PopCon: What is Popular Conservatism as Liz Truss launches new Tory movement?

ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan sets out what the formation of the PopCons means for Rishi Sunak's government.

Words by Westminster Producer, Elisa Menendez

Liz Truss today launched a new political movement in a bid to rally right-wing Tory MPs ahead of a general election, as she called on others to galvanise Britain's "secret Conservative forces".

Popular Conservatism - dubbed PopCon - is described as "a new movement aiming to restore democratic accountability to Britain and deliver popular conservative policies".

The new faction of the Conservative Party aims to pile pressure on Rishi Sunak by lobbying for more hardline measures on issues at the heart of the right of the party, such as immigration.

Ahead of the official launch, PopCon's official X page wrote: "The fight back begins."

Delivering a speech at the rally in London, Ms Truss hit out at Mr Sunak’s government for failing to take on “left-wing extremists” she claimed had gained control of UK institutions.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Jacob-Rees Mogg used his speech to declare the “age of Davos man is over”, and ex-Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson argued that Britons don't care about net-zero strategies tackling climate change apart from the “odd weirdo in the corner".

What is the aim of Popular Conservatism?

The group plans to put pressure on the prime minister to adopt tougher immigration policies, to cut tax to drive economic growth and to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Hardline Tory MPs have demanded the UK dismiss the ECHR amid concerns European judges could scupper the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after a last-minute injunction by the Strasbourg court effectively grounded the first flight in 2022.

ITV News understands the group is aiming to help shape the next Conservative manifesto in the months ahead as the prime minister and his Cabinet prepare for the upcoming general election.

The group is likely eying up what happens post-election too.

But members of PopCon were keen to stress that the new faction will not attempt to oust Mr Sunak as Tory leader.

Who is part of PopCon?

As well as former PM Ms Truss, Sir Jacob, Mr Anderson - the latter of whom recently quit the Conservative Party arguing the Rwanda migration treaty was not tough enough - and former home secretary Dame Priti Patel are some of the names at the heart of the new faction.

Other ex-ministers in Truss' short-lived government, Simon Clarke and Ranil Jayawardena, are also in the ranks, while Mark Littlewood, the ex-boss of free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and former head of media for the Liberal Democrats, takes up the role of PopCon leader.

Others include Tory prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) and Truss ally, Mhairi Fraser, who previously described Donald Trump as “incredibly refreshing”.

Former PM Liz Truss, Ranil Jayawardena, Dame Priti Patel and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg are among the ranks of the PopCon movement. Credit: PA

Although Reform founder and GB News presenter, Nigel Farage, attended the launch rally, he denied he is seeking to join the Conservative Party or the PopCon movement.

“I’m not looking to join the Tory party, you must be joking," he said. “Not at the moment, given what they stand for."

Meanwhile, leader Mr Littlewood claimed the Conservative Party can draw “important lessons” from Ms Truss’s short tenure in No 10.

The former PM was forced to quit after just 44 days in office following her then-chancellor's botched "mini-budget" which triggered turbulance in the financial markets and sparked an economic and political crisis.

The announcement sent the pound tumbling, forcing the Bank of England’s intervention and pushing up mortgage rates.

Sir Jacob dismissed claims the new grouping is a vehicle for the rehabilitation of Ms Truss, who has continued to promote her tax-slashing, small-government brand of conservatism.

While that garners support among some in the Conservative Party, polling published on Monday suggested she is the least popular politician with the general public.

A survey by Savanta indicated her net favourability score is minus 54%, compared with Mr Sunak’s minus 27%.

But Mr Littlewood told Times Radio "we’re not about the popularity or unpopularity of individual" and said he was “very happy to have a former prime minister on my panel”.

He said: "She’s not the leader of it. I’m the director of it. I think the lessons we can draw from her very short time in office are important lessons for Conservatives who want to change Britain, want to see taxes come down.”

Tax cuts, nanny state, climate change and wokery

The former PM used her speech at the launch rally to hit out at the government for failing to take on “the left-wing extremists”, saying Britons want to see lower immigration and want illegal immigrants deported, but that ministers’ efforts are “constantly being stymied”.

She said “Britain is full of secret Conservative forces” of people who are ashamed to admit their values, and that the group must rally them.

Ordinary people, meanwhile, believe “the wokery that is going on is nonsense”, she said, as she slammed the government for allowing people to choose their gender and for “pandering to the anti-capitalists”.

In his headline speech, Sir Jacob said voters have had enough “of international cabals and quangos telling hundreds of millions of people how to lead their lives”.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mhairi Fraser, Lee Anderson and former prime minister Liz Truss pictured at the rally. Credit: PA

The North East Somerset MP said bodies such as the World Health Organisation and Cop climate summit “limit our freedom for manoeuvre”, while Tory deputy chairman Mr Anderson argued Britons don't care at all about the net zero emissions strategy.

Not many of his constituents “lie aware at night worrying about net zero”, the Ashfield MP told the launch, saying that they do care about their energy bills and there should be an "opt-in, opt-out on our fuel bills".

On the doorstep, “net zero never comes up” apart from the “odd weirdo in the corner” who backs the Green Party, Mr Anderson claimed.

Meanwhile, the prospective Conservative candidate for Epsom and Ewell, Mhairi Fraser, claimed a nanny state does more harm than good, telling MPs: “Once one freedom is surrendered, other freedoms follow, because the state is no Mary Poppins. Let us never forget the nanny in her most monstrous form – the Covid lockdowns.”

Ms Fraser said the new group must call for policies that deliver that freedom, champion the free market, push for less regulation, and slash “the crippling tax burden”.

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Opposition MPs and Conservatives take swipe

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told ITV News he is concerned his party "is drifting ever more to the right" and said the focus right now should be "rallying around" the prime minister ahead of the election.

He said populism is about "building on people's anger" and "making promises that would not survive contact with reality", pointing to Ms Truss' premiership as an example.

Mr Ellwood told ITV News: "In a world where authoritarianism is on the rise, we're now seeing populism start to embed itself in democratic countries across the world - we saw it in the United States under Donald Trump. We can't allow that to happen here in the UK."

Tobias Ellwod said extremes - whether that be left or right-wing - don't land well with the electorate and expressed his concern that the party is becoming more right-wing

"My worry is populism could take root in our Conservative Party... we've never won when there's been a populist leader," he said. "That is what my worry is today - us drifting ever more to the right."

Opposition parties took aim at the new movement, with the Liberal Democrats calling it a "carry-on horror" accusing the Conservatives of becoming a "pathetic Donald Trump tribute act".

Labour's Jonathan Ashworth wrote a two-page letter to Ms Truss, Sir Jacob and Mr Jayawardena wishing them luck while asking a series of pointed questions that take aim at Ms Truss's failed policies in office.

In a jibe at Tory in-fighting, he listed seven of the right-wing Conservative factions that already exist in the crowded field, including the Brexiteer European Research Group, the New Conservatives and Common Sense Group, adding: "I know you will be keen to carve out a unique space for this latest party within the Tory Party."

Among his questions he wrote: “Liz: Do you still believe that the £45 billion worth of unfunded tax cuts in the 2022 mini-budget were the right course of action for the British economy?”

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, claimed the "Conservative MPs have become a pathetic Donald Trump tribute act and said it was "time for a general election to boot them out of office."

"Lifelong Conservative voters in the Blue Wall will look on at this carry-on with horror," she said.

"The Conservative party has given up on governing and is acting like fighting school children. They are a national embarrassment who would rather shout about the National Trust than cut hospital waiting times."

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