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Tory right ‘plotting Liz Truss-style leader to replace Sunak post-election’

Tory right-wingers have hatched a plot to install a Liz Truss-style leader in the wake of a looming general election wipeout in a move that would see the Conservatives shift further to the right in opposition.

The so-called Popular Conservatism (PopCons) movement, whose launch Ms Truss spoke at in February, is hoping to ensure a free-market libertarian Tory wins the expected leadership election to follow.

It comes as a major poll put the Conservatives on course to hold just 98 seats at the election, down from 365 in 2019, with Labour on course to win 468.

Liz Truss’s involvement with the PopCons was seen as a way to influence a future leadership contest (PA Wire)
Liz Truss’s involvement with the PopCons was seen as a way to influence a future leadership contest (PA Wire)

The historically large defeat would likely see Rishi Sunak step down, ushering in a contest to take over as Tory leader.

The PopCons, now fronted by former Institute for Economic Affairs director Mark Littlewood, to whom Ms Truss tried to grant a peerage, has developed a plan to ensure the group’s preferred candidate can win.

Mr Littlewood has reportedly told friends that the PopCons’ candidate of choice will need the backing of 70 MPs and 70,000 Tory members.

Sources working with PopCon told The Times that Priti Patel was the group’s favoured candidate if Mr Sunak loses the next election and stands down.

One told the paper: “There’s a war going on, and we’re going to win it. We need to reinvigorate the free market perspective within the Conservative party.”

Another said: “Team Liz are comfortable with PopCon being in part an apparatus for Priti’s leadership bid. She’s Liz’s preferred candidate, no doubt.”

A moderate Tory MP told The Independent a lurch to the right could send the Conservatives into a ‘doom spiral’ (Paul Ellis/PA Wire)
A moderate Tory MP told The Independent a lurch to the right could send the Conservatives into a ‘doom spiral’ (Paul Ellis/PA Wire)

But a moderate Conservative MP told The Independent that a lurch to the right after electoral defeat would be a “failure to learn the lesson of 1997” and would send the party into a “doom spiral”.

William Hague, who succeeded John Major in 1997 after Tony Blair’s landslide win , was criticised for taking the party to the right in a bid to appeal to core supporters but failing to reach the wider electorate.

The senior Tory MP who spoke to The Independent was more optimistic than recent polls, which have pointed to the Tories winning fewer than 100 seats in the House of Commons, but admitted the Conservatives would be “lucky” to get 200.

It comes amid repeated speculation about a group of so-called “plotters” who could even try to remove Mr Sunak before the election. The PM is facing a gruelling set of local elections on 2 May, with the Conservatives facing the potential loss of hundreds of local council seats and even key Tory metro mayors.

Ms Truss has ruled out running to be Tory leader again herself, but has defended her disastrous premiership by saying she was “not given a realistic chance to enact my policies by a very powerful economic establishment, coupled with a lack of political support”.

Other MPs believed to be prepping bids for the next leadership race are defence secretary Grant Shapps and leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman and ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick are also expected to stand.

Business secretary Kemi Badenoch is also seen as a likely contender in the contest.