Popular Conservatives clan meets in Westminster amid agreement Tories are neither ‘popular nor conservative’

While the right-wing Tory factions meet to plan a ‘rebuild’, election winners gathered in parliament to be sworn in

Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks at the Popular Conservatism event in London on Tuesday. Photograph: Maja Smiejkowska/PA Wire

The vanquished remnants of the right wing of the Conservative Party congregated in an old church in Westminster on Tuesday to consider the scale of their election defeat and plot their comeback. Meanwhile, MPs including Labour’s burgeoning coterie of 412 winning candidates gathered around the corner in parliament to be sworn in to the House of Commons.

The Popular Conservatives (PopCon) wing of the Tory party met at the evangelical old Emmanuel Church on Marsham Street, where the movement was first launched in a packed room and blaze of publicity back in February. Former prime minister Liz Truss was the star turn then.

This time was different. Truss, who lost her Westminster seat last week, was absent. The general mood was flat and near-despondent among the right-wing faithful who showed up for the “beginning the rebuild conference”, which was held in front of a two-thirds empty auditorium.

Arch Brexiteer and former MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who also lost his Somerset seat in his party’s landslide defeat last week, tried to lift the mood. He noted drily from the podium that, despite the movement’s moniker, the Tories were neither “popular nor conservative” enough.

Mark Littlewood, director of Popular Conservatism, speaks during the event in London on Tuesday. Photograph: Maja Smiejkowska/PA Wire

His sister, the former Tory MEP Annunziata Rees-Mogg, welcomed the sparse crowd with a pledge that the PopCon conference would try to help attendees understand “why the electorate left us”.

PopCon’s director Mark Littlewood, who was nominated by Truss for a peerage that he claimed was blocked by Westminster authorities, decried the tendency among defeated political parties to move towards the political centre to regain the trust of voters.

“You don’t move to the centre. You get the centre to move towards you,” he said.

Historian David Starkey announced to the room that his “father was a toolmaker”, a jibe at the election campaign mantra of Labour leader Keir Starmer, who repeated it often to buttress his working-class credentials. Like Littlewood, Starkey’s diagnosis of the Tory party’s ills was that it hadn’t been right wing enough in recent years.

David Starkey at the Popular Conservativism event. Photograph: Maja Smiejkowska/PA Wire

“What is a conservative government doing when [its leader] says his greatest achievement was [introducing] gay marriage. It is deranged,” said Starkey, in a condemnation of former prime minister David Cameron who led the government between 2010 and 2016.

Writer and member of the House of Lords Daniel Hannan predicted that Labour’s popularity would be short-lived: “When things turn tough, people will realise that all of the problems under the old [Tory] government are still there”. However, he also urged right wing Tories to mount “constructive opposition” to Starmer’s government.

Fellow peer David Frost, who was one of Britain’s Brexit negotiators, suggested he could be minded to leave the Tory party if it didn’t return to, as he saw it, more traditional conservative values. “If the party shows it isn’t interested in our ideas, then what is the point of it? I am loyal to the ideas, not the institution,” he said.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman, who harbours leadership ambitions, recorded a message from Washington, where she is attending a conference for US conservatives. Meanwhile, Rees-Mogg warned the room that the Conservative Party had no entitlement to right-wing votes.

Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna have sworn-in to the House of Commons 'under protest', with Hanna addressing her protest in Irish. Video: UK Parliament TV

Hours later in parliament, the candidates who had won in their constituency battles lined up to be sworn in as MPs with an oath of allegiance to King Charles.

Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Colum Eastwood who won the Foyle seat in Derry, was among them.

Eastwood told the House of Commons staff member who presented with him with the oath that he would take it only “so that I can serve my constituents ... but I do it under protest”.

Then he was sworn in, safe in his seat for the next five years, which defeated Tories such as Rees-Mogg will spend plotting their way back.