Unperturbed Liz Truss Doubles Down On Growth Message After Chaotic Tory Conference
Liz Truss delivers her Conservative party conference speech in Birmingham (Alamy)
Prime Minister Liz Truss has vowed to press ahead with her economic agenda in an unrattled speech at Conservative party conference, telling members that there can be no more "drift and delay" after a fractious few days.
The embattled prime minister insisted that "everyone will benefit" from her plans for sweeping tax cuts as she attempted to bounce back from the rocky first few weeks in No.10.
Her choice of walk-out song – Moving On Up by M People – was criticised by band member Mike Pickering, who tweeted it is "so sad it got used by this shower of a government".
Truss sought to hammer home her pro-growth message and accused Keir Starmer's Labour, other opposition parties, and trade unions, among others, of being part of an "anti-growth coalition".
"For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie.
"Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice. That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle," she said.
Truss took to the stage on Wednesday morning after several days of torrid Tory infighting, which saw one Cabinet minister deviate from Truss's message on benefits, and another accuse rebellious Tory MPs of staging a "coup" against the prime minister.
Tension within the party, which is broadly split between staunch Truss backers and those who wanted Rishi Sunak to replace Boris Johnson as leader and prime minister, has boiled over in conference panel events, with ministers and MPs criticising one another throughout the event.
PoliticsHome reported on Tuesday that some of Truss' fiercest critics are already discussing ousting her as party leader and prime minister, despite her government being just a month old.
The pressure on the prime minister ratcheted up on Monday when she decided to U-turn on her contentious policy of abolishing the 45p tax rate. Numerous Tory MPs, including party veterans like former Cabinet minister Michael Gove, had publicly voiced their opposition to the proposal, in a warning sign to Truss that the she faced a major rebellion in the House of Commons.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said the decision showed that the government was willing to listen to the concerns of others and said he believed that the economic turmoil triggered by the policy had been distracting from the government's wider economic agenda.
The u-turn unleashed discontent within cabinet, however, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clark both publicly expressing their disappointment.
But one cabinet minister sought to play down the division this morning, telling PoliticsHome that this year's party conference was "by no means the worst" they had been to compared to the opposition years and other times of turmoil, and that the impact of what happens at political party conferences on public opinion is exaggerated.
In her first speech to Tory members as prime minister in Birmingham today, Truss used the half hour address to acknowledge that her plan to kickstart growth had resulted in some "disruption".
There was turmoil in the markets after Kwarteng announced the 'mini budget' last month.
The government plan to fund major tax cuts through borrowing worth tens of billions of pounds was followed by the pound falling to its lowest ever level against the dollar, and prompted the Bank of England to take the drastic step of buying government debt in a bid to stabilise the situation.
However, Truss insisted that her plan would produce a "growing economy and a better future".
“This is a great country. But I know that we can do better and we must do better," she said.
"We have huge talent across the country. We’re not making enough of it. To deliver this, we need to get Britain moving. We cannot have any more drift and delay at this vital time."
Truss' spokesperson said that she was someone who is "willing to do things that are necessary to improve long term growth of the economy".
There were no new policies in Truss' speech but her spokesperson insisted that the government would make "quite a lot of policy announcements over the next month".
One of the prime minister's biggest rounds of applause during the speech came when she condemned Vladimir Putin and vowed to support Ukraine for "however long it takes" to overcome Russia's attack.
She also received a standing ovation when her speech was interrupted by Greenpeace protesters holding a sign reading "who voted for this?". Truss was heard saying: “Let’s get them removed."
However, the prime minister will return to Westminster under pressure from large numbers of Conservative MPs to raise her performance and close the gap on Labour in the opinion polls.
Labour's large, double-figure leads over the Tories, and warnings that the Conservatives face a 1997-style defeat at the next general election, have loomed large over the conference. Pollsters Sir John Curtice and James Johnston have warned that the party is very likely to lose the next general election, as has political strategist Rachel Wolf, who co-authored the party's 2019 election.
Opinion polls published on Monday by Redfield & Wilton and Savanta ComRes give Labour leads of 28% and 25% respectively, while a poll published by YouGov heading into the Tories' get together in Birmingham put the Conservatives a staggering 33% behind Labour.
Senior Conservatives have sought to play down the significance of recent polls.
Speaking to The Telegraph on Monday, Business Secretary Jacob Rees Mogg stressed that the Tory party plummeted in the polls in early 2019 before going on to win an 80-seat majority.
In his own speech ahead of Truss's address this morning, party chairman Jake Berry insisted that she is the leader who lead the Conservatives to victory at the next election, which is expected to take place in 2024.
"Liz Truss will unite and level up our country," he told members.
"She is the woman who will get Britain moving, and we will win."
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