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Flagship conservative conference bars reporters from left-leaning media

openDemocracy was among at least three publications refused entry to NatCon weeks in advance

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
15 May 2023, 10.51am
Home secretary Suella Braverman will speak at the National Conservatism conference this week

Photo by Isabel Infantes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A flagship right-wing conference at which government ministers will outline policy ideas has refused to let journalists from progressive publications, including openDemocracy, into the building.

The National Conservatism Conference – whose annual three-day event begins today in Westminster’s Emmanuel Centre – rejected applications for press tickets from openDemocracy, Byline Times, Novara Media and JOE “due to high demand and limited space” weeks in advance.

Yet videos of the first day shot by journalists who did manage to gain entry show numerous empty seats, while openDemocracy has learnt that at least one other publication was granted press access despite applying just days before the event was due to start.

The conference, run by US right-wing think tank the Edmund Burke Foundation and informally known as NatCon, seeks to promote concepts of tradition, religion and national identity. It is expected to address a post-Brexit Britain, with a focus on cultural identity and family values. It will feature speakers who have called for abortion to be banned and have said life should be made “harder” for Muslims.

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Speakers at the event include Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has frequently advocated for free speech; home secretary Suella Braverman; communities secretary Michael Gove; and controversial Tory Party deputy chair Lee Anderson. It follows the inaugural conference of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, formed by allies of ex-PM Boris Johnson, which took place in Bournemouth at the weekend.

Braverman, due to address the NatCon audience today, is expected to say more Britons should be trained to drive HGV trucks, cut meat and pick fruit and veg to deal with dire labour shortages. The home secretary will argue against loosening immigration rules to help the struggling sectors of haulage, butchering and farming after Brexit and the pandemic helped slash the amount of labour available.

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Speaking this morning, Rees-Mogg has condemned his own party’s divisive voter ID policy, calling it “gerrymandering,” and claiming the hastily implemented scheme “made it hard for our own voters” and “upset a system that worked perfectly well”. Rees-Mogg has previously defended the policy as a minister and voted for the bill at least twice during its time in parliament.

Speeches at NatCon are expected to cover “national identity and culture,” “Britain and the West in a biopolitical age” and “the economics of national belonging,” with discussions around “accepting difference,” according to its website. The event also boasts a flashy conference dinner in Kensington’s National History Museum.

openDemocracy has approached the Edmund Burke Foundation for comment.

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