Did you put the date in your diary? Have you cleared out your schedule? Perhaps bought some fancy little outfit to celebrate the occasion? Have you been counting down the hours and the days?
The wait has been tantalising but finally – finally! – it is upon us. A handful of Conservative MPs are launching a new grouping, because they believe that they know better than everyone else. I know, I know, and Groundhog Day was only last week.
Popular Conservatives – PopCons for short – is co-headed by Liz Truss which, to be fair to her, is funnier than anything any political satirists have come up with for some time now. Who wouldn’t have enjoyed an NHS safety pressure group headed by Harold Shipman?
Pop Cons are gathering tomorrow in central London and they will – again, you may find this hard to believe – argue in favour of tax cuts and harsher rules on immigration. Where had they been all this time? For so long, Britain had been clamouring for right-wing politicians making the case for tax cuts and harsher rules on immigration. Finally, they are delivering.
Who is “they”, aside from our esteemed former Prime Minister? Well there is Jacob Rees-Mogg, of course, and he is due to be joined by Lee Anderson, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, who resigned in order to vote against the Rwanda plan then did not vote against the Rwanda plan. Oh, and Nigel Farage may be making an appearance. Really, they’re sending their best.
It is, of course, both easy and fun to point and laugh at them, but it is worth wondering if something more structural may be going on here. There are now approximately seven thousand groupings of right-wing Tory MPs – New Conservatives, European Research Group, Common Sense Group, please god don’t make me list them all – and most of them are fairly new. What’s happening?
One explanation could be that those MPs looked at peacocks and saw something worth emulating. The right-wing of the party cannot win on numbers alone, but it can try and make itself look bigger and more important than it actually is. One way of doing it is to launch endless different factions, even though most of them have very similar membership lists.
Another is perhaps more rogue, but worth exploring: is it possible that they just love the attention? I am asking this in surprisingly good faith, and as someone who has been in the Westminster trenches since the general election of 2015.
Because of the Brexit forever wars and the never ending Conservative psychodrama, every MP who wanted a place in the spotlight between 2016 and 2020 managed to get it. Votes were often tight in the House of Commons, and leaderships were rarely safe. In this context, every politician mattered; every backbencher could decide to become prominent, and every grouping, no matter how small, had to be taken seriously.
This was a new development for an entire generation of British MPs. Many of them had spent years, sometimes decades, toiling away in relative obscurity, but suddenly what they did and said was of interest to the media. They had influence! They were listened to! How can that not have left a mark?
The only problem, really, was that it was never going to last. Rishi Sunak isn’t exactly thrilling but he has, for the most part, brought Westminster back to normal. He isn’t May or Johnson or Truss – merely a Conservative Prime Minister doing his best to govern, with a large majority.
What it means in practice is that the opinions of half-dozens of MPs shouldn’t really matter anymore. They are not able to head up rebellions large enough to topple the Prime Minister, or even make him lose votes in the Commons. They don’t matter anymore! But you know, you try and tell them that.
Because they got used to the taste of power, the right flank of the Tories are doing whatever they can to remain relevant. TV channels like GB News and TalkTV are helping keep their delusions alive, but they aren’t enough. What they crave is widespread media attention, and endless column inches.
How to get them? It’s easy! Just launch a new group every other week, and you’ll get hacks suddenly rushing to write about them, either seriously or as an excuse to make fun of…ah, dammit.