I’ve been a Conservative for more than half a century. For 22 of those years, I served as a councillor and for a further 15 as an MEP. I’ve been a constituency chair, a parliamentary candidate, a council leader, and I’ve met every Tory PM since Alec Douglas Hume; apart from Liz Truss, the shortest-serving prime minister in British history. In her forty-nine days in office, Liz Truss and her right-wing band of disciples, almost wrecked the UK economy. Together with her close friend and erstwhile Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, Ms Truss’ radical new economic agenda, involving massive tax cuts and enormous, un-costed government borrowing, saw the pound drop to historic lows, forcing the Bank of England to intervene to save pension funds from collapse. In the ensuing chaos, her top ministers resigned, and her political authority entirely evaporated, forcing her to throw in the towel. I breathed a sigh of relief when she was replaced as PM by Rishi Sunak, who seemed determined to restore sensible, grown-up, centrist, Conservative politics.

Rishi Sunak soon weeded his cabinet of the hard-right Trussites he had inherited from his predecessor. Suella Braverman was replaced as home secretary by James Cleverly. Jeremy Hunt took over as chancellor from Kwasi Kwarteng. Seven years after leaving Downing Street and the Commons, David Cameron was given a peerage and installed as foreign secretary. Sensing the writing on the wall, Jacob Rees-Mogg resigned as business secretary, while more recently the ultra-right-wing Lee Anderson resigned as deputy party chairman. Prime Minister Sunak appeared to be steering the party back to its traditional ‘one-nation’ grounds. But never one to heed the warning that voters punish divided parties, Liz Truss has formed a new ultra-right-wing political movement known as ‘Popular Conservatism’ or PopCon for short. The movement was officially launched on 6th February at a meeting in London attended by several hundred guests. 

Former PM Truss has recruited the usual suspects to her hard-right PopCon group. The main PopCon players are, of course, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Lee Anderson, although even Nigel Farage attended the launch meeting, arguing that he was simply there in his capacity as a journalist with GB News. Among a handful of Tory MPs who attended were Priti Patel, Brendan Clarke-SmithJake BerryAndrea JenkynsWendy MortonDamian MooreAlec Shelbrooke and John Whittingdale, although it had been claimed more than 30 might show up. The new director of Popular Conservatism is Mark Littlewood, the veteran libertarian who recently quit as the long-time boss of free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. Mr Littlewood controversially welcomed the Truss/Kwarteng tax-slashing budget when she was prime minister.

However, far from being popular, the so-called ‘Popular Conservatives’ have already suffered internal divisions. Simon Clarke, who briefly served in Liz Truss’ short-lived cabinet as secretary of state for levelling up, and Ranil Jayawardena, who was Truss’ environment secretary, were both heavily flagged as eager PopCon recruits. Sensing the dangers of joining a deeply divisive Tory faction, both have now retreated and assured Rishi Sunak of their undying loyalty! Indeed, a recent poll of 2017 people by Savanta, disclosed that 65% of voters held an unfavourable view of Liz Truss. She was less popular than Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak and even Boris Johnson. Bizarrely, PopCon seems to have picked the most unpopular politician in Britain as their trailblazer!

The PopCon movement is seen as a vehicle for right-wing Tory MPs who back the return of Truss as party leader. The group is expected to construct a platform to lobby for more hard-line policies, including on immigration and tax cuts, in the Conservatives’ next election manifesto, claiming that they will be a “new movement aiming to restore democratic accountability to Britain” and deliver “popular” Tory policies. They demand a drastic reduction in what they term Britain’s stifling bureaucracy and a bonfire of the quangos. They also want Rishi Sunak to scrap the Equalities Act and pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to crackdown on small boat migrants. Truss has continued to seek the media spotlight, despite the embarrassment of her short-term stay in No.10. Echoing her failed policies, she continues to push for dramatic tax cuts and has now called on Rishi Sunak to adopt a tough approach to China and abandon his “unconservative” plans to ban smoking. Truss says the group’s mission is to "inform and educate" candidates and MPs about the need to "reform Britain’s bureaucratic structures" to allow Conservative values to flourish.

The appearance of yet another faction on the Tory backbenches will be deeply unpopular with No.10. There are already what are known as ‘The Five Families’ of right-wing groups among Conservative MPs at Westminster, including the European Research Group (ERG) who dominated the headlines demanding BREXIT. Having maintained a menacing silence since achieving their objective when Britain left the EU, the ERG, led by Mark Francois MP, are now turning up the volume again, calling for all obstacles to sending illegal migrants to Rwanda to be swept aside. Then there is the New Conservatives group, comprising up to 25 of the Tory MPs elected in the ‘Red Wall’ seats in the 2016 general election. As supporters of Boris Johnson, they are primarily concerned with levelling up and delivering on Boris’ manifesto pledges.

The Northern Research Group is again made up of 55 MPs from the Red Wall seats in England and from the Scottish borders and North Wales. They focus on the interests of the towns and cities that make up, what they call the Tories’ “Northern Powerhouse.” The Common-Sense Group numbers around 50 MPs and peers, mainly concerned with culture wars, attacking Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter as woke, left-wing activists. Finally, there is the small Conservative Growth Group that has only around 20 adherents, mainly composed of MPs who supported Liz Truss. This faction has more or less metamorphosed into PopCon. They would all do well to remember the words of John Major, in my view the Conservative’s most outstanding Prime Minister, who said: “Disunity costs votes.”