Popular Conservatives: Tory MPs plotting Liz Truss's comeback should remember she almost wrecked the economy – Struan Stevenson

The ‘Five Families’ of right-wing Conservative MPs have forgotten the wise words of our party’s best Prime Minister, says former Tory MEP Struan Stevenson

I’ve been a Conservative for more than half a century. For 22 years, I served as a councillor and for 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 49 days in office, Ms 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 introduced a radical new economic agenda, involving massive tax cuts and enormous, un-costed government borrowing, that saw the pound drop to historic lows, forcing the Bank of England to intervene to save pension funds from collapse. In the ensuing chaos, ministers resigned and her political authority entirely evaporated, forcing her to throw in the towel.

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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. He soon weeded his Cabinet of the hard-right Trussites he’d inherited from his predecessor. Suella Braverman was replaced as Home Secretary by James Cleverly. 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, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg resigned as Business Secretary, while more recently the ultra-right-wing Lee Anderson resigned as deputy party chairman.

Conservative MP Liz Truss speaks at the launch of the 'Popular Conservatives' movement on February 6 (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)Conservative MP Liz Truss speaks at the launch of the 'Popular Conservatives' movement on February 6 (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Conservative MP Liz Truss speaks at the launch of the 'Popular Conservatives' movement on February 6 (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The usual suspects

Mr 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, Ms Truss has formed a new ultra-right-wing political movement known as ‘Popular Conservatism’ or PopCon for short. The movement was officially launched at a meeting in London this month attended by several hundred guests.

Ms Truss has recruited the usual suspects to her hard-right PopCon group. The main players are, of course, Sir Jacob and Mr Anderson, although even Nigel Farage attended the launch meeting, arguing he was there in his capacity as a GB News journalist. Among a handful of Tory MPs who attended were Priti Patel, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Jake Berry, Andrea Jenkyns, Wendy Morton, Damian Moore, Alec 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 ‘Popular Conservatives’ have already suffered internal divisions. Simon Clarke, who briefly served in Ms Truss’ short-lived Cabinet as Levelling Up Secretary, and Ranil Jayawardena, who was Ms 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 Mr Sunak of their undying loyalty. Indeed, a recent poll of 2,000 people by Savanta, disclosed that 65 per cent of voters held an unfavourable view of Ms Truss. She was less popular than Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Sunak and even Boris Johnson. Bizarrely, PopCon seems to have picked the most unpopular politician in Britain as their trailblazer!

Truss still seeks spotlight

The PopCon movement is seen as a vehicle for right-wing Tory MPs who back Ms Truss’s return as party leader. The group is expected to lobby for more hard-line policies, including on immigration and tax cuts, in the Conservatives’ election manifesto, claiming 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 Mr Sunak to scrap the Equalities Act and pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights to enable a crackdown on small-boat migrants. Ms 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 called on Mr 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.

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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, which campaigned on Brexit. Having maintained a menacing silence since Britain left the EU, the ERG is turning up the volume again, calling for obstacles to sending illegal migrants to Rwanda to be swept aside.

Culture warriors

Then there is the New Conservatives group, comprising up to 25 Tory MPs elected in the ‘Red Wall’ seats in 2016. As supporters of Mr Johnson, they are primarily concerned with levelling up and delivering on his manifesto pledges. The Northern Research Group is made up of 55 MPs from the Red Wall seats in England, 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 around 20 adherents, mainly composed of MPs who supported Ms 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 Conservatives’ most outstanding Prime Minister, who said: “Disunity costs votes.”

Struan Stevenson represented Scotland in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He was vice-president of the European People’s Party/European Democrats Group from 2004-2009



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