, conservative country. Even moderate leftists sometimes declaim against the “Tory regime.” the fascistic conspiracy they believe deliberately excludes or discommodes their various pet minorities. The white, middle-class, old Etonian, pinstripe-suited, club-going male who allegedly controls Britain is still Public Enemy Number One, in many people’s eyes, and is still someone definitely worth hating.

The truth, of course, is rather different. The old “ruling class” has long been eclipsed (although it persists in corners), and British unity and culture is still threatened. Many conservatives understand this, and survey the smoking ruins with sadness and disgust, thinking, with the hymn-writer, that “Change and decay in all around I see.” Just as in the United States, a small minority of these truly conservative conservatives actively campaign for a dispensation that might afford greater protection to our heritage. These assorted campaigners differ greatly in kind, resources, and aims, and rarely work in tandem. But they have certain things in common—an implicit or explicit belief in the principles of hierarchy and historical legitimacy, romantic patriotism, and a sense that there is too much liberalism in daily life, which they feel exacerbates crime, over-inflates egos, rewards bad behavior, and lowers all kinds of generally accepted standards.

In Britain, according to J.R. Jones in The European Right, “The task of the Right has not been to formulate new principles or develop new political systems, but to try to ensure that the Tory Party followed and practiced those it had inherited from the past, but which its leaders tended to neglect or evade.” Even new right-wing ideas are usually couched in conservative language and launched from within conservative groupings—from Disraeli’s “On Nation” and Joseph Chamberlain’s “Imperial Preference” campaigners to the Thatcherites, Powellites, and so-called “Euroskeptics” of the present day. The rightists haw never had much success in Britain, not even in the 1930’s, when all of Europe except England seemed full of same-shirted cohorts doing calisthenics. The British do not much like excitable ideologues, but like their statesmen “weathered and polished, like old wood,” as Andre Maurois noted in his Disraeli.

The conservative right is disdainful of abstraction and intellectually untidy. Eminently practical, it is more interested in what is, than in what might be. Many conservatives stay as far away as possible from ideas, in favor of nostalgic attachments and pragmatic practices, foolishly believing that if they control the Ministry of Defense and the Treasury, everything else can take care of itself. Conservatives are less interested in comprehensive explanations or intellectual tours de force than in having a quiet life.

The Conservative and Unionist Party, ostensibly the main instrument of political conservatism, is sorely divided between liberals who are in power and more traditionalist lories who make up the bulk of the party membership and Conservative voters. This is particularly noticeable at Conference time, when the delegates on the floor of the conference hall might as well belong to a different party, so far are they removed from those on the platform. Corporate donations are drying up, and the Duke of Westminster, one of the richest men in Britain, no longer gives to the party, in protest at a property law reform. The party is some £16 million hi debt, is losing members rapidly, and is at its lowest-ever standing in the opinion polls.

Eight M.P.s, all of them opponents of European union, recently had the Whip taken away from them, for courageously voting against the government on increased E.G. funding (and one other resigned the Whip at the same time), which has put the government into a minority position on many of those inconspicuous cross-parts committees that determine governmental policies and strategy. This leaves the conservative right with some room to maneuver, and makes its central argument—that the government is in trouble because it is insufficiently conservative—that much more credible.

There are several small-c conservative groups outside the party proper. One such organization, the Freedom Association, hit the headlines when it tried to have Douglas Hurd arraigned for treason, for being a signatory to the Maastricht Treaty. Industrialist Sir James Goldsmith’s new book, The Trap. which argues against free trade, has caused ripples, and he has set up a London branch of his Referendum Party. There are various single-issue groups which, although not party-political, are made up of people with broadly conservative views, respectively campaigning to preserve the old Fraser Book, defend the monarchy, fight against European union, protect British culture, return to traditional teaching methods, and retain blood sports. There are many conservative commentators in the newspapers, although not on television, all the way across the spectrum from the populist Sun to the broadsheet Sunday Telegraph. There are two quarterly conservative magazines, the intellectual, influential Salisbury Review and the intelligent, if more polemical, Right Now! However, the main impetus for the political (as opposed to metapolitical) right-wing movement is within the party itself, where a multiplicity of groups continue agitating for sterner policies, especially on crime, Europe, and immigration.

One of the Whip-less M.P.s, Bill Cash, organizes a lobby group called The European Foundation and publishes an informative magazine called ‘The European journal. There are other fairly influential single-issue groups within the party, like the Conservative Family Campaign, which lobbies for laws protecting the family, and the Conservative Christian Fellowship, whose members want to invest (or re-invest) the party with a Christian sensibility. Thatcherite groups, like the Bruges Group (so named because of a strongly antifederalist speech Margaret Thatcher once made in the Flemish town), the No Turning Back Group, and Conservative Way Forward, continue to promulgate the gospel of Thatcherism to the party, where many members retain great affection for “Maggie.” Many other right-of-center groups are strongly influenced by Thatcherism, like the Selsdon Group (named after the hotel whence they issued the 1973 “Selsdon Declaration”), the Young Conservatives (so bumptious that the Conservative Central Office is threatening to dissolve the organization, as they did the Federation of Conservative Students), and the National Association of Conservative Graduates (of which Lady Thatcher is Patroness).

The other great British conservative is J. Enoch Powell, now, regrettably, in his 80’s, but as lucid as ever. He enunciates a genuine Tory strain within the party, wedded to tradition, classicism, and constitution, and threw away a promising career by making a famous speech (colloquially known as the “rivers of blood” speech) alluding to the possible adverse consequences of Commonwealth immigration. He has influenced, and continues to influence, several groups on the Tory right. The best known is the Monday Club, formed in response to Harold Macmillan’s famous “winds of change” speech, which presaged the banishing of South Africa from the Commonwealth. Although dormant in recent years, it has recently been bequeathed £100,000, so may again rise to prominence. Other groups, like the London Swinton Circle (named after the college where prospective conservative M.P.s were once tutored), Tory Action (founded in 1974 by the former deputy head of MI6), and Right Ahead, exist to “hear and question Conservatives and Ulster Unionists” and generally keep them on the qui vive.

In theory, this is great conservative strength, which makes it all the more remarkable that the country has been given up to the Vandals. But conservatives in Britain, as everywhere, are working against the tide of history, which is for homogenization, uniformity, universalism, collectivism, and millenarianism, and our complex philosophy is not easily reduced to slogans. British conservatives are also overfond of reaction and not fond enough of ratiocination, are isolated within the institutions captured by Marxists and now held by their descendants, and, most importantly, are accustomed to losing. Ever since Bonnie Prince Charlie, British conservatives have been on the defeated side, and the consciousness of this has made them defensive; they have none of that self-confidence and self-righteousness without which there can be no ultimate victory. Without recapturing such confidence through local victories, without a long, painful, counteroffensive back through the institutions, British conservatism can be nothing more than a holding operation, a valiant but ultimately vain attempt to salvage some fragments of England from the rising, swirling waters.