Speech at the launch of Popular Conservatism

Good morning everybody. It’s fantastic to see so many of you here.

I think it’s fair to say that over the past fourteen years, Conservative governments have had many achievements: we’ve delivered Brexit, we’ve delivered new trade policies, we’ve improved our education system, we’ve kept Jeremy Corbyn out of office.

But, if all of us are being honest in this room, we’ve been swimming against the tide when we’re talking about conservative values. Whether it’s what’s going on in our schools and the fact that wokeism seems to be on the curriculum, and in our universities and in our corporate sector there seems to be confusion about basic biological issues like ‘what is a woman?’

Or if we look at the Net Zero zealots that Lee [Anderson] has just been talking about, the need for cheaper energy is being drowned out by some very active campaigners.

Or if we look at government. Government is currently 46% of our GDP. We’ve got more than 500 quangos in Britain. You might think we’ve got enough government, but no, if you listen to the Today programme – I don’t recommend it – but if you listen to the Today programme every morning, you’ll hear demands for more regulation, more taxes and more public spending.

As for immigration, we know as MPs that people want to see lower legal immigration. And we know that people want illegal immigrants deported. And yet, however hard the government tries, it seems to be very, very difficult and they are constantly being stymied.

So why is this? Why have we got into this position? I believe the fundamental issue is that for years and years and years – and I think it goes back two decades – Conservatives have not taken on the left-wing extremists. Now these people have repurposed themselves: they don’t admit they’re socialists or communists anymore. They say they’re environmentalists; they say that they are in favour of helping people across all communities; they are in favour of supporting LGBT people or groups of ethnic minorities.

They no longer admit they are collectivists, but that is what their ideology is about. It’s all about taking power away from people and families, and giving power to the state or unaccountable bodies.

And the problem is that Conservatives have tried to appease these people. We’ve tried to triangulate. Conservative Cabinet Ministers have met Greta Thunberg and asked her what she wanted.

We’ve had Conservative governments legislating for self-identification. Now I’m pleased to say we’ve stopped that legislation now, but this was a Conservative government allowing people to define themselves, whether or not they are a man or a woman – something which we know is a biological fact.

And we’ve had pandering to the anti-capitalists as well, in terms of regulating business, regulating landlords, regulating small enterprises. And the problem is that when we don’t know what we stand for, when we’re not prepared to stand up for conservative values, who is? And that has meant that the landscape has shifted to the left.

I’m afraid that, as Lee mentioned, too many of our colleagues are looking to what job they might get after they leave Parliament. They’re looking to be popular at London dinner parties. I never get invited to any London dinner parties, so it’s not an issue for me. [audience interjections] Ah, I feel some invitations coming on after that.

People don’t want to be unpopular. But the irony is that these policies are popular. When I go out canvassing – and I’m very pleased to see some of my excellent canvassing team here today – when I go out canvassing in Norfolk, people want us to deal with immigration. They don’t like Net Zero policies that make energy more expensive. They think the wokery that’s going on is nonsense. And they are frustrated that they feel unable to say what they think.

There is a damaging divide between those who are making the decisions – those in the elite around the M25 – and those people on the ground. I’m afraid we have not taken on the Left enough.

The Left don’t just compete with us at the ballot box now, they also work to take over our institutions, and we’ve seen that. We see it in much of the media. We see it in corporations. We see it most of all in the quangos and government bureaucracy that emerged under Tony Blair.

But we didn’t do enough to change it. We didn’t do enough to take the power back, and Jacob [Rees-Mogg] makes a very good point about the legal system, but that is true with the Environment Agency, it’s true with Natural England, it’s true with the Office for Budget Responsibility and it’s true with the Post Office.

This is an issue that goes wider than just one government department. It goes right to the way we do government overall. And what that means is that the people making decisions aren’t elected. And I know, having spent ten years in the government as a minister and ultimately as Prime Minister, that often as a minister in Britain, you have responsibility without having power.

That is a huge issue. It is a diminution of parliamentary sovereignty, which is what has made Britain a great country. Because we have such a direct link from Members of Parliament to the people that vote for us, they are able to kick us out. None of us are saying, by the way, that all MPs are brilliant or infallible, but we certainly are ejectable. And I myself have been at the sharp end of that, so I can tell you we are deeply accountable.

So what happens when decisions are made by people who aren’t accountable? Over time they drift to listening to the vested interests, listening to those who advocate the status quo, they become out of touch with what ordinary citizens across Britain want.

And by the way, the answer to this is not a Labour government. Far from it. What we know is that Keir Starmer would enhance the power of these so-called independent bodies. He’d enhance the power of these quangos. He’d outsource more decision-making to his friends in Islington, which is where a lot of them live. And we would find it even harder for us to get the Conservative policies that will really help transform our country. And that is what we need to do.

What I really want to say to people today – and I am so delighted to be joined by such a fantastic array of colleagues and future colleagues – is that it’s not just enough to will the answers. You can watch GB News or read the Telegraph and you can hear people talking about brilliant policies every day: “Why don’t we do this to cut immigration, why don’t we do this to reform the City, why don’t we do this to improve education?”

It’s not enough to just have the policies, when the system is actively working to stop those policies happening. Conservatives really need to be thinking about how we change the system itself, and how we create the political weather that enables these policies to happen. Because it’s difficult being a Conservative at the moment, it’s difficult advocating these causes, and it’s why we need a Popular Conservative movement to actually challenge, from below, what is happening in our country.

That’s why I’m delighted Mark [Littlewood] has taken on the mantle of leading Popular Conservatism. And there are three things I think we need to achieve.

First of all, we need to make the case for democratic accountability. The fact is that democracy has become unfashionable. If you ask the under-30s what they think of democracy, there’s not a very polite response, but we know it’s the only way to deliver effective government, effective policies and our fundamental freedoms as British people. We need to restore faith in democracy and we can only do that by restoring democratic accountability.

The second thing we need to do is galvanise our conservative forces. Britain is full of secret Conservatives: people who agree with us but don’t want to admit it because they think it’s not acceptable in their place of work, because they think it’s not acceptable in their school. People who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet – and come out and stand as Conservative candidates, make Conservative arguments – are vitally important.

This organisation is not just about the Members of Parliament, it’s not just about the parliamentary candidates, it’s actually about all of you and supporting all of you to be prepared to go and make those arguments with your friends and colleagues. We need to provide each other with support because the Left is tough. They tried to drown us out, literally in the case of Steve Bray. And we have to have resilience and bravery to take on that fight.

The final thing we need to do is communicate with the public about our policies in an effective way. And I think Lee [Anderson] hits the nail on the head here, we need to communicate and show how people’s lives will be improved by these policies.

Too much time is spent talking about personality issues in the Westminster bubble. That’s not what people want to hear. What people want to hear is how are we going to help them make their own lives better, how are we going to help make Britain more successful, how are we going to defend our country.

This fight is not going to be easy. The Left have been on the march. They’ve been on the march in our institutions, they’ve been on the march in our corporate world, they’re on the march globally. They are actively organising, but I believe this fight is important as I believe it’s only through Conservative values that we will give the people of Britain what they want.

I feel it’s only through Conservative values that we will ensure the successful future of our nation. And I think the successful future of Britain is vitally important for the successful future of the West.

So please join our organisation, get involved, this is just the beginning. Thank you.

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Launching 16th April 2024


In Ten Years to Save the West, Truss, who as Prime Minister sought to champion limited government and individual freedom, will argue that the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the adoption of fashionable ideas propagated by the global left give us barely a decade to preserve the economic and cultural freedom and institutions that the West holds so dear.