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If anyone knows how to destroy the Tories, it’s Dominic Cummings. The Brexiteer leader and Boris Johnson’s former strategist has scored two huge victories for his cause, but at a high price. Now, exiled and angry, he sets out to crush and replace it.

There is no reason to take his tirade about new “start-up” parties too seriously. Britain’s electoral system means talk of replacing the Conservative Party after a crushing election defeat next year is overblown. There has been only one such electoral breakthrough in modern history, when Labor replaced the Liberals, an achievement based on the 1918 suffrage reforms that tripled the size of the electorate and attracted millions of working-class voters.

But the entertainment of such a once unimaginable idea is remarkable in its own right. Cummings isn’t the only one with such a dream. The core strategy of the Brexit Party’s successors to reform Britain is to divert enough Tory votes to ensure a rout, thereby forcing a realignment of the right.

More important than these daydreams is the fact that they are fostered by a right-wing political and media ecosystem increasingly invested in populist conservatism (no longer seems like an oxymoron). Conservative thinkers, journalists, and bloggers exaggerate social divisions, attack institutions, and portray the global enemy within—the liberal elite.

But the real battle to crush the old Conservative Party will be from within. Cummings knows that taking over an existing party is a more effective route because he tried it under Boris Johnson when he brought the Brexit team into Downing Street.

So the clever circling vultures are not looking to create a new party but to take control of existing parties. At their core is an anti-establishment ethos that sees the future of conservatism no longer as a defender of the existing order but as the scourge of Brexit radicals, elites and globalists, the voice of the mythical English middle class, the African graduates rather than non-graduates. graduates, suburbs and towns than city dwellers. For many, this is the only logical destination for their new electoral coalition.

Groups waiting to go on the offensive want to exploit rather than heal the divisions exposed by Brexit. The new (or “national”) Conservatives fought for traditional values, reduced immigration, and nativist self-sufficiency. Free Market Trust Conservatives dream of low taxes, a smaller state and deregulation. The conflict between the more interventionist “neoconservatives” and the less socially conservative smaller states means that there is no coherent economic model. But there is also a common enemy, a unified mission to complete the historic transformation into a true Brexit party.

Today’s enemies are the same groups that conservatives once defended. The old order is redefined as the “liberal” institutions – judges, big business, the media, globalist politicians and, above all, the civil service – that oppose Brexit and impose their progressive ideology on ordinary people. There are many valid criticisms of the inertia of Whitehall machines, but this approach goes beyond necessary reform and derides them as a force of complacency holding the UK back. The party that once represented the old order is becoming a hammer rather than a pillar of the establishment.

This difference is reflected in increasingly hard-line stances on individual policies such as immigration, resistance to net zero emissions or multilateral treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights. One may object to individual arguments, but the important shift is the spirit behind them. Many will question the need for major surgery in this country, but this kind of radicalism is reckless.

Those on the center-right feel this challenge keenly.this group of one country Last week warned against a “return to nationalist populism”. Conservative think tanks such as Onward are trying to develop an alternative agenda. But their efforts appear to be shaped by their fear of and opposition to the New Right.

Much will depend on the outcome of the upcoming election and the narrative following defeat. The right will use heavy losses to argue that Rishi Sunak is captive to Whitehall orthodoxy and not conservative enough.

This shift has every potential to alienate voters, while demographic trends make it an electoral dead end. But it is a shift for center-right parties in the West, which regrouped after the financial crisis and used nativism and social conservatism to build new coalitions outside their old bases. This is particularly attractive to opposition parties because the Conservatives no longer have to face awkward trade-offs and economic differences can be swept under the rug.

Some might say the old Conservative Party has been dismantled under Johnson. Yet Sunak has tempered some of his excesses. Some hope the Conservatives will work to rebuild a broader base of support as Brexit approaches. Even if it fails, the party could choose a more mainstream path. But the political energy within conservatism, its bastion mentality to confront global challenges, and the logical consequences of a new Brexit coalition are all pulling it in one direction.

The next reinvention of conservatism could mark a change in British politics, away from two parties seeking to speak on behalf of the whole country, towards a more permanent reset embedded with polarization in which the Conservatives rather than Labor are anchored as the angry vocal insurrection molecular.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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