Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images)

Towards a right-wing Blob

Arguments are useless without institutions

Artillery Row

“The Blob”, Dominic Cummings’ nickname for a very British deep state, has gone mainstream. His career in government — first at the Department of Education, and then at Number 10 — was hindered by entrenched left-wing power resistant to change. Right-wing reforms are blocked by an army of civil servants, lawyers, NGOs and trade unions. Departments like the Home Office become completely unworkable when its own staff are committed to undermining reform. This is all well-trodden ground and has become a recent staple amongst younger voices on the British right. 

Understanding where power lies in Britain is key to overcoming lacklustre debates about culture wars. Shock-jocks talk of “the woke” like an unidentifiable spirit which hangs in the air, rather than taking aim at specific causes of our societal rot. Those of us interested in reforming the state must move beyond old-fashioned thinking and try to find policy solutions to these problems.

Orban has built a thriving conservative establishment

Over the last two decades, Hungary has gone through a radical conservative transformation. Fidesz is viewed by some opponents — keen readers of Antonio Gramsci — as a counter-hegemonic project. They have successfully ejected the left from positions of influence and taken control of the superstructures. 

Hungary was governed by a socialist-liberal coalition from 2002 to 2010. The government began to lose its popularity in 2006, following the publication of a private speech where Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted to lying to the public to ensure his re-election. This led to months of nationwide protests — the first sustained demonstrations in Hungary since 1989 — which energised the right-wing. Subsequent years of economic crisis created fertile ground for Fidesz to win a landslide victory. 

The new government went on the offensive against civil society. One piece of legislation required NGOs who receive more than 23,000 Euros from foreign sources to register themselves with the authorities and declare their status as a “foreign-funded organisation” on everything they publish. Hungarian billionaire George Soros was also heavily criticised by state media for his donations to refugee charities. Orban used his parliamentary majority to rewrite the constitution and remake the judiciary, granting Fidesz free reign to dismantle the remaining liberal stronghold in Budapest — even driving the Soros-founded Central European University to now host 90 per cent of their courses in Vienna

In its place, Orban has built a thriving conservative establishment. Right-wing think tanks, such as the Danube Institute, produce stylish research papers and policy recommendations. Magazines, such as the Hungarian Conservative, boast new commentators and polemicists. No expense has been spared on this cultural project. In 2019, Hungary poured 1.2 per cent of their GDP into culture — more than any other country in Europe. Through this investment, high culture has been made accessible to the masses. The cheapest tickets at the Hungarian State Opera House will only set you back $6. Fidesz has also kept tight control of academia. Eleven of Hungary’s top universities have been brought under the jurisdiction of public foundations, the boards of which have been filled with government allies. 

Altogether, this lays the foundation for a permanent government. The reforms brought in by Fidesz are nothing less than a wholesale transformation of the state. If they were to lose the next election, the following government would struggle to overturn their legacy. Sound familiar?

It is no surprise that the Republican Party is quickly developing an infatuation with the man. Orban provides a stark contrast to Trump, who was never able to overcome “The Swamp”. The Hungarian prime minister has happily accepted this position. Culture wars in the West have provided him with an opportunity to build international support from disaffected conservatives. 

Institutions should uphold what made Britain successful

I take a more sceptical view. It is easy for those who oppose our left-wing status quo to be seduced by continental social conservatives. However, it is important not to view Central Europe through rose-tinted glasses. Hungary’s worsening corruption is overlooked by many commentators. A new generation of Fidesz-adjacent oligarchs have built their wealth on being handed overpriced government contracts. Billionaire Lőrinc Mészáros, the former mayor of Felcsút and a close friend of Orban, is one of many examples. Large vanity projects — from a half-empty football stadium to a deserted train station — have lined his pockets with taxpayer money. Crony capitalism in an impoverished country is far from the meritocracy many right-wingers want to build, so we would be remiss to ignore it. Let the economic collapse of Venezuela — and the ensuing embarrassment for the Corbynite commentariat — be a lesson for projecting your utopian fantasies onto an unstable foreign country. 

Scepticism aside, there are clear links to contemporary debates in Britain and lessons for how conservatives can alter the balance of power. The recent twitter spat between Jonathan Portes and Neil O’Brien is particularly relevant. Portes claimed O’Brien was a threat to free speech after the Conservative MP objected to divisive, anti-white art projects being funded with taxpayer money through Arts Council England. This organisation will ring alarm bells to students of The Blob having been the culprits behind the “rainbow dildo butt monkey” and other hard-hitting cultural masterpieces. 

O’Brien has been asking the right questions — last week drawing attention to public funds being used by a PHD researcher whose methodology involved masturbating to cartoon images of young boys. However, playing lip-service to the culture wars is not enough. The Tories already missed a golden opportunity to reshape the arts sector during lockdown. Awarding £357,000 to Croydon Council — the same organisation which splashed £10,000 on an art festival featuring sex toy performances and a toilet show — seems short-sighted. Any country which respected itself would have axed the Arts Council long ago and replaced it with a new public body.

One battlefield that Johnson’s Government does understand is appointments. Despite facing huge resistance, he has fought to put conservative figures into positions of influence. The new Director-General of the BBC is a former Tory councillor, whilst the new BBC chairman is a Conservative donor and former boss of Rishi Sunak. These are not just party-political appointments, either. David Goodhart, an independent-minded journalist unafraid to criticise mass immigration, has been made a commissioner on the EHRC. At the same time, they have removed those who are insistent on undermining Britain — such as blocking the re-appointment of Aminul Hoque as the trustee for the Royal Museums Greenwich, following his drive to decolonise the curriculum.

Institutions should uphold the values which made Britain a successful country. To cut the history lesson short: it was classical liberalism. Our wealth was built on the creation of a meritocracy which rewarded intelligence and productivity. In their increasingly popular crusade against The Blob, conservatives should build a clear vision for what to replace it with. 

Take, for example, the power that The Blob holds over policymakers through their charities. Politicians rely on reports produced by these organisations to guide legislation, often unaware of their intentions. The APPG on Trafficked Britons is a timeless case-study for Conservative MPs being successfully lobbied by left-wing charities into coming out against their own interests. These groups hold a monopoly over Westminster’s ideas on policy. It is not a secret that right-wing think tanks are tired organisations which opened themselves up to a speedy takeover from neoliberals. There is currently no viable alternative to The Blob for MPs who need to consult policy expertise.

The first step to creating a flourishing conservative ecosystem in Britain would be a new wave of intelligent, tech-savvy think tanks who can create reports and lobby Tory politicians. Issues such as immigration and crime are dominated by one perspective with no dissenting public voices. Disseminating fresh ideas — which will undoubtedly be popular with the public — may hold the key to destabilising the status quo. In the 20th century, groups like the IEA were able to smash the post-war consensus by courting Conservatives with free-market ideology. Perhaps our post-Blair nightmare can be ended through similar persuasion. 

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