When Jacob Rees-Mogg MP attended a black-tie dinner as a guest of the radical Traditional Britain Group, he sat next to Gregory Lauder-Frost, its vice-president and public face. But in the photo of the group, which Rees-Mogg strongly rejected after its views on race and immigration were reported, a mysterious third man appears. He wears a bowtie, moustache and an air of youthful insouciance. Until now, he has not been named.
Calum Rupert Heaton-Gent is a 20-year-old history student at the University of Sheffield who tweets as @WeltPolitik, with a profile picture of an obscure 19th century German politician. Last year, he joined the Traditional Britain Group’s (TBG) committee. The next month, he attended its Enoch Powell Centenary Dinner, a black-tie bash addressed by Dr Frank Ellis, a lecturer suspended by Leeds University in 2006 after he linked intelligence to race.
Perhaps more worrying for the Conservative Party than Rees-Mogg’s brush with the TBG, which says Doreen Lawrence, mother of the murdered teenager Stephen, “should be requested to return to [her] natural homeland”, is the revelation that Heaton-Gent is a senior figure in the official Tory youth wing. He is vice chair of his university branch of Conservative Future, and deputy chair of its Yorkshire and Humber branch.
The full gallery of photos of the Rees-Mogg dinner reveal a face of the TBG far fresher than that of Lauder-Frost, a veteran rebel whose far-right pressure group, the Monday Club, was banned by Tory HQ in 2001. Like Heaton-Gent, members are almost all young, at ease in bowties, and have names with more double barrels than a grouse shoot. Moreover, they represent a new generation of disaffected Tories, rejecting party politics in favour of right-wing groups wise to the recruiting power of social media.
Heaton-Gent seems nervous when The Independent calls, and immediately distances himself from the TBG. “I feel I have been entwined with something horrible,” he says. “I find their views on immigration and repatriation quite reprehensible.” He says he left a year ago and only attended the Rees-Mogg dinner to meet his political hero. He says the group initially appealed to his fondness for the monarchy, military and formal dress.
A TBG spokesperson confirms Heaton-Gent’s exit from the committee, along with Liam Stokes, an agriculture student, and Henry Hopwood-Phillips, who has described his political views, as “Spengler meets Zizek via UKIP” (Oswald Spengler was a German philosopher; Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian thinker).
Hopwood-Phillips declines to answer questions. In an email, Stokes says he left the TBG when it became clear it was not “moderate, mainstream, or socially conservative.” Apart from Lauder-Frost, remaining committee members are Louis Welcomme, a Newcastle graduate who did not respond to emails, and George Jones, who declines to talk about the TBG “without my lawyer present”.
The group does not reveal membership numbers, but says support has grown since the Rees-Mogg affair elevated it from obscurity. Oliver Cooper, chair of Conservative Future, dismisses members as nationalists who dream of “society based around croquet and cravats”. He says he would ask any of his members to cut any TBG links.
But Cooper, like David Cameron, faces a growing problem. As Conservative Party membership plummets to as low as 100,000, competition is growing in particular for the support of disaffected young people on the right. For them, like older ex-Tories, there is Ukip. But alternative outlets are increasingly diverse in the digital age.
Raheem Kassam is the director of Student Rights, which campaigns against extremism on campuses. “I spot more wide-eyed young Ukip members in Westminster pubs these days than young Tories, which tells you something about how they’re ramping up youth outreach,” he says.
Young Independence, Ukip’s youth wing, claims to have a growing membership. It does not respond to emails but former chair, Oliver Neville, who was sacked by the senior party in January for supporting gay marriage, says that, perhaps perversely, Ukip appeals to small-state, socially progressive libertarians like him: “A lot of us saw Ukip as something that wasn’t perfect but could be moulded as young members rose up. I don’t anymore.”
Further to the right, young nationalists have other groups to choose from, including the BNP. It too ignored enquiries, but a prominent former member agreed to speak. Jack Buckby is a 20-year-old student once tipped as the next Nick Griffin, the party’s leader. He is also a TBG supporter and was invited to its Rees-Mogg dinner and subsequent AGM. Earlier this year, he was introduced by Griffin at a meeting of the Alliance of European National Movements, a far-right group also supported by France’s Front National.
“I think people view students as generally left-wing but that’s not the case,” he says. “I joined the BNP because it’s one of few places conservative students can go. Conservative Future is packed with left-wingers and dictated to by those with a modern, liberal consensus. It’s not for traditionalists.”
Buckby left the BNP a few months ago when the “open race hatred became unacceptable.” But he agrees with the TBG view that Mrs Lawrence is “totally without merit”. He says he “detests Islam” and fears Britain will become an Islamic state by 2050. In May, he launched Liberty GB. Its “plan to save Britain” includes halting all immigration for five years and abolishing the Human Rights Act.
A prominent recent study supports Buckby’s view that youth politics is veering to the right. In June, generational polling data by Ipsos MORI suggested diminishing support for the welfare state among Generation Y (those born after 1980) and a parallel growth in support, if not membership, for the Conservative Party.
But some academics say that trend becomes fuzzier the further right you look. Matthew Goodwin is a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham specialising in extremism. He says that while radical politics has always appealed to students, Generation Y has only known a multicultural society that is in Europe and accepting of gay rights. “Survey after survey shows that young people are less and less likely to endorse the ideas advocated by radical right-wing political parties.”
Kassam says that while such groups, including the TBG, use social media to appeal to and recruit young followers, the internet is also their worst enemy. “People who are initially wrongly attracted to groups that pretend to be something they’re not are only a few clicks away from the truth. False propaganda doesn’t work anymore.”
Kassam, a conservative member of a muslim family, says that away from the radical fringes, a smarter, politically eclectic generation does not see the need to be represented by one group. “They can be in a union and Tory, or right-wing and Labour - I think more and more Britain will become a nation of floating voters.”
Heaton-Gent is now working for his university’s admissions department. He says he will direct freshers towards Conservative Future rather than groups like TBG. Burned by his flirtation with radical right-wing politics, he is reconsidering his future: “one thing history has taught me is that public dislike of politicians is not new and after this week I don’t really want to be one.”
Additional reporting by Huw Nesbitt and Miranda Dobson
The new right: Emerging parties
Traditional Britain Group
Lifted from obscurity after Jacob Rees-Mogg MP spoke as a guest of honour at a black-tie dinner. Its vice president, the notorious right-wing Tory rebel Gregory Lauder-Frost, who appeared on a leaked BNP membership list but denies ever being part of it, sees Britain as under attack from immigration and an erosion of Tory values.
Ukip’s youth wing, unofficially known as Youth-kip, includes any members aged under 30 and was thrown into disarray in January when its chair, Oliver Neville, was sacked by central office for supporting gay marriage. Several members of the executive left in protest before another regional chairman was similarly dismissed. Currently headed by Rob Comley.
The youth wing of the BNP, formerly known as BNP Crusaders. Membership levels are not known but used to include Jack Buckby, a former heir apparent to Nick Griffin, who left the party because of its “racist” views. Last-known leader: Kieran Trent, who was last year convicted of disturbing public order outside the home of councillor who had approved plans for a new mosque.
A rather more mainstream, right-wing think tank, founded in 1951 to take on socialism, the Group’s current President is former Prime Minister, John Major.Reuse content