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IF A gothic horror show is the way to the electorate’s heart then the new Popular Conservative movement, launched today, could be onto something.
A platform which saw brutal populist Lee Anderson followed by 18th century aristo Jacob Rees-Mogg, in turn succeeded by swivel-eyed ex-premier Liz Truss is not for the faint-hearted.
“This is not about the Tory leadership,” PopCon’s new director said at the launch. That suggests that it is not for the truthful either.
PopCon is the rallying point for hard-right Tories who have given up hope of the next election and are jostling for position in the political accounting sure to follow on defeat.
Their agenda is founded on neo-Trumpian populism, with attacks on phantom “left-wing elites,” climate change denial and a repudiation of “internationalism” all on show today.
But it also fervently embraces classical free-market, libertarian economics, which today translates into tax and spending cuts.
The advocates of the latter may be fairly indifferent to some of the concerns of the populists. But they need them.
Libertarian economics appeal to a vanishingly small section of the public, and that section will only have shrunk after the madcap premiership of Truss, which pushed the doctrines of Hayek and Friedman to the point of destruction and beyond in record time.
To get another chance, the free-market absolutists need to hook up with the populist-nativists, who speak for a somewhat larger portion of the electorate. Nostalgia has an audience, and the manipulation of grievance has political potential.
Record interest rates and the collapse of the pensions system have neither, as Truss was shocked to discover.
The populists seek to share the people’s pain while in practice continuing the policies which have caused the crisis.
Thus they rhetorically target the moneyed global elite who have benefited from the ascent and the crisis of neoliberal governance alike.
Look past the incongruity of “Davos Man” being confronted by Rees-Mogg, a Bertie Wooster creation unable to take on anyone without his nanny and butler there to hold his coat and top hat.
The substance of the PopCon agenda actually gives Davos everything its greedy heart desires. It directs popular anger at a range of targets, including but not confined to migrants, Greta Thunberg, liberal historians, Gary Lineker, BBC journalists, students, railway workers and even judges.
Yet while handing out the pitchforks for a march on Broadcasting House, PopCon will also be handing out tax breaks to big business and the rich while further impoverishing public services and welfare.
Since Tory Party members now decide the leadership, their penchant for picking the most right-wing candidate available should give those at today’s confab every encouragement. Today’s freak show could be tomorrow’s Cabinet.
And, sure enough, there was Reform UK’s Nigel Farage hanging round the fringes of the PopCon event, flagging up his availability for post-election offers.
Not hanging around is Truss’s Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. He announced today that he is quitting politics at the next election.
It is scarcely surprising. No future Tory leader would dare appoint him to high office again lest the news spark an immediate run on the pound and collapse in consumer confidence.
And also the PopCons may get round to reading his book on the British empire, which is fairly critical of its subject, a no-no for the culture war zealots.
In fact, the ex-chancellor points up the fracture points in any putative PopCon coalition without perhaps meaning to, its incapacity to impose a common cultural narrative and scorched earth capitalism simultaneously.
But it cannot be written off. Up against Keir Starmer, anything can look plausible before long.
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