What has happened to conservatism, Nick Cohen asks, in an age of Trump, Farage, Le Pen et cetera? Cohen makes reasonable points about right wing populism. It is true that populists are often opportunists, pursuing their own ambitions and dismissing critics under the pretense of being the sole legitimate representatives of the people. Unhinged demotism can be a destructive force as well, when bitterness, paranoia and utopianism thrive. Where Cohen goes wrong, and badly wrong, is thinking that conservatism is the practice of maintaining the status quo. Often, yes, but not in every case. Just as a captain changes course to avoid an iceberg, conservatives oppose the status quo if it is unduly transformative; rationally and carefully, one hopes, but also effectively. It is the failure of conservatives to be this opposition in a normal sense that has opened the door to the populists.
Cohen’s liberal triumphalism is evident when he condemns Daniel Hannan for calling Enoch Powell “dazzlingly intellectual”. Powell was made a professor of Ancient Greek aged 25 and went on to write books on Thucydides, Herodotus and the Bible. Whatever your views of his political career it is immensely smug and blinkered to dismiss him as “brutish”.