Someone shouted ‘here comes the bride’ and Liz Truss swept in to the church

Former UK prime minister launches her Popular Conservatives pressure group in Westminster

Timing is not the forte of Liz Truss, the former UK prime minister who still covets the spotlight. Two days after she entered Number 10, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth died, overshadowing all. The night before the big launch on Tuesday of her Popular Conservatives grassroots pressure group, it was announced that King Charles had cancer, dooming it to the inside pages.

Yet Truss, the shortest-serving premier in UK history, is nothing if not persistent. The show must go on, and at 11am in an old evangelical church opposite the home office in Westminster, it did. PopCon, as it is already known, welcomed several big names from the Tory right wing for a launch that exerts yet more pressure on beleaguered prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Access was tightly controlled, the journalists and attendees handpicked. The venue was meant to be kept secret but it leaked to Mr Stop Brexit, Steve Bray, who has been blaring music from a giant speaker at the houses of parliament for almost eight years. Half an hour before the PopCon event was due to begin, he pitched up outside the Emmanuel Church rattling the windows with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Arriving Tories, meanwhile, groaned in despair.

Truss bemoans the state interventionist turn she says the Tories have made under Sunak. She has promised PopCon will consistently make the case for true conservative politics – low taxes, a small state, etc. Her acolytes are true believers, the political proselytisers of traditional Tory values. They gathered at the church entrance beneath the words of Matthew embossed in gold high on the brick wall: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out the devils.”


Cast out the devils? With that, in walked Nigel Farage, the right-wing former politician-turned-presenter with GB News and a perennial stone in the Tory shoe. He is despised by the party’s elite but adored by its grassroots.

Why was he there? “I’m a journalist now!” he exclaimed, grinning.

This was the launch of the Popular Conservatives. Did he really think the Conservatives are popular, 20 points behind Labour in the polls? Farage beamed again. “I can see what they’re trying to do,” he said of PopCon. Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Sunak critic and now Trussite, was another of the star turns at the launch. Farage said Truss and Rees-Mogg are now “isolated” in the Tory Party. Then he predicted its political demise.

A few of the billed stars dropped out at the last minute. Ranil Jayawardena, who was at Truss’s last big show at the Tory conference in Manchester last October, pulled out last night. He echoed Sunak’s language on Twitter by urging Tories to “stick to the plan”, a clear signal that the prime minister’s supporters got to him.

There was also no sign of Jack Rankin, a Tory candidate for Windsor and rising star in the party. His wife had “gone into labour”, they said. “We mean she’s giving birth,” said Mark Littlewood, inaugural director of PopCon. “We don’t mean she’s gone over to Keir Starmer’s party.”

The church filled beyond capacity. An assortment of activists and supporters filled the benches. Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel sat among them as the crowd waited for the sermon to begin. A hush descended prematurely just after 11am. The pregnant silence was punctured by a shout from the crowd: “Here comes the bride!”

Then Truss, beaming her broadest smile, swept into the room. She was followed by Rees-Mogg, former party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, and Mhairi Fraser, a prospective Tory candidate for Epsom and Ewell, a Tory Surrey heartland.

Littlewood, a right-wing economics guru who was blocked for the peerage that was proposed by Truss, said PopCon was not about unseating Sunak, but about rallying the grassroots. Rees-Mogg, who grew up in a stately manor in Somerset, railed against elite interference in politics. “The age of Davos man is over,” he said, to thunderous applause.

Fraser hit all the usual Tory right-wing bases in her speech. It even began: “Margaret Thatcher once said...” Anderson, a former coal miner, criticised the primacy of net zero climate policies driven by “out of touch” MPs.

Then Truss took to the stage. She spoke well and without notes, as she criticised “collectivist ideology” that she argued dominated UK politics. MPs must never be infallible, she said. “We are ejectable – I’ve been at the sharp end of that.”

Outside, Bray cranked up the circus music as Truss’s followers exited the church. They were somewhat roused, entertained, but curiously missing a little of the spark that she engendered at her Manchester bash last October. Time comes for us all, even the right wing of the Tory party.

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