Liz Truss conference speech unlikely to get alienated Tories moving

Call to rally around a common ‘anti-growth’ enemy greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulders

When Liz Truss ended her speech and turned to soak up a sea of grinning faces and warm applause from Conservative MPs and activists, she will have breathed a sigh of relief.

Not just that she had managed to rouse those in the room and produced no major hiccups, but that the bitterly divisive Tory party conference was finally over.

The prime minister’s 35-minute address contained no new policy announcements, and only the gentlest of nods to the division that has rocked the first few weeks of her premiership, with little of the contrition that some were hoping for.

But it did the job, and almost all of those leaving the conference centre will have departed with no worse view of their leader than they had the day before.


One cabinet minister reflected that the speech “won’t be remembered”, and several other members of the government greeted it with a collective shrug of the shoulders.

Wary that recent divisions will only have exacerbated the Conservatives’ depleting poll ratings, Truss made the central aim of her speech rallying the party around a common enemy: the “anti-growth” coalition.

She stuck to her mission of growth and painted Labour, the Liberal Democrats, SNP, trade unions and some think tanks as protesters rather than doers, a point somewhat bolstered by two Greenpeace demonstrators who interrupted her speech.

The intervention spurred her on with the opportunity to flash a quick riposte, allowing her to appear confident and fast on her feet.

But beyond the platitudes and greatest hits catalogue of Conservative ideology — a smaller state, lower taxes and increasing opportunity for all — most of the key details about the government’s new direction were lacking.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility,” she insisted. “I believe in sound money and the lean state.”

The fact she had to say those words and gave only a vague commitment to bringing down debt as a proportion of national income without affirming how or by when will be of little comfort to the critics in her own party.

“On the basis that it wasn’t a complete disaster, then it was probably above some people’s expectations,” one MP watching from home said. Another who was in the hall believed the same: “She did as well as she could have done — but that only reflects the constraints she’s under.”

But her performance over the past four weeks has already alienated some too far. “Frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to watch her trying to justify the impossible,” a former cabinet minister sighed.

Though Truss warned of “stormy days” ahead given the cost of living crisis, the same forecast is waiting for her back in Westminster.

For while MPs have been reassured the medium-term growth announcement by the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, pencilled in for November 23rd, will most likely be brought forward, the war-gaming about how to get rid of Truss if she has not won over the waverers will be in full flow when parliament returns from recess next Tuesday.

A spot on the 1922 Committee, which sets the rules for no-confidence votes, is up for grabs, and at least one arch-critic of Truss who wants her gone by Christmas is already quietly campaigning to fill it.

In the final line of her speech, Truss promised a “new Britain for a new era”. But her inability to convince many of those in her party her plan is the right one means the Conservative party has not shaken off its appetite for regicide.

Prime ministers can suffer a catastrophic loss of authority in days or hours, but any attempt by Truss to regain it from her restless backbenchers and ministers will not succeed with a single speech. It will take months — or even years. — Guardian