Does Liz Truss and her PopCon group have their finger on the pulse of the ‘secret Conservatives’? - Jayne Dowle
It’s a seductive approach. But whilst we’re fortunate enough to still live in a country where political discussion and dissent is allowed, it’s a worrying swerve to the right from a former Prime Minister still clearly suffering delusions of grandeur.
Are you a secret Conservative? Were you really, really upset when Michael Gove (currently Secretary of State for Levelling Up, amongst other things) met Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at an event way back in 2019? This happening was highlighted as proof the Tory high command has lost its common touch.
Are you cross that European judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) scuppered the government’s first plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda with a last-minute injunction in Strasbourg, effectively grounding the first deportation flight in 2022?
Or did you actually think, on balance, any Rwanda plan would cost British taxpayers billions of pounds, and maybe we should have stronger words with France about the lucrative trade in cross-channel people smuggling instead?
If you’re still feeling disgruntled, you may have found a friendly space. Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, a PopCon supporter, wants to leave the ECHR and bring the British judiciary into parliament, thereby scuppering its own – and important – independence.
I don’t know about you, but all this makes me feel slightly uneasy. Many law-abiding, quietly-getting-on-with-it British voters would indeed still probably consider themselves Conservative with a small ‘c’.
But is this really what they want to hear when politicians talk about real Conservative values? Are they not more concerned with being able to pay their gas and electricity bills and meet their mortgage payments?
Are they more likely to lie awake at night worrying about the standard of teaching in their children’s schools than Rees-Mogg and his lawyers?
And aren’t they thoroughly fed up not being able to get an appointment with a doctor or a dentist?
Remember Liz Truss? The shortest-serving British Prime Minister ever, the one who only managed to clock up 44 days in Downing Street.
Still, together with her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng (sacked after 38 days), she managed to tank the economy, by sending the markets into freefall and pushing up interest rates, leading to a sequence of events that delivered us Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister in October 2022 after yet another Conservative Party leadership battle.
Ms Truss was the star guest at the inaugural event of PopCon - which stands for Popular Conservatism. PopCons feel marginalised and left out of Rishi Sunak’s government.
Truss, introduced as the inspiration behind the PopCons, told her supporters that true Conservatives had been “swimming against the tide” when trying to push right-wing values.
So this new faction of the Conservative Party aims to pile pressure on leader Rishi Sunak by lobbying for more hardline measures on issues such as immigration, waving farewell to the ECHR and cutting tax to drive economic growth.
Truss and her compatriots include arch right-winger Rees-Mogg, former Home Secretary Priti Patel, Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, who quit his role as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party so he could rebel against the government in voting for amendments to the Rwanda bill, and Mark Littlewood, former boss of free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, who is leading the group.
Also present was Nigel Farage, former leader of the Brexit-supporting UKIP and Reform parties, who stressed he was there only in his role as presenter on GB News. He did, however, admit that he suspected he would “agree with a lot of what is said”.
Repeatedly, the group said that it did not pose a threat to Mr Sunak’s leadership, but merely wanted its concerns and aims to be taken into account when it comes to planning the Conservatives’ General Election manifesto.
It is early days yet, of course. But whether you’re a secret Conservative or not, it makes your heart sink when Sir Jacob-Rees Mogg uses his PopCon speech to declare the “age of Davos man is over” thereby taking an axe to decades of painstaking alliances made between Britain and the rest of the western world.
The worry is that a group can so easily become its own party, and as we know to our cost after more than a decade of Tory (mis) rule, a party may become a government. Secret Conservatives of Britain, be careful what you wish for.