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«The Tories today are much more liberal than Labour under Tony Blair»
Ed West, fotografiert von Lukas Leuzinger.

«The Tories today are much more liberal than Labour under Tony Blair»

Conservatives have lost the battle of narratives, says author and journalist Ed West. He worries about the decline of traditional religion – and yet remains optimistic.

Lesen Sie die deutsche Version hier.


In your book «Small Men on the Wrong Side of History», you compare the current culture war in Western democracies to the Reformation. In what way are these periods similar?

A big cultural shift started in the 1960s. It can be compared to the 1520s, when the existing cultural assumptions and structures were being challenged across Europe for the first time. I believe that at the heart of the current culture war is the original sin, the idea that humans are born with a capacity for evil. Even quite liberal people in the early 20th century like Bertrand Russell held this view. People with a post 1960s worldview – the progressives – tend to not believe in original sin. They tend to believe that humans are intrinsically good creatures. All kinds of left wing politics now are based on the idea that if there is a social injustice, it must be rooted in the wider society, because the individual is intrinsically good.


Why did this shift start in the 1960s?

These ideas were around before among a few intellectuals. In the 1960s, these progressive views became much more widespread among the elites and in universities. But even then, they were held by a tiny number of people. The same thing happened in the Reformation in England: It wasn’t done from above, but started with small numbers of sympathizers in university towns and in London amongst the intellectual elites, who then reached a critical mass to win over the authorities. We know that Catholicism was still popular among the majority population for a long time, even though it was forbidden. Shakespeare was obviously still sympathetic to Catholicism. At the same time, he espoused pro-Protestant propaganda.


Do you think the same is true for many declared progressives today?

Yes. Many people in the arts today that I know personally are secretly much more conservative than they make out, but they cannot resist the dominant culture. In the 1960s and afterwards, there was a certain balance between conservatives and progressives amongst elites. But by the 2010s, it was gone. There are certain institutions where you just can’t be a conservative anymore.

«Many people in the arts today that I know personally
are secretly much more conservative than they make out,
but they cannot resist the dominant culture.»


Isn’t your view a bit biased? White, male conservatives like you have historically had a lot of power – now they are losing some of that power.

Of course, nobody wants to lose power. Although the people that I lose power to are still upper middle class whites. They’re just believers in a different world view. We can’t understand the shift in politics without the economic changes since the 1960s, with the de-industrialisation and the growing share of women in the workforce. The biggest economic winners of the last decades have been upper class women, and the biggest losers have been working class men. Those two tend to be the most radicalized groups on both sides of the political spectrum.


Does economics also explain why younger generations, unlike the earlier ones, don’t become more conservative as they get older?

It’s not just the youngest generations. In the latest polls in Britain, less than ten percent of those under 40 vote Tory. And it’s not just because of Brexit or economic reasons, but cultural ones. Younger people don’t necessarily think the Tories are making them poorer, they just think they’re bad people.

«Younger people don’t necessarily think the Tories
are making them poorer, they just think they’re bad people.»


Still, Conservatives have been in power for over a decade now. They led the country out of the EU. How can you say that conservatives are losing?

If we look at actual policies and tone, the Conservative Party today is much more liberal not only than the Conservatives in 2005, but also than the Labour Party at that time. Many of the Labour policies on crime or immigration, let alone gender, were much more right wing under Tony Blair than anything the government does today.


But Blair was pro-European, while the Tories won the last election promising to “get Brexit done”.

Actually, Brexit wasn’t really about the EU, but rather about immigration. The Tories got under enormous pressure from UKIP to call this referendum. And they also realized that they could win over a lot of working-class Labour voters who were sceptical of immigration, which is why they voted for Brexit and then in 2019 for the Conservative Party. But the Conservative Party let them down, because what they wanted to get out of Brexit was just something totally different.



Boris Johnson had this globalist vision of Britain as a global power where everybody can come to work. This is the opposite of what the voters wanted, which is less immigration, as countless polls show.


What’s your view on Brexit two years after Britain left the EU?

I think it’s a disaster. It has certainly made the country worse off economically.


Isn’t that the price to pay if you want less immigration?

To a certain extent yes. And many people will accept that price. A lot of Remainers couldn’t understand this. I think it’s perfectly understandable. If immigration has a big impact on your community, you pay a price to change that. Instead, we still have massive immigration, more than ever.


But immigrants also contribute to economic progress. Switzerland has one of the largest shares of foreign-born population in Europe and is at the same time one of the richest countries.

It depends how selective a country is. Countries that are more selective as to who can come tend to benefit more from immigration.


What would you say is the greatest threat to Western civilization? Does it come from the outside, from Russia or China? Or rather from the inside?

I don’t think civilization will come crashing down. I think it will just evolve into something new.


So you are optimistic?

I’m a techno-optimist. I think technology is definitely getting better. Just look at how much better healthcare has become compared to 30 years ago. Of course, climate change is a major threat. Apart from that, I think that the biggest problems tend to come from within. One of the greatest challenges in the next 30 years will be that we’re running out of young people. During the pandemic, when we waited for the old people to get the vaccine first, I realized how many old people there are. And this will continue to change our societies noticeably in the future.


In what way?

The lifestyle of someone in their 20s or 30s in an urban centre in Europe or America is much worse in many ways than it was 30 years ago. The costs of housing are rising, people can’t afford a family etc. The baby boomers are the lucky demographic. They were just on a stream of lots of young people. We can’t sustain that lifestyle without more young people. In Britain, we tried to import young people, and that keeps the economy going. But it’s a Ponzi scheme, because the immigrants also get older, and our dependency ratio is not getting better.


And there’s no sign of recovering birth rates.

No. The demise of religion is probably the biggest factor here, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to reverse.


As traditional religion fades away, other religious beliefs are gaining ground, in particular political religions.

Yes, this is most clearly visible in the United States, which was for a long time much more religious than other Western countries. In the last 20 years, there was a massive decline in religious beliefs. The offshoots of that are the opioid crisis among the poor, and the political radicalization among the rich.


Do you think that’s a direct consequence?

Definitely. The exact same people who, 20 years ago, mocked the idea of transubstantiation – the Christian belief that the bread turned into Jesus’ body – now literally think that a man can become a woman. And they show the same religious level of anger. I think people need a strong belief system to survive. At the same time, as traditional religion recedes, we see a social disintegration.


What are the symptoms of this?

Poorer areas in the United States, and in other countries probably too, now have far higher levels of loneliness or suicide. There are also areas in big cities like San Francisco that look very dystopian. But if you walk a few blocks, everything looks fine. Also, there are polls that show that more and more young people have no sexual contacts. Even worse, more and more say that they have no friends. But if you ask some other young person, they are probably having a great time. The fragmentation of society is astounding.

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