Who are the Popular Conservatives - and how do they compare to other Tory movements? (2024)

Liz Truss has launched a new movement within the Tories, called Popular Conservatism.

At an event in Westminster on Tuesday, she was joined by well-known figures on the right of the party, including her former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and ex-deputy chairman Lee Anderson - with former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in the audience.

But what does this group stand for? And who are the other Tory groups represented on the party's backbenches?

Popular Conservatism

Dubbed the "PopCons" by the media, the group claims not to be a protest movement against the current Conservative leadership.

Instead, they say they want to "excite the public" and give them "freedom over their lives", taking control away from "faceless" organisations - which they define as judges, quangos and international human rights institutions.

One policy they are calling for is "robust control" over borders. They back the government's Rwanda plan, but may seek to push Rishi Sunak further in demanding the UK exits the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if it stands in the way of flights taking off.

Another issue they want addressing is the "crippling tax burden" people face, and they will push for further cuts before voters head to the polls - perhaps echoing Ms Truss's own fiscal plans that led to her eventual ousting from Number 10.

The PopCons are also demanding an end to "Net Zero zealotry", and want to "dismantle the nanny state finger-wagging institutions that attempt to regulate free speech, lifestyle and thought".


European Research Group

This group of MPs is perhaps the most well-known of the so-called "five families" of right-wing groups within the Conservative Party - though the number rises to six after Ms Truss's launch.

The ERG became a household name during Brexit years, dominating the headlines with its own demands for exiting the EU, but has kept relatively quiet since the deal was done - except for calling key elements of the Windsor Framework "practically useless".

The Eurosceptic group is currently chaired by Mark Francois, but saw many of its members promoted to ministerial positions after Boris Johnson came to power - including Sir Jacob, Suella Braverman and Steve Baker.

Now, the ERG is leading the fight once again over the Rwanda bill, calling for the prime minister to go further in ignoring international treaties and limiting the ability for asylum seekers to take appeals to court.

Who are the Popular Conservatives - and how do they compare to other Tory movements? (1)

New Conservatives

The former new kids on the block, this group is made up of 25 Tory backbenchers predominantly from so-called "Red Wall" seats that the party won from Labour in recent elections.

All of the members only entered parliament after 2016 - since the Brexit referendum took place - and say they are determined to focus the party on delivering on the 2019 manifesto, where Mr Johnson won a significant majority on his promises to "get Brexit done" and "level up" the country.

One of its first events as it sought to raise its public profile was outlining its 10-point plan for immigration, causing controversy with its call to end the temporary visa scheme for care workers and cap the number of refugees who can settle in the UK.

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Northern Research Group

Perhaps the precursor to the New Conservatives, this faction was also born from the 2019 election victories in the Red Wall, promising to focus on the interests of the towns and cities that make up the Tories' "Northern Powerhouse".

With around 55 MPs from the north of England, Scottish borders and North Wales - led by the now-former chairman of the party, Sir Jake Berry - the group has expanded its remit somewhat, speaking out against COVID lockdowns and business taxes, as well as pushing for its core goals around devolution, transport and investment.

The group also holds a conference every year, attracting senior members of government to speak and attempt to keep the powerful bloc onside.

Who are the Popular Conservatives - and how do they compare to other Tory movements? (3)

Common Sense Group

This collective of around 50 MPs and peers says it "stands for authentic conservatism", with many of the issues it focuses on falling squarely into the culture wars category.

From slamming the National Trust for publicising Winston Churchill's family links to slavery, to attacking Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion as "subversives fuelled by ignorance", the group - led by veteran backbencher Sir John Hayes - calls on the government to "reflect the will of the people, rather than pandering to the peculiar preoccupations of the liberal elite and the distorted priorities of left-wing activists".

It has published its own set of essays to highlight its concerns, with titles including, "The judicial activists threatening our democracy", "Taking politics out of policing", and "The case for strengthening families".

Who are the Popular Conservatives - and how do they compare to other Tory movements? (4)

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Conservative Growth Group

The final of the "five families", this group came to life after the short-lived premiership of Ms Truss, who resigned as prime minister after just 49 days following her disastrous mini-budget.

But while the party may have pushed for her undoing, her approach to tearing up the "economic orthodoxy" of the Treasury still garners the support of a number of backbenchers - especially those who enjoyed equally short-lived ministerial careers while she was in office.

There are only thought to be around 20 members in the group, including Ms Truss herself, but they are pushing for popular policies in the party, such as tax cuts and deregulation, as the best way for growing the British economy.

It is chaired by Ranil Jayawardena, who was environment secretary while Ms Truss was prime minister.

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One Nation caucus

In stark contrast to the previous factions outlined, this group - established back in 1975 - promotes the One Nation Conservative ideology, a more centrist approach to both the economy and social policy.

Despite dominating the party during the David Cameron years, many of the One Nation group fell out of favour during the tumultuous Brexit debate due to their support for Remain, with Mr Johnson kicking a number of them out of the party for failing to back his exit plans.

But while they may have been in the shadows in recent years, there are still over 100 members in parliament - with some former figures, such as Alex Chalk and Gillian Keegan, making it on to the frontbench - and they are starting to put their heads above the parapet again.

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Recent issues being raised have included a call to focus on policies for winning back younger voters - such as rental reform and childcare.

But they are now seen as a key faction for the prime minister to keep onside to ensure the success of the Rwanda plan.

The group has offered its support to Mr Sunak so far, but with its more liberal outlook - and having voiced concerns about the prospect of leaving (or breaking) international human rights treaties - the members have also said they will pull their backing if the prime minister bends to the will of those on the right and goes too far.

Conservative Democratic Organisation

This is another group formed after Ms Truss's exit, but with fierce loyalty to her predecessor, Mr Johnson.

The CDO was furious with how Mr Sunak had been chosen as the new leader - without a vote of the membership - calling it "undemocratic", and promised to "take back control" of the party with its grassroots movement.

But it is not just leadership elections it wants to influence. The organisation hopes to "steer [the Tories'] political direction back to the centre-right", with specific calls for tax cuts and attacks on the current PM for failing to provide them.

Key figures include billionaire Conservative donor Lord Cruddas, the party's former treasurer, and key Johnson ally and former home secretary Dame Priti Patel.

It has already held a conference, with other Johnson backers like Nadine Dorries and Sir Jacob attending to give speeches.

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China Research Group

Another hot topic within Conservative ranks is the best way to approach China, and this group was set up to amplify that debate.

It was co-founded and chaired by the now security minister Tom Tugendhat - an outspoken critic of the country.

While its former chair now finds himself on the frontbench, the group is calling for tougher action on Beijing and questioning the current administration's desire to engage with China.

Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns now leads the group.

Net Zero Scrutiny Group/Conservative Environment Network

Climate policies have been a central bone of contention for Tory MPs in recent months - especially after the party managed to cling on to Mr Johnson's former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in a by-election by focusing on residents' anger of the expansion of London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

The victory saw a number of the party's green policies brought into question, with Mr Sunak pledging to only roll them out in a "proportionate and pragmatic way" and watering down a number of promises.

But the legal obligation to hit net zero by 2050 - a law brought in by the Conservatives - has long caused rows, with two groups being formed to represent both sides of the argument.

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The Net Zero Scrutiny Group insists it is not climate sceptic, but instead says government policies have gone too far, too fast, contributing to the cost of living crisis.

The group of 50 or so MPs and peers - led by former UKIP deputy leader Craig Mackinlay - wants green levies to be scrapped, saying they are hitting the poorest the hardest, and wants the government to ramp up fossil fuel production at home.

On the other hand, there is the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which claims to have over 130 MPs and peers backing its mission to "champion greater environmental action in parliament".

It says Conservative voters don't want to see a row about whether net zero is worth it or not, but a debate on the right policies to achieve it.

A smaller faction echoing the sentiments of the CEN is known as the Net Zero Support Group, which aims to "demonstrate and maintain Conservative support for net zero carbon emissions and policies needed to deliver this".

It was led by Tory MP Chris Skidmore, but he resigned from parliament earlier this year, saying his exit was "in protest at the government's decision to prioritise and politicise new oil and gas licences above a sensible investment plan for the future".

Who are the Popular Conservatives - and how do they compare to other Tory movements? (2024)
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