“WE’RE not a polarised society like America. We’re more moderate here.” You hear that said sometimes, but can we trust in it? It’s worth asking after last week’s parade of die-hards at the National Conservatism conference in London.

This gathering of right-wing curmudgeons, fanatics, oddballs and cabinet ministers (categories not necessarily mutually exclusive) is an American export, and promotes the idea of nationalist conservatism. It appeals to those who yearn for a mythical past when mother had dinner on the table at 5pm, everyone knew all six verses of God Save the King and no one questioned their gender.

The London conference featured right-wing commentator Douglas Murray diminishing the Holocaust with his remark that he saw no reason countries shouldn’t have pride in themselves “because the Germans mucked up twice in one century” (his remark was met by titters from the audience and condemnation by Jewish figures).

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Devizes MP Danny Kruger eulogised marriage, saying “the normative family, held together by marriage, by mother and father sticking together for the sake of the children and the sake of their own parents, and the sake of themselves, is the only possible basis for a safe and successful society”, as if same-sex unions, single parent families, and divorce (he was silent about domestic abuse or crushingly unhappy marriages) were a dire threat to society.

Speaker after speaker attacked perceived “woke” agendas, “neo-Marxism” and the never-defined “blob”.

In a surreal twist, the conference even heard from its chairman that he had been “communing” with Lady Thatcher, who sharp readers will be aware is 10 years dead. Apparently Maggie is “totally on board” with national conservatism.

I think we can safely assume it’s a thumbs-up from Enoch Powell too.

Nat Con was essentially a hot mic event for whiners and bellyachers, railing against the increasingly socially liberal direction of the nation. There were occasional moderate, thoughtful points made, but they were mostly lost amid the catastrophising. You get folk like that, always have, always will. Some get more extreme in proportion to the amount of whisky they’ve necked and the dangerous purple of their complexion; others are cold, precise, controlled and supercilious.

But let’s not talk about Jacob Rees Mogg. Of the two former and two current cabinet ministers in attendance at this whingefest, the headline act was Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was apparently using it to position herself as the future Tory leader. Her speech was strident on immigration and “gender ideology”.

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Now, it’s not altogether surprising that Tory malcontents, angry about the party’s declining fortunes, are jostling for position, or even that they imagine reheating a hard-edged Back to Basics-style agenda from 30 years ago is the way to win mass support; after all, desperation breeds delusion.

It’s not even surprising that someone as charisma- and compassion-free as Suella Braverman – currently embroiled in her umpteenth ethics scandal – would think she is the right person to lead the Tories to victory. Since Liz Truss, nothing can surprise us. Braverman, who has just been let off an inquiry over her handling of a speeding offence, “dreams” of sending vulnerable migrants to Rwanda. She is an unsympathetic figure, has low approval ratings and it’s almost impossible to imagine the British public wanting her in Downing Street, but that will not stop her trying to get there.

None of this is surprising, but it does raise a question. If the hard right starts to organise around someone like Braverman, what will be the future impact on British politics? In the absence of Liz Truss, Tory members might well opt for Suella Braverman as leader, given the chance. The question then is whether she or someone like her could drive a wedge, American-style, through British society.

Many say not. After years of Brexit misery, when disinformation, bluster, delusion and prejudice held sway over Britain’s destiny, the electoral pendulum does appear to have swung back, thank God, to the centre ground. This is distinctly different from the US, where the neglected centre ground has become a thicket of weeds.

We’re not as divided as the US. A majority of Republican voters are prepared to back a sex offender and rabble rouser who incited a deadly riot as their presidential candidate because they so hate the Democrats.

Here, voters started deserting the Tories as soon as the Partygate allegations emerged and have left in droves since Truss’s abortive premiership. The English local election results suggest that just four years on from a decisive Tory win, there is ruthless tactical voting going on to remove Tory candidates. Voter loyalty in Britain is more tenuous than in the US.

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But we shouldn’t get carried away trusting in something as fragile and mythologised as the supposed British national character and “sense of fair play”.

We can’t rely on the past as evidence of future performance. In the 20th century, Britain was a more equal and cohesive society, and one that trusted in and consumed the same media. Right up to the 1990s, tens of millions would tune into the Nine O’Clock News every evening. Local papers thrived.

Today’s world is different. Populist media outlets such as GB News reinforce the hard-right messages people get from politicians like Braverman. This comes on top of a newspaper landscape dominated by the billionaire-backed Tory press and a social media world fuelled by disinformation and knee-jerk invective.

Good luck to a “sense of fair play” resisting such an onslaught of reactionary opinion.

And we have evidence from the all-too-recent past of how painfully easy it is for politicians to exploit and deepen division in British society. Whatever support for Brexit meant at the start, it has now become totemic, part of a basket of beliefs that typically encompasses climate change scepticism, defiant individualism, sneering about rights-based arguments and deep suspicion of liberal or progressive ideas.

The groundwork has been laid for Braverman and her ilk. Such a character could do real harm to the delicate bonds holding British society together. We can hope that Britain is a country of moderates, but we’d probably better not rely on it.