A new group of secondary conservatives has formed in a new challenge to the authority of Rishi Sunak.
The so-called “New Conservatives” today released an inaugural report focusing on a 12-point plan to reduce legal migration. The group, co-chaired by Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, has called on the prime minister to reduce net migration from 606,000 last year to less than 226,000 by the upcoming elections in order to “save face”.
Political specifics aside, this latest Conservative cabal advocates a fundamental realignment of the party to better reflect the interests of voters in the Midlands and across the red wall in the north, where the New Conservatives are mainly based.
Drawn from the 2017 and 2019 elections, the selected “New Conservative” MPs mainly sit in small majorities in constituencies that are likely to return to Labor in 2024 if the polls stand as they are. A change of just a few points in the next election would put many of the new Tories out of work, a fact that will focus minds amid this latest round of factional activism.
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In addition, the New Conservatives enter a crowded field of party caucuses, with already well-established cliques such as the Common Sense Group, the European Research Group, the Northern Research Group, the Blue Collar Conservatives, the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, One Nation Los Conservatives and, more unofficially, National Conservatives vying for political space. What is certain: Gone are the days when the Conservative Party could be perfectly divided into wet and dry.
So how do the “new conservatives” of Kruger and Cates relate to their factional forebears?
common sense group
A first observation is that the New Conservatives join a crowd of cliques leaning mainly to the right of the party and made up of groups that largely overlap, both in terms of personnel and ideological goals.
The Common Sense Group of right-wing, anti-woke Conservative MPs is probably the best comparison to the new Kruger and Cates grouping. Established in 2020 and said to have the support of around 60 members, the Common Sense Group boasts of speaking on behalf of the “silent majority of voters” who are “tired of being patronized by the bourgeois elite.” ”. Suella Braverman, the Minister of the Interior, is closely linked to the group and her manifesto, Common Sense: Conservative Thinking for a Post-Liberal Era published in May 2021, it opens with a preface written by his closest ally, Sir John Hayes. In Common senseSir John writes: “With the opportunities brought by Brexit, now is the time for a renewed national conversation on the defining issues of our time: nationality, community, migration, rule of law and public order.”
The crossover in terms of personnel is also significant. For example, John Hayes, the founder of the Common Sense Group, is also the president of the New Conservatives.
Next, the vice-chairman of the Common Sense group is Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich and the named author of the New Conservatives’ twelve-point migration plan. Other crossover MPs include: Lee Anderson (said to join the New Conservatives but was conspicuously absent at the group’s launch due to “a terribly sick bug”), Nick Fletcher, Danny Kruger, Jonathan Gullis, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Gareth Bacon, Marco Longhi and Alexander Stafford.
Nor is it hidden that the ideological approaches of the groups are similar. In addition to migration, the other areas the New Conservatives will reportedly focus on are tax drag inequality, reversing cuts in the size of the military, and tackling the “wake up agenda.”
The Northern Research Group
The spatial and geographic emphasis of the New Conservative group, with parliamentary members originating mainly from the Red Wall, justifies comparison with the Northern Research Group (NRG). This group was created after the 2019 elections to defend the interests of the red wall MPs, and the NRG had a great influence on Boris Johnson’s operation No. 10. Its leader, Sir Jake Berry, was knighted by the former prime minister and he was reported to be considering a bid to replace Johnson at number 10. He then briefly served as party chairman under Liz Truss.
The NRG recently hosted a conference, led by the Prime Minister, which put forward policy proposals including a “leveling formula” for the North, which would mirror how the Barnett formula works for decentralized nations; and “devomax”, that is, the additional powers transferred to the regions to reduce taxes, dictate housing requirements and set stamp duty rates. Along with Rishi Sunak, the conference was led by Nick Fletcher, in whose Doncaster constituency the conference was held. Fletcher is a member of the New Conservatives group.
The European research group
Another observation about the rise of the New Conservatives is that it marks a move away from the “Inquiry Group” model of cross-party factional politics. The NRG, the European Research Group (ERG), the Covid Research Group (CRG) and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) designed their backbench activism on policy and “research” on a single issue. The model was launched by the ERG cabal, founded in 1993 but which rose to prominence in the Brexit debates from 2016 to 2019 led variously by Suella Braverman, Chris Heaton-Harris, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker.
During Theresa May’s tenure, he ran a highly effective shadow flogging operation and was instrumental in rejecting her Brexit deal on three occasions. Under the leadership of Mark Francois, the ERG is still active but its influence has diminished. In particular, he swam against the grain in the February Windsor Framework vote, in which Conservative MPs roundly backed Rishi Sunak’s renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
So, by taking on a broader mandate than the ERG (and its spinoffs in the CRG, NZSG and NRG), the New Conservatives are more openly a “party within a party” than their forebears. In fact, the New Conservatives operate in some way to unite the diverse ideological emphases of the Investigation Group phenomenon that has swept the party in recent years. It could be a sign of trouble for the prime minister if he becomes the main lightning rod for right-wing discontent in the back banks.
He National Conservatives
In addition, the New Conservatives seek to build their political position on the ideological foundations established by the National Conservative conference. The Conservative National Conference, or against national, held in May, was addressed by a number of New Conservative figures, including co-chairs Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, as well as the group’s chairman, Sir John Hayes. In her speech, Cates described low birth rates as an existential crisis for the West and was criticized for her use of the term “cultural Marxism.” Kruger, who stands out among the other New Conservatives because of his strong majority of 23,993, declared that the “normative family, united by marriage,…is the only possible foundation for a secure and successful society.”
In this way, the number of factions of the conservative right—trading in familiar MPs and family grievances—manage to create the illusion of intellectual energy, tapping into the ferment fanned by Nat Con.
But unfortunately for its defenders, it may be just that: an illusion.
The tendency of the conservative right to split into overlapping factional units, prompting comment about the buildup of a battalion on Sunak’s right flank, may mask the scale of influence of such groups in the parliamentary party as a whole. Take a step back, and it is the One Nation group of moderate Conservative MPs that is the largest caucus in the parliamentary party. In fact, the 100-person caucus dwarfs the size of the New Conservatives, the latest entrant in the burgeoning conservative caucus scene.
The conservatives of a nation
Established in 2019 to counter the ERG, the One Nation group is made up of Conservative MPs to the left of the party. Its influence initially dwindled after Boris Johnson ousted 21 Conservative MPs who challenged the government over Brexit, but after the 2019 election it was relaunched under the chairmanship of Damian Green, Theresa May’s de facto former MP in the number 10.
The One Nation Conservatives epitomize the traditional centre-right in British politics. They pursue pragmatic and adaptive politics, providing a parliamentary counterweight to the eurosceptic and socially anti-liberal aspects of the party once typified by the ERG. It’s no secret that the recent political landscape has been cruel to the faction’s prospects. Brexit has recast the tone of the Conservative party, redirecting the party’s electoral focus towards the red wall and a “new type” of Conservative epitomized by the “New Conservative” offer; and the new political incentives in the culture war certainly raise questions about the continued relevance of a nation’s politics. Furthermore, the grouping, unlike its right-wing counterparts, has also been hesitant to move as an organized force in the back banks in a bid to win concessions from the number 10.
The relative calm of the one-nation faction, perhaps sensing that the political tides are turning against it, has arguably allowed the party’s right wing free rein to try to shape Rishi Sunak’s political offering. This is despite the fact that the one nation wing overwhelmingly endorsed Sunak in the summer against Liz Truss and was instrumental in his eventual ascendance as prime minister in October.
The fractional future of conservatives
So the right wing of the party, allied to Braverman, made up of groups like the Common Sense Group, has a number of WhatsApp groups, but they are, congressman by congressman, challenged numerically. Furthermore, the fact that many members of the New Conservative caucus sit in constituencies with slim majorities probably bodes ill for the cabal’s long-term political prospects.
In the short term, with the one-nation faction languishing in a prolonged state of torpor, a group of 25 right-wing MPs with fatalistic sentiments could cause Sunak some trouble. The group’s apparent adoption of being a “party within a party” could be significant on the road to general elections expected next year, as they corral discontent from lawmakers.