PopCons seek to rally Tory base as they look to a post-election future

Politics

Shortly after Liz Truss and co took to the stage to launch the new Popular Conservatism – or “PopCon” – movement, pitching itself as an anti-woke, anti-green, anti-elite, anti-immigration voice of the voter, my phone buzzed with a message from a very disgruntled MP.

“What everyone is privately thinking is that the rules must change on selection of the party leader,” said the former minister. “But no-one will initiate so our party drifts to the right.

“The selection of leader must return to parliamentarians, so that these sub-tribes won’t schmooze our base with their populist message.”

Politics live: Truss accused of ‘offensive nonsense’

In the hall in Westminster, where Ms Truss led the PopCon rally, other MPs such as Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg professed their loyalty to the ex-PM, insisting this was about the battle for ideas and taking power back from elites – in this case Davos man or Supreme Court judges – and giving it back to the people.

But for many of his colleagues, these groups are only serving to push away some of their most centrist voters, making the party look more divided and leaving the Rishi Sunak looking weak.

And it won’t have gone unnoticed with many of you that there is a certain irony that the most unpopular prime minister of modern times, Ms Truss, is now reinventing herself as the leader of the Popular Conservatives after bombing with the vast majority of the voters in her time as leader, according to polls.

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Despite all of that, within a chunk of the grassroots, her ideas and policies still have appeal, and it is that base that carried her to Number 10 that she is galvanizing in order to try to have sway over who – and what – comes next for the Conservative Party after the next general.

Having lost Number 10, this is now a battle for the soul of the party in opposition, and those MPs who joined this event believe right-wing populist policies will be the ones that get the Tories back on track once Labour take power.

The PopCons are here to rally the base in order to pressurise the leadership on policy and get a politician who shares their values into the top slot after the election.

In the crowd was one would-be leadership contender whose stocking is rising on the right in the face of Suella Braverman’s overreach, Priti Patel.

And this group of MPs will no doubt be using the movement to try to press the PM to adopt their key political priorities in the Conservative manifesto.

Sir Jacob told me after the event that leaving the ECHR – an idea that deeply divides his party – is “something that needs to become a Conservative policy, so I’m looking to the future”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg during the launch of the Popular Conservatism movement
Pic: PA
Image:
Jacob Rees-Mogg also appeared at the PopCon launch. Pic: PA

Meanwhile, the original right-wing populist Nigel Farage is waiting in the wings, in attendance at the PopCon launch today in his capacity as both a presenter on GB News and someone who thinks “the centre right of British politics needs to realign”.

Owner of the Reform Party, the former UKIP chief may have a different political outfit, but is running the Conservatives hard.

He tells me that “at some point we all have to work together” as Reform eats into the Tory vote.

Having never been an MP, despite standing a number of times for UKIP, perhaps Mr Farage fancies a reverse takeover of his old adversary the Conservative Party?

Whatever his intention, he’s clearly attaching himself to a movement that appeals to many in the Tory grassroots.

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Nigel Farage warns the Tories face “extinction”

“There is a clear majority for border controls, a huge demand amongst maybe six million people running their own businesses to get the regulators off their backs and free them up,” he said.

“These are things leading Conservative and Reform figures agree on.

“At some point, after the next election, we will all come together, whether we come together in a revamped Conservative Party or they have to be replace, I don’t know. At some point we have to work together.

“For the first time since 1834, there is the possibility of the Conservative Party being replaced.”

Sir Jacob scoffs at this, as will many of his colleagues who note Mr Farage’s remarks on Conservative extinction has been threatened before.

But as the Tories divide further into different families, the threat for some is real.

As the MP who texted me earlier added: “If Farage joins the Conservatives post-election, the party is over.”

Ms Truss can’t come back to Downing Street and perhaps doesn’t think Mr Sunak will be coming back after the election either.

But what she and her allies do want to do is shape the party in opposition in a way they couldn’t when she was in Number 10.

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