Gerard Baker, New York scourge of 'progressive' ideologists, declares 'it is surely not too much to ask ' for leaders of a 'refreshed, populist conservatism that proudly asserts the virtues of our civilisation, defends the unassailable legitimacy of the nation state, builds a stronger culture of economic self-reliance to generate economic growth, creates an environment of genuine opportunity for all, and resists the nihilistic march of progressive ideology through our institutions' who will carry out this agenda with 'honesty, probity, and competence' in contrast to the charlatans Trump and Johnson.
I do not dispute with Baker about strong potential electoral support on both sides of the Atlantic for such an agenda. Where I will challenge him is on the implication that it has been mere misfortune that the most powerful leaders of populist conservatism were charlatans who did not care about telling people the truth. Even the easier parts of the Baker agenda, such as pointing out the silliness (or sometimes opportunism) in some gender campaigning or reminding people that Western civilisation has had its good side as well as the evil, need to recognise (and address if possible) the fear that lies behind 'progressives' who have lost faith in progress and to make peace with other cultures. Economic self-reliance raises complex issues of its own, not only in terms of inequality but also with the risk of turning into an exclusive protectionism internationally.
More fundamental still is the core of realism behind cosmopolitanism - about the global reach of technologies, not least of warfare, and the crises of the 21st century world, not least climate change and resulting migration. Closely related is the way even a sincere conservatism finds it easier to accept the need for stronger defence than to adopt higher taxes (or borrowing) to pay for it. In this environment national sovereignty can be sustained, but more readily as legal fiction than reality.
No more than John Lennon does Baker appreciate that leaders with the courage to tell people the truth about the global reality they face will need to recognise that 'power to the people' means also 'responsibility to the people'. I suspect future history will show it was no accident that populist conservatism readily found leaders with scant respect for uncomfortable truths.