Conservatism has a long tradition of going back to the future – looking to the past for solutions to modern problems. The National Conservatism movement appears to be doing just that – extolling traditional values and attachments to reverse a decades-long drift into liberalism it regards as disastrous.

How exactly to achieve this will be the subject of intense debate at the NatCon conference in Westminster in a few weeks’ time. One of the movement’s leading proponents, Danny Kruger MP, set the scene in a fascinating essay in The New Statesman. His diagnosis of the discontent behind the Brexit vote was compelling, but he explains it only in social and cultural terms rather than economic ones, and therein lies a problem.

Kruger seems to be looking to the past for its own sake. That may be comforting to him and many older adherents, but he risks losing the constituency in whose hands the fate of national conservatism will ultimately sit.

The uncomfortable truth is that an appeal to traditional values is unlikely to find favour among younger voters. Therefore, if National Conservatism is to be successful for the long term, it has to look forwards as well as backwards, and broaden its appeal.

The National Conservatism movement was borne out of the populist moment of 2016, originating in America. It argues against the neoliberal, capitalist world order which has dominated western economies for the past 40 years – a system through which elites have siphoned off the spoils of globalisation at the expense of ordinary people.

National Conservatives argue that these elites have constructed elaborate cultural status games to claim they owed their privilege to merit – that they deserved it. Meanwhile, everyone else was left humiliated by their relative poverty. Barack Obama – who promoted the neoliberal agenda – was fond of saying “you can make it if you try.” But what does that say about those who don’t make it?

National Conservatism aims to give ordinary people their voice and pride back, moving conservatism beyond neoliberalism and back to its roots. It advocates a politics centred on ordinary people, their families and communities and the countries they live in, not unaccountable international organisations and globetrotting citizens of nowhere.

This is universally popular stuff, but it risks becoming reactionary unless it can bring younger generations with it. Take the National Conservative thinker Matthew Goodwin. His new book lambasts the elites’ progressive social values yet fails to explore how they’ve reshaped the global economy for their own benefit at the expense of everyone else. Strong opposition to immigration is another point of dissonance, along with support for the nuclear family and religion.

Without refinement, these positions will alienate younger voters. Within the most progressive generation in history, social conservatism will only appeal to a fringe. If National Conservatives are to build a movement for the future, they need to stop fighting the Brexit referendum with its focus on the Red Wall, and start building a coalition that cuts across the demographics.

For a start, they can get serious on climate change. Over 70% of under 30s are worried about climate change, with a third stating they are very worried. National Conservatism seems hesitant — put off by the globalist organisations that are leading the fight against it. Yet climate change is a global problem that requires an internationally coordinated response.

National Conservatism can win over groups beyond its core. It was forged as a compassionate reaction to discontent with a failing neoliberal order; a recognition that political leaders didn’t respect or listen to the people who made it work. This narrative resonates with young people. A noble ambition to do right by neoliberalism’s losers gives the movement strong foundations.

To make good on its potential, National Conservatives must be ambitious and reach for new solutions as well as old ones, and adapt their social conservatism and nationalism to the sensibilities of a broader population.  

Given the scale of the problems we face, it would be easy to despair at the lack of ideas on both sides of the House. It is encouraging therefore that away from the Westminster bubble, a serious debate is getting underway on safeguarding Britain’s future and arresting our political and cultural decline. National Conservatism has a chance if it can respond to the priorities of people outside its fold.

Ben Cope is a political commentator. You can follow him on Twitter: @BenHCope