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It says a lot about the current state of the Conservative party that the biggest attraction at their annual conference in Manchester this week has been their former leader Liz Truss.
Despite polls suggesting that she was the least popular Prime Minister of modern times, huge crowds of Conservative activists queued to watch her address a fringe event on Monday.
Once she arrived, Rishi Sunak’s predecessor received the celeb treatment from press photographers and activists desperately scrambling for selfies and autographs.
Among the crowds was the former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, who looked on jealously as Truss received a rapturous reception from the party faithful, with the applause of one young activist sitting beside me so loud that it actually started to hurt my ears.
“I really think she had the right ideas” one member of the crowd told me as we waited, adding that the former PM had been brought down by the Bank of England and “the establishment”.
After an opening round of applause for GB News, who she described as “challenging the orthodoxy”, Liz Truss took to the stage in front of the Trumpian slogan “Make Britain Grow Again”.
Setting out her vision for the country, the former PM urged her party to “axe the tax” and start fracking for shale gas, insisting that they must “unleash that gas we are sitting on”.
There was gas-a-plenty elsewhere at conference, in the ‘Think Tent’ hosted by the Truss-supporting Tufton Street think tanks the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Taxpayers’ Alliance.
At a session titled “Can we ever really take back control?” a panel of Conservative MPs lashed out at what they called the “shadow state” running the country.
“The penny is dropping among people in Westminster that the Government doesn’t run the Government”, the Conservative MP Danny Kruger told the room, suggesting that it was instead run by a shadowy “blob” of quangos, civil servants and publicly-funded charities.
While acknowledging that the public “hate it” when the party that has actually been in power for the last 13 years claims not to have actually been the ones in charge, Kruger insisted that the problem of these shadowy alternative power bases had to be sorted out.
“We need to do much more to mitigate and address the natural tendency of Government to imagine the response to any crisis is another huge institution and parastatal organisation, including at the global level”, Kruger said.
Dipping into the realms of outright conspiracy theory, he added that “there’s a huge movement going on globally, to create essentially a world government that will have power to dictate to national governments what they should do, both in the anticipation of another pandemic, but also in the event of a pandemic”.
“There can be no more greater threat to our national democracy”.
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Such conspiracy theorising has not just been the preserve of activists and backbench MPs at this week’s conference, but of actual members of the Government too.
Addressing a half-empty conference hall, the Transport Secretary Mark Harper attacked what he described as a “sinister” plot by some opposition politicians to keep people tied to their homes.
Echoing the far-right conspiracy theory of ’15 minute cities’ which has been portrayed as a bid to control the population, Harper said that “What is sinister, and what we shouldn’t tolerate, is the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and ration who uses the roads and when, and they police it all with CCTV”.
This conspiratorial style of politics, which has also been utilised by Sunak himself in recent weeks, is a clear sign of the direction this Conservative Government is now taking as it heads back towards opposition.
With polls suggesting the vast majority of voters now believe public services are in a dire state, Sunak’s party is instead seeking to place itself in opposition not just to its own record, but to observable reality itself.
Whether its the Prime Minister announcing plans to scrap non-exsitent plans for a “meat tax”, or the Home Secretary insisting that multiculturalism presents an “existential threat” to western civilisation, the signs are that the modern Conservative party is not so much withdrawing to the fringes, as straying right off the map altogether.