I’LL admit it: I’m a connoisseur of the madder corners of the Conservative and Unionist Party. I always have been. I first picked up the taste for observing these peculiar specimens in their natural habitats when still a teenager.

Back in 2003, a rather earnest, pious schoolfriend decided to take himself off to London to attend a Compassionate Conservatism Conference at Tory HQ. In most respects, he was a central-casting young Tory. He carried a briefcase to school, tended towards mild priggery, practised a judgemental form of Christianity, didn’t drink, smoke or swear – and demonstrated a reflexive deference for authority.

Briefcase Bob – as he was ­inevitably known – represented the perfect ­social ­cover to infiltrate this alien social ­environment. So he signed us both up – true believer and this cynic – for a trip to the imperial ­capital to hear what precisely the ­Conservative Party of 2003 imagined ­political ­compassion might look like.

We were surrounded by 150 Conservatives in their teens, 20s and 30s and a good chunk of the Shadow Cabinet explaining their vision for social justice. It proved just as surreal as you’d imagine.

From memory, the crowd was an ­interesting mix. There were old-school, patrician, one-nation Tories; unideological climbers looking for social connections; gilded children of the gentry (some overlap here); sincere decent folk who seemed to believe Compassionate Conservatism was a goer; Communitarian pray-away-the-gay social reactionaries, and crypto-fascists in Union Jack underpants.

I remember one chap told me he thought “everywhere north of Manchester was ­basically the same” – a one-nation social justice message if ever I’ve heard one. ­Mercifully, there wasn’t a breakout ­session to allow participants to leave votive ­candles at a shrine to Margaret Thatcher – but you could feel the Iron Lady’s unsleeping spirit hovering over the proceedings ­disapprovingly.

Bubbling beneath the surface, not even very subtly, was discontent with the whole endeavour, discontent with Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership, and a sense that the Tory Party is nothing without the smack of firm government – which usually means vilifying your opponents as closet socialists, traitors or crazed leftists whose main mission in politics is to provide political representation for foreign criminals, ­underclass communities, sexual and ­ethnic ­minorities and the workshy.

The Herald: Iain Duncan Smith

At the time, Duncan Smith (above) was ­presenting himself as a different kind of Tory, as his grief-stricken party – pried out of office for the first time since 1979 – tried to work out what to do with ­themselves five years later. The experiment of ­William Hague’s leadership had already failed. The New Labour brand remained ­completely dominant.

Compassionate conservatism was then in vogue with the leadership of the Tory Party, having been lifted from the United States and George W Bush’s folksy first presidential election campaign. ­Duncan Smith walked around communities blighted by economic decisions taken by successive Tory governments, and tutted at the state of the urban domain rather than immediately blaming the population for their own immiseration.

This was inevitably accompanied by a lot of commentary about “cultures of dependency” – but in a break with Tory tradition, he decided to blame the ­Labour government and economy for creating this dynamic rather than the affected communities themselves.

During the first years of the new millennium, making no political headway, the Conservative Party were in the grip of anxiety. Their main concern? The public thought they were Heartless Bastards. This was a period of painful self-reflection about the ideal level of ­political unpleasantness British people really wanted from their representatives.

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This period of hand-wringing is now best remembered through the words of future prime minister Theresa May. In 2002, she told the Tory conference that “our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us? The nasty party”.

She reassured party activists this ­characterisation of them was ­“unfair”, but regretfully reported that a big chunk of the population had convinced ­themselves the Tories were, in fact, ­profoundly ­unpleasant. May suggested that in ­future, they must avoid “behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our ­opponents”.

Her caution was instructive in terms of everything that happened next – not least under her own leadership.

“No more glib moralising, no more ­hypocritical finger-wagging,” she said, dramatically underestimating how ­enjoyable glib moralising and ­hypocritical finger-wagging continue to be.

Don’t believe me? I direct your attention to another Tory conference in London last week, some 20 years on from Duncan Smith’s lonely plea for Compassionate Conservatism. This one was advocating “popular conservatism” and left no finger left unjabbed, no paranoid fantasy unserviced, no fictional Tory bogeyman unbattled, and no line unglibly delivered.

The Herald: Liz Truss pictured at the Popular Conservatism conference in central London

Branded as “PopCon”, the launch event was an unsubtle gambit in the ­forever war between Tory ­factions ­determined to make their contribution towards the party’s defeat at the next ­General Election. And if this is anything to go by, the nervous breakdown the ­party is going to experience after polling day looks likely to finish the job PopCon started.

To describe the occasion as a Freudian nightmare is almost too accurate. One “rising star” in the party – Edinburgh-educated Mhairi Fraser – railed against the nanny state: “Once one freedom is surrendered, other freedoms follow because the state is no Mary Poppins. Let us never forget the nanny in her most monstrous form – the Covid lockdowns.”

Speaking of people haunted by their nannies, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg also put in an appearance, denouncing the evils of Davos man and “international cabals and quangos telling hundreds of millions of people how to lead their lives”.

The heat death of the universe was ­dismissed as the preoccupation of the “odd weirdo in the corner” by ­outgoing Tory chair Lee Anderson. The ­common Brit, we’re told, lies awake at night, tormented by anxiety about the net-zero agenda.

Leading the bill was former PM Liz Truss, who told the crowd that “­Britain is full of secret Conservative forces” who need to stand up to the “left-wing ­extremists” she claims have captured the government agenda, as we embark on the 14th year of Tory rule in the UK.

Truss currently has a favourability ­rating of minus 54% amongst the British public. Utterly unabashed by her own epic failures, the bag of iceberg PM bounced cheerfully into the room with the air of a woman who has incorporated a ­breakfast Chablis into her life and is ­enjoying the unstiffening buzz it ­introduces to ­morning meetings, melting the unhappy past with all of its gloomy reminders of setbacks and defeats into an agreeable grey fug.

The Herald:

Because Truss doesn’t just have a new Tory faction to launch. She also has a book to sell, which I fear I’m going to have to buy for the out-of-body-experience value alone. The tome is called Ten Years To Save The West: Lessons From The Only Conservative In The Room.

First, take a moment to appreciate the astonishing narcissism of the title. Truss staffed her cabinet with oddballs and ideological fellow travellers – yet still sees herself as the lonely voice for freedom, ­consoled by the idea that nobody is a prophet in their own country.

Most sentient people would be crushed by the personal and political wreck of a career Truss created for herself. Remarkably, she and her fellow travellers in the Tory Party are unabashed, unreflective and even uninformed about what actually happens when their political ideas experience a painful encounter with reality.

The text, we’re told, argued that “the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the adoption of fashionable ideas propagated by the global left give us barely a decade to preserve the economic and cultural freedom and institutions that the West holds so dear”. If the phrase “Western values are under siege” sounds like a sweat-stained conspiracy theory, you’re not far wrong. I suppose it’s just a mercy she didn’t call her book “the great replacement”.

Even the dust cover has its diversions. Boris Johnson submitted a review in which he writes “I commend this invigorating tract!” – which sounds like the kind of sentimental Tripadvisor review our unreliable ex-PM might give one of his ex-partners after the inevitable break up.

That isn’t the end of the threats and menaces. We’re told the book is “peppered with newsworthy anecdotes from Truss’s time in public life” – because when you think of Truss, you think of one of life’s natural raconteurs – including “her memorable last meeting with Queen Elizabeth II” and other awkward social encounters with prominent political figures during her … er … 49 days in high office.

So fellow Tory watchers, update your calendars. Liz Truss’s screed is due to be published on April 16 – 15 days late.