The launch of the splinter group the Popular Conservatives last week was met with derision. But their mission is both tired and dangerous. Bremain Vice Chair Lisa Burton writes for Bylines Cymru.
What a feast of delusion and desperation we witnessed at the launch of yet another Conservative splinter group last week. The Popular Conservatives, or PopCon, is another attempt by people formerly known as Conservatives to force their America-adapted, far-right populist, totalitarian ideas on the country, this time under the banner of ‘popular Conservatism’. There’s nothing popular or conservative about them.
The record holder for the shortest premiership in UK history was the star of the show. Liz Truss arrived to rapturous applause. Her fiscal policies and uncosted tax cuts almost crashed our economy, forcing the Bank of England to take emergency measures to save pensions. She cost the country billions and caused interest rate rises that have so far cost homeowners over £300bn in higher mortgage payments.
Yet Truss reaps rich rewards and is invited to speak at events as if she’s an economics guru. It would be unthinkable at any other time, but these are no ordinary times. Failing spectacularly seems to be the Conservative brand now. And it is failing our country.
The true secret Conservatives
Truss said “Britain is full of secret Conservatives – people who agree with us but don’t want to admit it.” The Conservative Foundation website states that the “Conservative Party has always stood for personal liberty, democracy, and the rule of law.” But your personal liberty to stand up for the environment, LGBTQ+ rights, human rights, international law, and the right to asylum doesn’t exist in their vision of Britain. Democracy and the rule of law are seen as nothing but irritants holding Conservatives back by the capacity to hold them to account.
You don’t have to look hard for evidence that today’s Conservative Party is nothing like it was. Look at the crackdown on the fundamental right to protest through the Public Order Bill, which has been criticised globally. Witness their attacks on the independence of the Electoral Commission, which experts warn is part of an alarming trend of watering down and undermining trust in British democracy.
See also voter gerrymandering, or attacks on British institutions, lawyers, civil servants, celebrities, ‘experts’, unions, and our world-renowned judiciary. And, of course, breaking international law over the doomed Rwanda policy. Such actions are blatantly totalitarian in nature and have nothing to do with ‘popular conservatism’.
Truss says democracy has become “unfashionable” among the young
She may be confusing democracy with conservatism
Truss says Britain is full of “secret conservatives”- again echoing Bennism. The voters are there really, they just have to be inspired with a true ideology.
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) February 6, 2024
When Truss refers to “secret conservatives”, she means those who support these attacks on our institutions. Those who think foreigners, minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone ‘different’ (from them) should be tolerated only as long as they stay in their box and don’t make a fuss. She appeals to the worst impulses in us.
You don’t need to be a racist, bigot, or xenophobe, though all would find a natural home here. Sadly, many who fall for this narrative have been made to feel angry or fearful. They feel they and their communities have been left behind and that politicians put others in society before them. This part, at least, is genuine: those who attended PopCon do only care about a tiny section of society. The con is making the masses believe it’s them, when all the evidence suggests they only care about themselves and those at the top of the food chain.
They don’t admit they are socialists or communists anymore. It’s all about taking power away from people and families and giving power to the state. The problem is the Conservatives had tried to appease these people. We have tried to triangulate. For years and years and years – it goes back two decades – Conservatives have not taken on the leftwing extremists.
In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy ran a campaign of political repression and persecution of leftwing people, spreading fear and hysteria regarding alleged communist and Soviet influence on American institutions. Lives and reputations were ruined, and people were wrongly imprisoned. It was a dangerous and shameful era with enduring repercussions, and is often cited as an example of how unfounded fears can compromise or destroy civil liberties.
The primary targets for persecution were government employees, prominent figures in the entertainment industry, academics, leftwing politicians, and labour union activists. Sound familiar?
LGBTQ+, climate change and social justice activists are "left-wing extremists" in disguise, UK politician Liz Truss has claimed. Truss, who in 2022 became the most unpopular Prime Minister in UK history, made the comments at the launch event of the "Popular Conservativism"… pic.twitter.com/J5Wad7qCBz
— red. (@redstreamnet) February 6, 2024
The true net zero zealots
In addition to Truss’ comments above, we’ve heard other ‘Conservatives’ talk of the “blob”, the “wokerati”, “metropolitan elites”. It’s nothing new, just different terminology. Such a shame we human beings forget our history, and that our nature leaves us open to manipulation by ‘fear of the other’ or things we don’t understand. It’s the root cause of many of the world’s ills. Just think how many governments currently use ‘others’ to create a climate of fear.
Populists say they represent the people, the will of the people, the common folk, or the silent majority. “Hardworking families”. This is the biggest and most necessary con of all. They themselves are the elites they loudly rally against.
They don’t, as they claim, want to row back on net zero to save households money. The fossil fuels industry made average profits of $2.8bn per day over the last 50 years. Of course those companies want that to continue. They feed some of those billions-per-day into ‘think tanks’, lobbyists, and political donations to ensure it. They can afford to.
It’s well documented that the organiser and some attendees of PopCon have links to climate change denial organisations and the fossil fuels industry. Is it any wonder they hosted politicians who attacked net zero policies, and handed out leaflets calling for an end to “net zero zealotry”?
Holding Britain back
The wholesale price of electricity is set under the ‘marginal cost pricing system’ by the most expensive method needed to meet demand (usually burning gas). If your renewable unit of energy was 50% of the cost of a unit produced by gas, you’d still pay the gas price unit. It’s not a ‘green tax’ that’s keeping your energy prices high.
Renewables are cheaper; the government admits this, and there is ample evidence. Yet anti-net zero radicals would apparently prefer that the country be held to ransom by authoritarian regimes like Russia and Saudi Arabia. And to be vulnerable to volatile supply chains and prices, and the world events adding to that volatility.
A green industrial revolution is underway and is not going anywhere. It will provide highly skilled and secure jobs, boost the country’s economy, and protect the planet. Countries are racing to take advantage of and consolidate the new technologies required. Yet Truss, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and their ilk want the UK to sit back and allow other countries to win this race; to hold Britain back. Why, and to whose benefit? Certainly not for that of this country or its citizens!
Rees-Mogg attacks the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), judges, and the “international elite”. To stop your country falling to the far right, fascism, or totalitarianism, constitutional checks and balances including domestic and international law protect the people and the nation. This is why today’s ‘Conservatives’ make such attacks.
A true Conservative would be aghast, but these are far right populists. Their very behaviour establishes that. Law and its institutions hold them back from creating a society in which total control and power lie in the hands of the few to benefit the few.
Jacob Rees-Mogg didn't just attack the system of an independent judiciary, he attacked the judges themselves:
"Judges are getting it wrong. They are tied into this international elite".
This is shameful and dangerous intimidation of the UK judiciary and legal profession. pic.twitter.com/Xg0Yhg9MY8
— Adam Schwarz (@AdamJSchwarz) February 6, 2024
Populist Conservatives: a populist con
They identify an enemy, always a minority – refugees, asylum seekers, trans people, or, these days, climate change protesters – building anger and fear around such groups, which they say are dangerous to society, ‘the family’, and the country. They portray judges as enemies, and tell the public they can’t protect them because unreasonable laws prevent it and lawyers are ‘on the left’. It’s absurd, of course. The law can only be applied as it’s written, and lawyers are duty-bound to be unbiased.
A globally trading democracy can’t function as such if not bound by international agreements and laws, with a robust domestic legal system. Unless you want to be like North Korea, and maybe Rees-Mogg does?
If you think leaving the ECHR is a good idea, or want to abandon human rights because you think it’ll only affect asylum seekers, ask yourself: would Popular Conservatives stop there? Which rights are you willing to give up so a few people can be sent to Rwanda unlawfully?
Richard Murphy sums up Truss and the Popular Conservatives perfectly in his blog, Funding the Future. “This is, then, an agenda that explicitly permits the powerful with a grudge to abuse anyone they wish with impunity. And anything that gets in the way, like democratic government and the rule of law, must be vilified or abolished.”
Please, don’t help make them popular, or let them con you into believing otherwise.