Whilst writing this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has survived a no-confidence vote, brought about by, of all things, having an ‘unloicensed’ booze-up. Although he’s allowed to stay in the job, his prospects are grim. Most of the Tory backbenchers not on the PM’s payroll voted against him, and the Conservatives continue to trail behind Keir Starmer’s Labour – a man with as much positive energy as a recently divorced mortician, a deflated man for a deflated party.
That said, the Conservatives’ tanking popularity cannot be reduced to “a bad look”. I’m sure such a notion is very consoling for the parliamentary party. Never mind the insufferable coverage of “Partygate”, the government’s track-record over the past few months has been utterly terrible – far more severe than a regrettable office party to any serious person. Most people could vote for a lockdown-breaking Prime Minister provided he was governing in their interests, but he’s not.
Giving a blank cheque to Ukraine to fight a losing war with Russia, betraying his Brexit-voting supporters on immigration – continuing to permit absurd numbers to pour across the border, legally or illegally, and an underusing a historic supermajority; consequently failing to break the stranglehold of NGOs and a Blairite civil service, and reinforcing the government’s failure to implement supply-side solutions to Costalivin, the people with the most reason to hate this government are the conservatives that (theoretically) should be supporting it. All this said, we’ve been in similar circumstances before. Economic turbulence, government scandal, political disaffection, and an absence of progressive vision, it should be remembered that all these factors contributed to the rise of a new and dynamic political force. Of course, I am talking about the Revolutionary Conservative Caucus.
Co-founded by Jonathan Bowden and Stuart Millson in November 1992, the Revolutionary Conservative Caucus (RCC) was a fringe right-wing pressure group aiming to introduce a new, radical, and idiosyncratic brand of conservatism into British politics. In Bowden’s words: to introduce “abstract thought into the nether reaches of the Conservative and Unionist party”.
Before the establishment of the RCC, Bowden and Millson both operated in right-wing circles. Bowden became active in local Conservative Party politics in the late-80s and early-90s after dropping out of Cambridge University, during which time he joined the Monday Club. After failing to get elected to the club’s executive council, Bowden was appointed co-chairman of the club’s media committee alongside Millson in 1991.
Meanwhile, Millson was an officer at the Western Goals Institute (WGI), a right-wing anti-communist group that formed out of Western Goals UK – a British offshoot of the USA-based Western Goals Foundation. Although it was based in Britain, the WGI was not bound to the Conservative Party or British politics, opting to associate with a wide range of right-wing parties across the world, such as the Conservative Party of South Africa and France’s Front National. The Board of British Jewish Deputies described the WGI as “not fascists or anti-Semitic” but as inhabiting the “nether-world” of the fringe right.
When Bowden and Millson were expelled from the Monday Club in 1992, the controversialist and vanguardist energy of the WGI, combined with the desire to influence British politics within conservatism’s remit, lay the foundation for the RCC identity. Self-described as “Conservative, Nationalist, Unionist, and New Right”, the RCC saw itself as anglicised parallel, rather than a direct outgrowth, of the European New Right – a right-wing pan-European nationalist movement that ascended to prominence in the 1970s following the establishment of GRECE – Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne (Research and Study Group for European Civilization) in 1968, led by Alain De Benoist and Dominique Venner.
Despite its short lifespan (1992-1994), the RCC acquired national notoriety. The Labour Party and Conservative Party liberals attacked the RCC as far-right infiltrators, whilst the more Eurosceptic and traditionalist factions of the Conservative Party, despite ideological and strategic differences, were more sympathetic to their cause. In terms of activity, the RCC published policy papers and even hosted some well-attended fringe events at Conservative Party Conference. However, it mainly centred around the publication of a newspaper aptly named: The Revolutionary Conservative.
Despite being a short-lived publication, the content was surprisingly diverse. A defence of a right-wing alternative to the European Union, a nationalist economic proposal, as well as attacks on Major’s leadership, British intervention in Bosnia, “The Bolshevik Broadcasting Company”, immigration-led demographic change, Liberal Conservatism, all designed to “set the blood pressure pounding in those Oxfam veins”, are just a few examples of the articles published whilst the RCC was active.
However, unlike conventional party-political groups, the RCC was united by a belief in the political power of culture. As such, one could also find think-pieces on The Windsors and national decline, military heroism in the works of Ernst Junger, rumours about Michael Jackson, the sexual politics of Camille Paglia and Andrea Dworkin, and cream teas with Alan Clark. The literary section formed a notably large chunk of the newspaper, with reviews ranging from novels to biographies, from politics to socio-biology, as well as ponderings on art (Wyndham Lewis) and music (Richard Wagner vs Tina Turner).
However, what is most notable about The Revolutionary Conservative is its overtly anti-PC articulation, being humorously cruel and sometimes bordering on total misanthropy. Indeed, the RCC referred to its flagship paper as “the most politically-incorrect magazine in Britain”. The “Introduction to Revolutionary Conservatism” reads as follows:
“Are you sick and tired of being bullied by women who look like men in your local library? Are you sick of transvestite vicars running the country down as they reach for their macro-biotic dieting recipe books? Are you sick of anti-racist Noddy? Does your gorge rise when you see Peter Tatchell engaged in a die-in opposite the Palace of Westminster? Are you sick of your local council hosting Chad-awareness days at your expense?”
…We say, burn the Red Flag! Kick those trendy vicars in the seat of their pants (although they would probably enjoy that), let Peter Tatchell die of AIDs (the sooner the better) and put tanks on the streets of Handsworth. If you agree with these modest proposals… then you should subscribe to The Revolutionary Conservative”
The extent to which the rhetoric is to be taken in earnest or is merely a matter of performance is neither here nor there. One gets the impression that they enjoyed the ambiguity, whether it was a practical necessity or not. Even if the following write in was an advertising tactic or genuine, it’s still hilarious:
“Dear Sir… I obtained a copy of your noxious publication… I almost threw up my breakfast. To refer to Madonna as a slag is over the top… She is merely a distracted and somewhat sad girl in need of prayer, recuperation, and the sort of church socials my wife organises… the general tone of your magazine is harsh, masculine, ultra-reactionary, yet abusive yet stentorian…”
“Dear Vic… The idea of you gagging on your All bran and Hovis gave us considerable pleasure in the Editorial Department. We have decided to use your description of the magazine – harsh, masculine, ultra-reactionary, and yet radical, etc. – as an advertisement”
Gradually, a fringe-right ecosystem would develop around the RCC. The most notable outgrowths were Right Now! – a magazine dedicated to “politics, ideas, and culture” that ran from 1993 to 2006, featuring contributions and interviews from various people across the political right, and the Conservative Democratic Alliance – a group of ex-Monday Club members, opposed to what they saw as “sleaze, double-dealing, arrogance, incompetence, Europhilia, indifference and drift” within the Tory Party – particularly its leadership, which it often decried as neoconservative.
Contrasted to the political zeitgeist of New Labour and Compassionate Conservatism, the RCC and Right Now! soon acquired reputations as being “extremist”. Robin Cook attacked William Hague for failing to contain “extremists” within his party – Right Now! serving as a reference point for the claim. Overtime, the fringe-right Tory scene declined, partially due to sustained attacks from the left and centre-right, partially due to the unwillingness of more right-wing Tories to associate with a movement that was increasingly critical of their party, and partially due to disorganisation, infighting, and a feeling of hopelessness to achieve change within or alongside the Tories.
In retrospect, were they “extremists”? In my view, I would say no. Upon inspection, the RCC was closer to “culturally-oriented” paleoconservatism or right-wing populism than anything fascistic. Granted, the RCC’s presentation and political priorities certainly differed from the bourgeois moralising of traditional conservatism; being far more concerned with mass immigration, nationalist rhetoric, and embracing bohemianism for culturally right-wing ends, than re-sanctifying Christian morals or pushing free-market Euroscepticism. The RCC et al. often found themselves torn between what they saw as “the free-market worship” of Thatcherite Dries and the social wetness of the… Wets.
In 1994, the RCC dissolved as Bowden and Millson went their separate ways. Bowden would continue to operate in right-wing political circles, briefly joining the cultural nationalist Freedom Party, momentarily serving as its treasurer. However, Bowden would eventually join the BNP in 2003 after being offered the role of “Cultural Officer” by then-leader Nick Griffin. Bowden left the party in 2007 citing concerns about the party’s finances, political strategy, and Griffin’s dictatorial control of party elections; he compared the BNP to a “tin-pot dictatorship”. Whilst he would continue to attend events organised by local BNP groups, he dedicated most of his time to artistic pursuits and ultimately cut all ties with the party in 2010. Similarly, Millson would orient himself more towards culture, mainly reviewing music and art.
Given how ‘forthright’ the RCC was, it’s interesting to imagine how they would react to the present government. After all, the Conservative Party of the early 2000s was bad enough in their eyes. Naturally, one can imagine they would be mortified, but would they be wrong? Britain is on track to becoming a third-world country and its main right-leaning political force are behaving like communists. I’m willing to bet that an RCC-style organisation would do very well. Then again, the same laws which make opposition to the regime so difficult are often the ones which have caused the specific problems we currently face.
Marked by weakness and a lack of imagination, the only thing currently between the Tories and political annihilation is their ability to note how terrible the opposition is. It has been the Tory Party’s go-to tactic for a while now. Eager replenishers of the status quo, Britain’s main “opposition” is underpinned by a sincere and existential hatred of the nation. Civil-servant galvanising, NHS-worshipping, border-abolishing, rape-gang denialist NIMBYs, they fly into tireless frenzy should it be rumoured that the Conservatives have opted to be slightly less useless than usual.
Some will point to the RCC as an exemplary case of how Tory Party radicalism is destined to fail. Whilst it is easy to understand this view, very few have been able to pose convincing alternatives. Reclaim is a joke, Reform is in many ways worse than the Tories, the SDP have one (1) council seat, the Heritage Party has zero (0), and UKIP hasn’t been relevant since 2015. If you’re going to join a political party, you might as well join one with a chance of winning. Once you accept that, the RCC transforms from another failed movement into useful case study to learn from. Right-wing dissidents should not conflate ‘political failure’ with ‘political worthlessness’. If one-hundred failures should inspire one glorious triumph, then those failures are not so worthless after all.
Above all else, the central problem identified by the RCC persists to our current political situation – conservatism can only win if it’s cooler than the left. There’s nothing attractive about delay, hesitation, or lamentation. Political energy belongs to the transgressive and the constructive. Conservatives, more than anybody else, should know that if one thing is constant in humans, it is the desire to feel a part of something exciting – such as a revolution, like “the one in France” or not. Bemoaning the Left’s successes and cultural power, calling them mean, hypocritical, high-status, and so on; projecting yourself as some blighted Chattertonian romantic for the attention of your enemies is nothing more than embellished whining. Whining with a cause is still whining and no revolution in history materialised from whining and whining alone.