• Saturday, March 02, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Truss launches grouping to take Tories more rightward

The new movement aims to shape the Tories’ manifesto by building support for hardline policies on immigration and tax

Former prime minister Liz Truss (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Despite her shortcomings as the prime minister, Liz Truss continues to maintain her presence on the political stage. On Tuesday (6) she launched a new movement dedicated to steering the ruling Tories in a more rightward direction.

Truss spent just 49 days in office before she was ousted by her party in October 2022 after her disastrous mini-budget spooked financial markets and sank the pound.

Her brief tenure failed to last longer than the shelf life of a lettuce, as famously highlighted at the time by one of Britain’s notoriously unforgiving tabloid newspapers.

Undeterred, however, Truss is a thorn in the side of her successor Rishi Sunak as the UK gears up for a general election later this year that polls indicate he is set to lose.

After wading into various hot-button issues in recent months, Truss on Tuesday launched the latest grouping in the faction-ridden Tories: “Popular Conservatism,” or “PopCons” for short.

The movement has the support of former Tory vice-chairman Lee Anderson and arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, among other so-called free marketeers.

It aims to shape the Tories’ manifesto by building support for hardline policies on immigration and tax, posing a headache for Sunak as he tries to keep centrists and right-wingers united.

“Truss’s undermining of her successor is unusual but not unprecedented,” said political scientist Tim Bale of London’s Queen Mary University, citing Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to thwart John Major in the 1990s.

“What’s unusual is the speed with which she’s sought — utterly unsuccessfully apart from in her own mind and in the minds of a handful of free-market ideologues — to transform herself from deeply embarrassing failure to supposedly principled critic,” he told AFP.

Since leaving office, Truss has urged the government to slash taxes, abandon some net-zero commitments and increase the retirement age.

Last week, she branded Sunak’s flagship plan to phase in a comprehensive smoking ban as “profoundly unconservative.”

“A Conservative government should not be seeking to extend the nanny state,” she wrote on X.

At the launch in central London, Truss hit out at Sunak’s government for failing to take on “left-wing extremists” and for allowing people to choose their gender.

Rees-Mogg attacked human rights legislation and railed against the “international elite,” declaring that the “age of Davos man is over”.

Anderson argued that Britons care little about reaching net zero carbon emissions, while the audience of a few hundred burst into applause when one speaker slammed “monstrous” Covid-era lockdowns.

– ‘PopCons’ –

The “PopCons” do not call for Sunak to be replaced as leader of the Tories, who have had five leaders since the 2016 Brexit vote, and who languish behind the main opposition Labour Party in polls.

It is unclear how many MPs will end up supporting the “PopCons,” with Truss toxic to many in the party.

She also remains deeply unpopular among the British public, who continue to feel the bite of a cost-of-living crisis that economists say her budget contributed to.

A survey by polling firm Savanta carried out in January gave her a net favourability rating of minus 54, the worst of any politician the company asked about.

“The interesting thing about her specifically, is most unpopular politicians have some sort of favourability ‘bouncebackability’ once they’ve left office or left the limelight, but that hasn’t happened with Truss,” Chris Hopkins, Savanta’s political research director, said.

David Jeffery, British politics lecturer at the University of Liverpool, doubts that Truss “is so delusional that she thinks she has another shot at the top job.”

He suspects her manoeuvrings are more likely an attempt to influence the future direction of the Conservatives and possibly try to restore her own reputation.

She aims to “definitely shape (the party) and then maybe get a decent shadow cabinet job and maybe rehabilitate herself there,” he said.

A source close to Truss who asked not to be named said that she would seek re-election as an MP at this year’s nationwide vote and has “strong views about the future direction of the party and the country.”

“You can certainly expect her to play an active role in debates about policy in the months ahead as the party discusses the manifesto it will put to the people at the ballot box,” said.

(AFP)

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