What is the Heritage Foundation up to?

By participating in their activities and by mimicking Heritage Foundation events, our own home grown NatCons are clearly hoping to bring to fruition the same thoroughly reactionary politics in Europe.

Right-Wing Watch

Political right-wingers have dominated the headlines this week. Promoting her new book ‘Ten Years To Save the West,’ Liz Truss claimed she has ‘unfinished business’ and refused to rule out returning as the Conservative Party leader. Such a prospect will “send shivers down the spine of ordinary people,” said Labour. Speaking to LBC, Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister said “it hasto be” Trump in the White House, and told the Spectator “the world was safer” when the Republican was in power.

Fresh off the airwaves promoting her new book, and endorsing Donald Trump for US president, and Truss, who as PM managed to tank the UK economy with a £45bn package of unfunded tax cuts, grabbed more limelight during the Commons’ debate on smoking. She argued that it was profoundly unconservative to try and stop people from killing themselves.

In Brussels meanwhile, a National Conservatism jamboree of hard-right political figures descended into chaos, as police moved in to shut down the gathering at the command of the city’s socialist mayor.

“Simply monstrous,” a smirking Nigel Farage told the NatCon audience about the attempted termination of the event. The intervention was however overturned by the court, leaving the UKIP founder crying a “victory for free speech in the face of Brussels bullies.”

The ‘drama’ certainly helped put the conference in the news bulletins and on front pages, leaving Farage and his fellow far-right NatCon attendees, including Suella Braverman and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, feeling relevant and important.

Global NatCon’ers and Liz Truss’s quest to spread their ‘free market,’ ‘free speech’ ideologies, resemble the Heritage Foundation, the conservative US think-tank that came to prominence during the Reagan years. The think-tank fights for individual freedom, traditional American values, free enterprise, and limited government, and has historically been ranked among the most influential public policy organisations in the US.

3,500 miles from Truss’s legacy of political and economic chaos, whose tenure at the top was likened to the shelf-life of a lettuce, the influential right-wing think-tank, which lobbies against LGBTQ+ rights and rejects climate science, seemingly holds the former British prime minister in high esteem.

Truss has long had links to the US think-tank. As treasury minister, she met with representatives of several libertarian groups, including the Heritage Foundation. A former Obama administration climate adviser warned it would spell disaster if Truss sought to replicate the tactics of groups such as the Heritage Foundation. 

More recently on April 12, Truss delivered a lecture on free markets and free speech to the Heritage Foundation, where she attacked trans rights, rallied against ‘woke culture,’ praised Ronald Reagan, and, mimicking Trump, portrayed herself as the victim of a vast political conspiracy.

This month’s speech followed a similar address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, where she called for a true conservative president in the White House, “one who is able to take on the deep state and lead the free world.”

The speech was lapped up by free-market, Heritage Foundation ‘Trussites.’

“Liz Truss is one of the few British politicians who really understand the United States and the direction America’s conservative movement is taking,” drooled Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

But Truss isn’t the only alliance the US think-tank has with UK political figures and groups. She is one of several leading UK Conversative political figures and their donors who are connected to the think-tank. Others include Sajid Javid, Daniel Hannan, Owen Paterson, and Dr Liam Fox, who delivered the think-tank’s annual Margaret Thatcher lecture in 2018.

Heritage Foundation staff were present at the National Conservative (NatCon) conference in London in June, where the usual suspects, including Suella Braverman, Miriam Cates and Jacob Rees-Mogg, preached to the converted. The think-tank staff were, as reported by Peter Geoghegan, openDemocracy’s former editor-in-chief who had attended the event, handing out leaflets on ‘How to speak up against gender identity.’ In a speech about the death of ‘global Europe,’ the think-tank’s president, Kevin Roberts, decried the ‘woke industrial complex.’ Roberts had arrived in London from a US Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest, where the far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had called for Donald Trump to be returned to office.

Like Orbán, the Heritage Foundation is committed to getting Trump elected for a second term and is partnering with far-right political figures from the international stage to help accomplish its goal.

Viktor Orbán and the Ukraine war

In March, Orbán, who regularly attacks immigrants, LGBTQ+ rights, and has gutted the civil service and replaced it with loyalists, raised eyebrows when he flew into the United States, not to meet the sitting President Joe Biden, but his long-term ally Donald Trump. Even Biden commented on what was considered a severe breach of diplomatic protocol, saying that Orbán was “looking for dictatorship.” Following the meeting between the two right-wing firebrands, Orbán said Trump will totally stop funding Ukraine if he wins the US election in November.

“He will not give a penny in the Ukraine-Russia war,” Orbán told Hungarian state media. “Therefore, the war will end, because it is obvious that Ukraine cannot stand on its own feet.”

But a meeting that drew considerably less media attention when Orbán was in the US, and one that illustrates just how much the Hungarian prime minister is attempting to influence politics in Washington, took place behind closed doors at the Heritage Foundation’s headquarters in the US capital.

Like Liz Truss in April, Orbán spoke in front of a Heritage Foundation audience, which according to  Hungarian state media  included “renowned right-wing politicians, analysts and public personalities.”

Orbán was joined by the think-tank’s president Kevin Roberts, and Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur and former Republican presidential contender, whose provocative hard-right agenda failed to strike a chord in a space already occupied by Donald Trump.

As with Truss, Orbán’s speech covered matters related to economic policies and the “conservative family.” It also focused on the war in Ukraine.
In sitting with the leadership of the conservative think-tank, Orban, much like Liz Truss, is using the Heritage Foundation, as a “platform to access and influence conservative Americans about both foreign and domestic policy, “ as the New Republican describes.

The appointment of Kevin Roberts as head of the Heritage Foundation in 2021 is central to this discussion. Roberts has never kept his support for Viktor Orbán secret. In 2022, following a visit to Hungary, the think-tank head tweeted that it “was an honour” to meet Orban.

“One thing is clear from visiting Hungary and from being involved in current policy and cultural debates in America: the world needs a movement that fights for truth, for tradition, for families, and for the average person,” Roberts tweeted.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2023, Orbán claimed that Hungary is “the place where we didn’t just talk about defeating the progressives and liberals and causing a conservative Christian political turn, but we actually did it.”

In an interview with the New York Times in January, Roberts said that Orbán’s comments were “all true” and “should be celebrated.” The interview’s author Lulu Garcia-Navarro notes how, under Robert’s leadership, the right-wing think-tank has been pushed away from its “hawkish roots by arguing against funding the war in Ukraine, a turnabout that promoted some of the think-tank’s policy analysts to leave.” Roberts told Garcio-Navarro that he views the Heritage’s role today as “institutionalising Trumpism.”

Project 2025

Intent on turning Trumpism into a governing agenda, the Heritage Foundation leads the multi-million-dollar Project 2025, involving a coalition of 100 right-wing organisations, aimed at mapping out a future right-wing presidency. The “left-wing media seems to be up in arms over Heritage’s Presidential Transition Project, better known as Project 2025,” the Heritage Foundation claims.

And rightly so, it seems.

Among Project 2025’s visions are to restore family values, defend the nation’s sovereignty and borders and secure what it refers to as “our God-given individual rights to live freely.”

Project 2025’s 900-page 180-Day Playbook lists a number of ‘actions’ designed to be implemented within 180 days of the new Administration to “bring quick relief to American suffering from the Left’s devastating policies.”

The New Republic describes the Playbook as being a ‘remarkably detailed guide to turning the United States into a fascist’s paradise.”

“These 900 pages lay out a Christian nationalist vision of the United States, one in which married heterosexuality is the only valid form of sexual expression and identity; all pregnancies would be carried to term, even if that requires coercion or death; and transgender and gender-nonconforming people do not exist,” the New Republic continues.

Such right-wing ideologies bear a worrying resemblance to those peddled by Britain’s ‘NatCon’ movement, which, like Project 2025, is ramping up campaigning projects about the future of Conservatism. At the London NatCon conference last June, Tory MP Miriam Cates, a rapidly rising star among the Conservative right, devoted her speech to rallying against falling reproduction, a lack of family-friendly tax policy, and, what she described as the mass indoctrination of young minds.

These right-wing figures and groups also share a common goal to defend their nation’s borders and ‘take back control’ of their country.

Heritage Action

In February, Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation think tank, urged US lawmakers to oppose the bipartisan border security bill, which would also provide aid to Ukraine. The border agreement includes provisions to raise standards for asylum screening and to process claims faster.

Trump’s reluctance to provide aid to Ukraine echoes that of the Heritage Foundation. Prior to Congress voting to approve $40bn in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine in May 2022, the think-tank reportedly privately pressed Republicans to oppose the measure. The vote was blasted by Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage’s lobbying operation. In a statement on the Heritage Action website entitled Ukraine Aid Package Puts America Last, Anderson framed the measures as ill-considered and reckless.

The Heritage Foundation’s position on Ukraine, one that is mimicked by Donald Trump and his ally Viktor Orban, is representative of the mounting potency of the “America First” impulse in the Republican Party.

In Britain, this patriotic rhetoric is shared among many on the Right, acutely demonstrated by Brexit and the desire to ‘make Britain great again.’
The Heritage Foundation, which brands itself as a beacon of intellectual conservative establishment, has been quietly working behind the scenes, creating alliances with leading right-wing figures and groups, to ultimately influence political direction both sides of the Atlantic.

“I am proud that The Heritage Foundation has worked to convince Americans and the British people about the necessity and mutual benefits of Brexit,” said Jim DeMint, former president of the think-tank following the EU referendum.

Plans to dismantle the US government and replace it with Trump’s vision is the think-tank’s present target. By participating in their activities and by mimicking Heritage Foundation events, our own home grown NatCons are clearly hoping to bring to fruition the same thoroughly reactionary politics in Europe. They would probably even love to have our very own Donald Trump. Perhaps Liz Truss even dares to dream it could be her.   

Right-Wing Media Watch – Right-wing nationals rejoice over Michaela School keeping its prayer ban

As our Foreign Secretary holds talks in Israel to urge against a war with Iran, UK inflation falls by less than expected, and Dubai experiences its heaviest rainfall in 75 years, the Daily Mail devotes its front page to this:

“Victory for the bravest headteacher in Britain’…. Katherine Birbalsingh hails landmark court ruling backing prayer ban at her school after claim by Muslim pupil.”

“The headteacher hit out at ‘bullying identity politics’ yesterday after she won the right to ban Muslim prayer rituals,” the lead story continued.

And it wasn’t the only national that chose to lead with the news that a Muslim pupil had lost their court case against the London school’s prayer rituals ban, saying the policy was discriminatory and ‘uniquely’ affected their faith.

“Victory for all schools’ as prayer ritual ban is backed,” splashed the Express.

The report even quotes Esther McVey, known unofficially as the government’s minister for common sense, saying: “Hallelujah…from time to time, we all struggle to understand decisions made in the courts. Thankfully, this one is a victory for common sense which will allow Michaela to continue doing what it does better than anyone else.” (Poor common sense – a much abused phrase on the right to describe whatever nasty politics they favour). 

In another kick in the teeth of the family who took the school to court over its prayer policy, the Telegraph went further, dedicating an article to Birbalsingh’s questioning of the level of legal aid for the pupil who lost the prayer ban challenge.

 “Can it be right for a family to receive £150,000 of taxpayer-funded legal aid to bring a case like this?” Birbalsingh is quoted saying in the article, which goes on to cite the opinions of a number of right-wing Tories, including Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of backbench Tory MPs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, education secretary Gillian Keegan, and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch

‘A victory against activists trying to subvert public institutions,’ said Keegan. 

“No pupil has the right to impose their views on an entire school community in this way,” said Badenoch.

A far cry from the celebratory tone of the right-wing press’s reports, the ruling marked a dark day for the richness that religious diversity brings to school life, and for the wider message it sends out about Muslim culture and its faith.

“It is difficult to view this high court judgment in isolation from the backdrop of normalised Islamophobia we have seen emerging in recent times,” wrote
Nadeine Asbali, a Muslim teacher at a secondary school in London, in an op-ed about the ruling in the Guardian.

Sadly, the right-wing press’s cheerleading of the ruling feeds into the moral panic about the Islamic faith in Britain and shows where their priorities lie. Amid a toxic media ecosystem towards Islam, which has seen the Mail claim there are no-go areas for white people in Britain because of Islamic extremism, it is not surprising that British people are three times more likely to hold prejudiced views against Islam than other religions. We can only hope that all those headteachers who have been quietly providing prayer rooms for their Muslim pupils for years will have the courage to continue to do so. I reckon they will.

Smear of the Week – ‘Raynergate’ smear backfires

With the Easter recess now over, you would have thought, or perhaps hoped, that the ‘Raynergate’ non-story would have finally run its course, deemed as sensationalist filler content when parliament was adjourned. After all, it’s been going on for weeks, having first surfaced in February when extracts from the mischievous Tory donor and former party chair Lord Ashcroft’s biography made their way to the pages of the Mail on Sunday.

Ensuring the Tory ‘smear,’ as Keir Starmer has described it, was kept in the media limelight, Mail columnist Dan Hodges has devoted column after column to the story.

‘Three Homes Rayner,’ Hodges splashed this week, in a provocative piece of clickbait that does little more than speculate about who will reside in the 18th-century house in Buckinghamshire known as Dorneywood, if Starmer wins the next election.

The Labour deputy operates under ‘Rayner’s Law,’ Hodges claimed in a separate article, on which he argued:

“When Tories are accused of wrongdoing, they must publicly prove their innocence. But not so for Keir’s deputy, who operates under Rayner’s Law.”

Yet another piece screamed ‘so much for Keir’s pledge for honour, integrity and accountability in Labour policies.’

On April 14, the Mail on Sunday made ‘Raynergate’ its front-page lead. ‘She is lying, Rayner aide tells police,’ it splashed.

But with every antagonising, not to mention incredibly boring, ‘exclusive’ and ‘op-ed’ about the furore designed to paint Rayner as a ‘hypocrite’ for making a profit on the sale of her council house, desperation radiates from a party that is facing what looks to be an election wipeout.

The desperation hasn’t gone unnoticed, quite the opposite in fact. At this week’s PMQs, Sunak was left humiliated after he attempted to attack Angela Rayner over her tax affairs, with Starmer accusing the billionaire Prime Minister of ‘smearing a working class woman.’

LBC presenter Carol Vorderman said she was “absolutely incensed” about the Rayner police probe, which has made her “even more determined to do everything I possibly can to make sure they lose as may MPs as possible…”

Describing the “absolute stench of Tory desperation” in going after Rayner, Vorderman pointed to how it’s “backfiring on the Tories, as they’ve hit a new 19% low in the polls.”

Writer and political campaigner John O’Farrell meanwhile described the story for what it is on the Laura Kuenssberg show on Sunday, when the host quizzed him on how well the Labour Party handled the news of Angela Rayner being investigated by the police.

“I think this is such a ridiculous non-story. And when we’re sitting here and we’ve got war in Ukraine, war in the Middle East and we’re talking about something that happened that long ago, something that the police could only prosecute within the first year after it happening,” said O’Farrell.

The following day, the Daily Mail broadened its attack to the Labour leader, splashing: “Rayner’s making a fool of you Keir – Scandal over deputy’s home is ‘corrosive to your reputation’, Tory chairman tells Starmer.”

Surely, Angela Rayner is not that much of a danger to Labour’s election hopes?

It seems the only ones being made of fool of is the Conservative Party and the mainstream media by hyping a ridiculous story which, as John O’Farrell was quick to point out to Laura Kuenssberg, is ‘not a story just because the Mail says it’s a story.” There are even signs that more reasonable Tories are embarrassed by the excessive and phoney furore surrounding Angela Rayner. The former MP and minister, Nick Boles, has described the attack as ‘snobbery’ and out of all proportion to any offence she may or may not have committed. And so say all of us, which might be a first for Right-Wing Watch – ending on a note of agreement with a Conservative. 

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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