Liz Truss’s honeymoon period, if indeed there was one, was already well and truly over prior to the Conservative Party Conference earlier this week. The Chancellor’s ‘fiscal statement’, ‘mini budget’, ‘largest tax giveaway in 50 years’, call it what you will, sent shock waves through the financial markets, shudders through Tory ‘red wall’ MPs and jarred against the UK public’s inherent sense of fairness. The screeching reversal on the abolition of the 45p tax rate showed us that the Thatcher wannabee is actually for turning. The first Conference of a newly elected Prime Minister is normally a chance for the new administration to set out their stall. Instead, we had a Chancellor and a Prime Minister whose key performance indicator was not to say anything that would further spook the markets and cause another financial meltdown.
Truss is known for her wooden delivery. In her speech on Wednesday, she did not disappoint. Flat throughout, bar a brief rally around the time of the intervention by the Greenpeace protestors, the applause lines often misfired and the interactions with the audience were cringeworthy. Around halfway through, and thankfully it was a shortish speech, Truss seemed to just want to rattle through as quickly as possible and read the autocue like she was scanning someone else’s speech for the very first time. Of course, content should always trump delivery. However, the content was also an issue, not just owing to what was said, but also what wasn’t said and it made me realise how much the Conservative Party has changed in a very short space of time.
Below are excerpts from Liz Truss’s speech on Wednesday and Theresa May’s first Conference speech in 2016. While May’s speech had its fair share of empty rhetoric, she never did “fix the burning injustices”, the difference between the two speeches, both in content and tone, is startling.
Theresa May speech – 5th October 2016
“It was (on the vote to leave the EU) about a sense – deep, profound and let’s face it often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them.”
“If we don’t take this opportunity to deliver the change people want – resentments will grow. Divisions will become entrenched. And that would be a disaster for Britain. Because the lesson of Britain is that we are a country built on the bonds of family, community, citizenship.“
“A country of decency, fairness and quiet resolve.“
“A country that boasts three of the top ten universities in the world. The world’s leading financial capital. And institutions like the NHS and BBC whose reputations echo in some of the farthest corners of the globe.”
“Yet within our society today, we see division and unfairness all around. Between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation. Between the wealth of London and the rest of the country. But perhaps most of all, between the rich, the successful, and the powerful – and their fellow citizens.“
“That spirit that means you respect the bonds and obligations that make our society work. That means a commitment to the men and women who live around you, who work for you, who buy the goods and services you sell.“
“But today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.“
“But for those who can’t work, we must offer our full support“.
“It’s a plan to tackle the unfairness and injustice that divides us, so that we may build a new united Britain, rooted in the centre ground.“
“That’s why the central tenet of my belief is that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest. We form families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations. We have a responsibility to one another.“
“Time for a new approach that says while government does not have all the answers, government can and should be a force for good; that the state exists to provide what individual people, communities and markets cannot;”
Liz Truss speech 5th October 2022
“I have three priorities for our economy: growth, growth and growth”.
“When the government plays too big a role, people feel smaller.”
“I believe in sound money and the lean state.“
“I love business. I love enterprise”.
“Cutting taxes is the right thing to do morally and economically.“
“Economic growth will mean we can afford great public services such as schools, the police and the NHS.“
“We will be proudly pro-growth, pro-aspiration and pro-enterprise”.
For those concerned about me cherry-picking excerpts, you can read May’s October 2016 speech in full here and Truss’s speech from earlier this week in full here. Apart from a number of questionable statements made by Truss, which deserve full analysis in a separate blog, after reading both speeches in full it is noticeable how narrow the breadth of Truss’s speech was.
Theresa May’s speech spoke about the importance of community, the importance of fairness and equality, setting out the role of the state as a protective force for the UK public and the importance of our institutions such as the NHS and the BBC. May acknowledged the imbalance of power between the elite and the ordinary people of the country.
What did we get from Truss? Empty rhetoric on Growth, growth and a bit more growth; a list of enemies to watch out for, and a headlong ideological dash to discredited trickle-down economics. However, even worse there was a complete lack of empathy or compassion or recognition of the importance of community and the role of the state within our society. While the cut to the 45p tax rate was reversed it clearly set out the priorities and direction of travel of this government. A government that believes it is entirely fair that the rich become richer at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society. Devoid of any commitment to social justice, it’s like both the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell disaster never happened. Climate change was mentioned once, lobbed into the same section of the speech as a commitment to open more gas fields in the North Sea.
Lacking in any original thought, you get the sense that Truss is merely a vessel for others to pass their ideas through, while painting herself as an anti-establishment figure challenging the status quo. It really was a tea-spitting moment when she talked of “the vested interests dressed up as think-tanks” given her connections to ‘Tufton Street’ think tanks such as the ‘Institute of Economic Affairs’ and the ‘Taxpayers Alliance’.
Virtually all the sensible heads have left the Conservatives. The intended path has been set and the future direction clearly laid out. It remains to be seen who will win the current ideological battle within the Tory party, but Labour must be ready for any eventuality, whether it be a further lurch to the right with Truss, or a return to a ‘one-nation toryism’ approach of Cameron and May.
The Tories have revealed there true colours as a party of the rich, for the rich. With the potential for the lights to go out across the UK this winter, looming cuts to public services and benefits and rising rents putting many on a financial cliff edge it is time for Labour to make crystal clear whose side we are on.
7th October 2022
Theresa May – full transcipt of speech to October 2016 Conservative Party Conference: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-speech-tory-conference-2016-in-full-transcript-a7346171.html
Liz Truss – full transcipt of speech to October 2022 Conservative Party Conference: https://www.conservatives.com/news/2022/prime-minister-liz-truss-s-speech-to-conservative-party-conference-2022
The tentacles of Tufton Street – Sam Bright, Byline Times: https://bylinetimes.com/2022/10/04/the-tentacles-of-tufton-street-think-tank-alumni-handed-top-government-roles/