Orbán-style birthrate populism with nasty racist undertones has arrived in Britain. How worried should we be?
’A younger population means a more innovative population. I’ve done my bit by having six children, so now you do yours,’ Jacob Rees-Mogg recently told his GB News audience when discussing the declining population. With eight billion humans on Earth, in the middle of a climate crisis, one might look at declining global birth rates as something to celebrate. Besides, the right to control our own fertility, and choose when and how many children we have or don’t have, should absolutely be without coercion or control.
But for the pronatalist forces on the Right freaking out about falling childbirth rates and lobbying for us to recreate, the trend to have less babies is an existential threat, and desperately needs reversing as an alternative to immigration.
The rich world is making fewer and fewer babies. In America, a government report from 2019 showed that the population was no longer making enough babies to replace itself, without additions through immigration.
Europe tells a similar story, where, for decades, birth rates have declined and are now well below the 2.1 average number of births per woman needed to keep the population stable without immigration. In England and Wales, the number of babies born in 2022 dropped to the lowest levels in two decades.
Economic uncertainty, climate change and expensive childcare, on top of women finding other fulfilling paths, or just not being interested in having kids, are cited as the top reasons for the decline in millennial birth fertility rates – logical, practical reasons surely, if we should even have to give reasons for choosing not to have children that is. But for many on the Right, a drop in baby making, is – in Tory MP Miriam Cates’ own words – ‘the most pressing issue our nation faces.’
As so often with far-right ideologies in Europe, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, are leading the aggressive pronatalism charge.
Enter the Demographic Summit.
Earlier this month, the bi-annual gathering of right-wing thought leaders was held in Budapest. Much of the discussion was on Europe’s declining population and falling birth rates. The summit was deliberately made into a family-friendly affair, with games, face-painting and even a petting zoo to keep little ones entertained, as their politician and conservative luminary parents discussed everything from woke banking to feminism and sex-ed, with outrage and horror. Quite sinister really when you think about it.
Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, who, in May, joined Pope Francis in encouraging Italians to have more children rather than pets after the country registered its record low birth rate in 2022, set the tone of the conference. Like many of her far-right leader counterparts, Meloni has engaged in demonising immigrants and talking up Italian identity.
“We live in an era where everything that defines us is under attack. In our view, demography is not just another of the main issues of our nation. It is the issue on which our nation’s future depends,” she said.
Right-wing Canadian professor Jordan Peterson, who has cropped up in previous Right-Wing Watches for his various incredulous culture war shenanigans and assaults on wokeism, didn’t hold back.
“The proper encapsulating structure around the infant are united and combined parents, man and woman. All alternatives to that are worse … Single people, divorced people, gay people, deviate from that,” he told the far-right fest.
Orbán, of course, was among the speakers. Addressing delegates, the Hungarian PM praised Meloni and Hungary’s ‘long history of friendship’ with Italy. He said:
“And people in these two countries also know that the future of Europe lies in the family. As Prime Minister Meloni said, and I quote, “It is important for a child to have a mother and a father.” How true!”
Orbán also spoke of the change in Hungarian family policy, which, he bragged, has led to 154,000 more children having been born than would have without that directional change. To achieve his pronatalist aims, Victor Orbán has shut Hungary’s borders, while encouraging the Christian, white, heterosexual population to reproduce. He’s done this by creating barriers to abortion, through tax exemptions for families with more than four children, while trying to remove LGBTQ identities and espousing the racist “Great Replacement” theory, a white nationalist far-right conspiracy theory circulated by the French author, Renaud Camus.
Worryingly, the baby-making fan club extends the far-right governments of Europe and is gaining momentum in Britain.
It was during the NatCon conference in May – another crazy conservative summit where the Right could let off steam and espouse the ideologies of national conservatism – where we learned the extent of how Orbán-style birthrate populism with nasty racist undertones has arrived in Britain.
Leading the charge was Tory backbencher Miriam Cates. Addressing delegates, the MP described low birthrates as an existential crisis for the west. The UK’s lack of baby-making, Cates argued, was down to “cultural Marxism that is systematically destroying our children’s souls.”
“Now, you might not be the broody type. Perhaps nothing fills you with dread more than the thought of changing nappies – although our first keynote speaker, a father of six, has famously managed to avoid that duty,” said Cates, adding, with what passes as wit among these circles:
“Perhaps you weren’t expecting to have to think about making babies at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning.
“But if you want to be a national conservative, you need a nation to conserve.”
The first keynote speaker Cates was referring to, was, of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has long been vocal in urging people to have more children.
Yes, the father of six, who has indeed admitted that he has never changed a nappy, is concerned about the younger generation’s unwillingness to produce offspring and says his party should be taking more decisive action to make it financially workable.
Population Matters, a UK charity that addresses population size and its effects on environmental sustainability, of which David Attenborough is a patron, monitors pronatalist rhetoric and policies globally. In 2021, the group released its Gilead report, exposing how politicians around the world are justifying the restriction of women’s reproductive rights because of fears of population decline. The report identifies a toxic mix of nationalism, economic anxiety, sexism, racism, and contempt for human rights which can combine to drive measures such as abortion bans, restrictions on contraception access, and political pressure on women to have more children.
In relation to the UK, the group says the viewpoint of Miriam Cates is currently fairly fringe, but there is evidence of a certain amount of hysteria around these issues.
“The subjects of low birth rates and ageing populations are frequently referenced from an economic perspective, so just a small shift in government values or priorities could bring certain policy ideas into the mainstream,” it warns.
This prospect looks likelier when we consider how the right-wing media is becoming noisier about the Right’s demands for action on declining UK birth rates.
One media figure spearheading the campaign to get us to reproduce is Colin Brazier. The veteran UK journalist and former GB News presenter, who incidentally was sacked by the channel during a reshuffle in September 2022, has long advocated for Britain to make more babies. Following the Conservative landslide in 2019, Brazier, who is Catholic and has six children, even suggested that that pro-natal policies may win Boris Johnson support in new Tory seats. Brazier is also a patron of a somewhat obscure think-tank. Known as the Home Renaissance Foundation (HRF), the think-tank aims, according to its website, to ‘promote and develop greater recognition of the importance of the work required to create a thriving home. It meets the fundamental needs of individuals and the family that play a crucial role in creating a more humane society.”
Then there is Douglas Murray, who regularly crops up in Right-Wing Watch for his various right-wing diatribes. The conservative author has long contended that immigration is bad for Britain. “It strains our welfare systems, encourages people to ghetto-ise rather than assimilate and creates not so much a multi-racial society as a country made up of different mono-cultural centres,” he wrote in the Spectator.
In his 2017 book entitled, ‘The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam,’ Murray argues, as the title suggests, that Europe is dying, by hordes of Muslim immigrants in fact, assisted by craven liberal politicians. The author recounts a litany of crimes committed by refugees, immigrants, asylum-seekers, or people with European citizenship who happen to be minorities. Murray’s lawlessness narrative, as journalist Murtaza Hussain notes in a critique of the book, is “blinkered to the point of being propaganda.” But, inevitably, it continues to be cited by anti-immigrant hard-liners around the world. In 2018, Victor Orbán no less posted a photo of himself on his Facebook page holding Murray’s book.
‘Bonk for Britain’
The nationals are also keen to pedal an embellished pronatalist narrative.
In October 2022, the Sun ran a story headlined: ‘BONK FOR BRITAIN Women should get tax cuts for having children to encourage a baby boom, Cabinet minister suggests.’ The article referred to an unnamed ‘Top Tory,’ who said a ‘bonk for Britain drive might be needed to stem declining birth rates and wean the country off its addiction to immigration.’ “We need to have more children. The rate keeps falling. Look at Hungary – they cut taxes for mothers who have more children,” the unnamed Tory minister continued.
No need to hedge bets on who it was.
The following month, the Daily Mail ran a story entitled: ‘Britain’s birth rate in peril as half of adults rule out having children.’ The article focused on a study which claimed that half of women aged 18 to 50 were not planning to have children and the expense of childcare was a key factor.
Despite the bold pronatalist rhetoric, in Britain there is something of a paradox in right-wing natalism. On the one hand, the cheerleaders plead for us to have more kids, but on the other, there is a pernicious two-child benefit cap, which penalises people for having too many children, and, as studies show, drives larger families into poverty.
Paradoxically, the likes of Cates and Rees-Mogg are supportive of such welfare caps. Cates even objects to government plans to expand free childcare. Instead, she argues for tax reforms to ‘reward stay-at-home mums’ with tax breaks.
Then there is the environmental aspect. Is it a coincidence that the pronatalist cheerleaders, are also, typically, leaders of the climate change denial debate? Just look at Rees-Mogg and Cates, they are both allies of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), which campaigns against the UK’s legally binding Net Zero commitments. Such figures insist that a shrinking population will not help the environment. Rees-Mogg even went as far as to argue that having more children will help tackle climate change.
“A younger population means a more innovative population. And what’s the number one way we can deal with climate change? The way we’ve made things cleaner over centuries? It’s by innovation,” he recently told a probably confused GB News audience.
Such narrative comes despite scientific studies showing that the most effective ways people can help fight climate change is by having fewer children.
The right-wingers might be desperate for us to have more babies, but only if they are the right kind of babies and within the right family structure. This ultra-conservative use of ‘traditional values’ to strategise resistance to reproductive and sexual rights, and boost birth rates to protect racial identity, has roots to a dark and sinister past. The Nazis, for example, created the Lebensborn program to increase the German population by trying to produce lots of pure Aryan babies.
So, should we worry about all of this, or just put in a box labelled right-wing madness? The good news that in spite of the Rees Moggs and Cates of this world jumping up and down, and in spite too of their ideas receiving right-wing media attention, there is little evidence of real live people basing their procreation decisions on defending ‘white’ culture (whatever that means). Nevertheless, it does fit into a pattern of ever-growing racist nastiness and requires watching. Mind you, I do look forward to the next Tory MP caught ‘in flagrante’ as they used to say, defending himself on pronatalist grounds.
Right-Wing Media Watch – How the climate sceptic press reacted to Sunak’s ‘green gamble’
The Prime Minister’s shocking U-turn on Net Zero commitments last week unleashed an avalanche of criticism, blasted as anything from ‘catastrophic’ and ‘reckless,’ to ‘inept,’ ‘shameful,’ and ‘expensive.’ But for the right-wing press, which has spent decades spreading climate scepticism and denial, it was a day of great celebration.
As the fallout over the Net Zero rollback rumbles on, with Donald Trump even muscling in on the discussion, praising Sunak for being ‘smart’ and taking on ‘climate alarmists,’ Right-Wing Media Watch look at some of the alarming – but, sigh, depressingly familiar and predictable – headlines from the right-wing press.
The Sun’s frontpage had to be the most memorable.
“Sun campaign victory,” it shouted, claiming the PM had ‘hailed the Sun last night as he delayed crippling Net Zero targets…’ ‘Rishi Sunak praised the Sun’s ‘brilliant’ Give Us A Brake’ campaign’, continued the report, in reference to the newspaper’s lobbying on the watering down of green issues.
Similar gushing support came from the Daily Mail, with the headline: ‘I’ll spare families ruinous cost of Net Zero vows Rishi.’ In approving the suggestion that the green policy rollback had more to do with winning over voters in the face of a general election wipeout than helping struggling families, the Mail’s unashamed subheading read: ‘PM take on eco-zealots in bold move that could transform Tory fortunes.’
Days later, the Mail ramped up its attack on one of the newspaper’s favourite bugbears – environmentalists.
“Environmentalists and left-wing activists will try to scupper the Prime Minister’s plan to reduce the financial impact of climate change policies on families,” gushed the report.
The left-wing activists the Mail refers to are Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project, which have written to ministers to warn they could seek undo the Prime Minister’s U-turn in the High Court.
Meanwhile, in response to the green policy U-turn announcement last week, the Telegraph went for a similarly supportive angle. In a largely uncritical report about the PM’s watering down of a string of key climate pledges, the newspaper wrote: ‘Sunak spares public Net Zero pain.’ The report chose to focus on the upset ignited within the Conservative party, rather than the fierce criticism made by environmentalists, business leaders, and not to mention the public.
The Daily Express, which loves to use its opinion columns to serve up unscientific climate change denial to its readers, ran with a painfully fawning headline: ‘Honest’ Rishi: Nation can’t and won’t pay Net Zero bill.’
The report cited Sunak’s claim that the green shake-up would save the average family up to £15,000. It failed to mention that the decision to delay the 2030 ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars back to 2035, an ease on heat pump transition and no new energy efficiency regulations on homes, could cost household’s £8 billion. The figure came from analysis by Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) which found that the delay would mean higher bills over the next decade, due to cancelling new energy efficiency regulations for the private rental sector.
With such warnings and outcry coming from all directions and multiple sources, it really does make you seriously question the ‘honesty’ of Rishi Sunak and suspect, more than ever, that the U-turn is about anything but the long-term.
Woke bashing of the week – Suella Braverman slammed for ‘woke policing’ comments
It’s not been a good week for the Home Secretary, although she might not see it that way. On Tuesday, she sparked a heated backlash over a ‘deeply divisive’ migration speech in Washington, in which she claimed multiculturalism had failed and said the international asylum system needed to be changed. Taking aim at the gay community, Braverman claimed that fearing persecution over being gay or a woman is not enough to claim asylum.
Human rights and LGBTQ+ campaigners labelled her a “dangerous fool”, while opposition parties and Tory moderates accused her of pushing “dog whistle” politics to boost her leadership credentials with the Right of her party.
Braverman’s latest divisive comments followed earlier upset when she claimed policing had become ‘woke,’ and shamed officers for ‘dancing and fraternising’ with LGBTQ+ people and ‘waving the Progress [Pride] flag,’ which she claimed, ‘symbolises highly contested ideology.’
Earlier this month, Braverman had ordered a review into ‘political activism’ within the police force. She said the police should ‘focus on tackling crime and not getting involved in ‘political matters.’
Just days after Braverman condemned the so-called ‘woke’ law enforcement, it was reported that a UK police force had banned its officers from wearing face paint and glitter to Pride events.
This week, Labour MP and veteran LGBTQ+ activist Kate Osborne joined the backlash over Braverman’s ‘woke’ policing claims.
Writing for Labour Outlook, the Jarrow MP said: “It is not woke police damaging trust with communities, it’s this government’s damaging inflammatory rhetoric and the historic problems our police forces have internally.”
Osborne noted how the Casey Report had found the Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic with more than 1,000 Met officers currently suspended or on restricted duties, adding that even where police have “finally acted on misogyny, Braverman dismissed them as ‘woke.’
“This continuation of this government’s culture war gives the clear message that it’s okay to discriminate, that the police shouldn’t try to be inclusive or understand the communities they serve,” the Labour MP continued.
Just when we thought our Home Secretary couldn’t get much lower, she stooped to new depths. National treasure Sir Elton John had joined the criticism over Braverman’s migration speech, describing it as ‘concerning.’
“Dismissing the very real danger LGBTQ+ communities face risks further legitimising hate and violence against them. Leaders need to provide more compassion, support and acceptance for those seeking a safer future,” the singer had said in a statement.
But the right-wing Tory, who seems to be unfazed and immune to criticism, hit back at Elton. Speaking to ITV’s Anushka Asthana, she said: “Well, I have huge admiration for Elton John, but what I would say is that we need to be, again, honest about what’s actually happening on the ground.”
What, with suspended GB News host Laurence Fox refusing to apologise for his misogynistic remarks about political journalist Ava Evans, and Braverman going head-to-head with Elton John over her ‘hate-fuelled’ comments, Britain’s Right, it seems, are reaching beyond their usual leftie/liberal/woke targets. Could they be over-reaching themselves and alienating those they seek to appeal to? Reasons to be ever so slightly cheerful again? We live in hope.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch.