Liz Truss was in fighting form as she delivered a blistering attack on the “anti-growth coalition” in her first conference speech as PM.
In what can only be described as a fraught Tory party conference in Birmingham, the PM gleefully singled out various members of this so-called coalition. They include the main opposition parties, Extinction Rebellion activists, “militant” unions and those who travel in “taxis from North London townhouses to the BBC studio to dismiss anyone challenging the status quo.” She didn’t quite say so but she may have been tempted to suggest the coalition included a few of her own MPs.
These “enemies of enterprise”, as she labelled them, peddle “the same old answers: more taxes, regulation and meddling.”
After a tumultuous two weeks, the PM’s half hour speech was a crucial chance for her to regain some authority and shore up her premiership. Vowing to press ahead with her divisive budget measures, she reiterated her unbending commitment to cutting taxes in order to generate “growth growth growth.”
Did she succeed? While no natural orator, Truss did better than expected. She managed to avoid appearing rattled by the economic turmoil of the past fortnight. And word from those present in the conference hall seems to be that her speech went down quite well.
It’s worth remembering though that it’s not the party members – who voted her in – who the PM most needs to win over. Many have supported her particular vision of a smaller state from the very start. It’s the general public, the markets and many of her own MPs she is yet to convince.
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There were no big new ideas or policies in the speech – she will have taken the view that the public has had enough for a while. More pertinently, she also entirely skipped over a major issue causing ruptures in her party this week. There was no mention of whether or not she will raise Universal Credit in line with inflation, or whether she will risk a backbench rebellion by opting for a real-terms benefits cut.
Truss only briefly mentioned the plight of borrowers, saying that government will do what it can while reminding her audience that interest rates are set independently by the Bank of England. Her speech comes on the very day that an average two-year fixed mortgage rate has breached 6% for the first time since the 2008 financial crash.
Labour responded to the speech by pointing out that the “high-tax, low-growth” cycle which Truss is vowing to help Britain break out of has happened under Tory watch.
“Liz Truss has been a government minister for the last 10 years. She has been at the heart of building a Conservative economy that has led to the flat wages and low growth she highlighted today,” said shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.
As for the markets, there was no dramatic reaction to the PM’s address. The pound is back to where it was last week while the government’s borrowing costs have come down.
Ironically, an attempted sabotage of her speech transpired to be a fortuitous moment for Truss: the PM was interrupted mid-sentence by a bunch of Greenpeace activists, who stormed into the hall to protest against her fracking ban and wavering commitment to net zero. In reality, this only helped to reinforce her message about the disruptive nature of the “anti-growth coalition” she wishes to take on.