When a new party leader is elected, they should be riding high — and their speech at conference usually forms the apex of that high.
This isn’t the case for Liz Truss, whose speech marks the end of a conference dogged by a screeching U-turn over the top rate of tax, division and downright misery.
At just 36 minutes-long, Truss’s speech was short for a party leader.
Her song choice of ’Moving on up” by M People was also telling: the prime minister was pitching for a little goodwill and faith as she attempted to shore up optimism after it was dashed by the markets’ reaction to the mini-budget.
In the short time she was on stage, Truss did not veer far from her brand of economics or politics that earned her her victory in the Tory leadership race, hammering home the importance of growth and those who seek to thwart it: the so-called “anti-growth coalition” of liberal progressives.
Here are five key takeaways from Truss’s speech.
Heckled by Greenpeace
By far the standout moment in Truss’s speech was when she was interrupted by protestors from Greenpeace, who shouted: “Who voted for fracking?”
Pausing her speech, Truss could be heard saying to security: “Let’s get them removed.”
Truss has lifted the ban on fracking in England, despite having been warned it is not yet known how likely it is to cause earthquakes.
While the protest shone a light on a policy that has proved unpopular with some of her own MPs, it also earned her the greatest round of applause and saw her face down her detractors in the “anti-growth coalition” in a rare moment of unity at an otherwise fractious conference.
Growth, growth, growth
Truss said she had three priorities for the economy: growth, growth, growth.
Truss has made growth her raison d’etre as a politician and showed no sign of relenting from it in this speech. She said her government would cut taxes as it was the “right thing to do morally and economically”.
In a nod to the “boosterism” of her predecessor, Boris Johnson, she said she would “build roads, rail, energy and broadband quicker” and be “proudly pro-growth, pro-aspiration and pro-enterprise”.
She acknowledged there may be some resistance to her plans, saying this “mission will be difficult but necessary”.
Just as her icon Margaret Thatcher tasked herself with reversing economic decline, Truss declared: “We have no alternative if we want to get our economy moving again.
“I am ready to make hard choices. You can trust me to do what it takes. The status quo is not an option. That is why we cannot give in to the voices of decline.”
The culture wars are alive and kicking
Aside from the protestors at Greenpeace, Truss turned her fire to what she called the “anti-growth” coalition of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP.
Also lumped in this category are “militant unions, the vested interests dressed up as think-tanks, the talking heads, the Brexit deniers, Extinction Rebellion — and some of the people we had in the hall earlier”.
Truss derided this coalition of critics as people who “prefer protesting to doing” and who “prefer talking on Twitter to taking tough decisions”.
She, on the other hand, was on the side of “normal working people — “I’m thinking of the white van drivers, the hairdressers, the plumbers, the accountants, the IT workers and millions of others up and down the UK”.
The anti-growth coalition, as the new “enemies of enterprise”, has clearly replaced the judges who were chastised as “enemies of the people” for ruling that parliament must have a say over Brexit.
Personality over policy
Truss’s speech was light on policy, which is not surprising given the fact her mini-budget represented the biggest series of tax cuts in half a century.
Instead, Truss talked about herself as the first prime minister to have gone to a comprehensive school.
In what felt like a nod to the current questions that hang over her authority and credibility, Truss said: “I know how it feels to have your potential dismissed by those who think they know better.”
Echoing her pitch for the Tory leadership, she emphasised that she had to graft to get where she is today.
Recalling how she had been presented on a plane with a “Junior Air Hostess” badge while her brothers were given “junior pilot badges”, Truss added: “It wasn’t the only time in my life that I have been treated differently for being female or for not fitting in,” she said.
“It made me angry and it made me determined — determined to change things so other people didn’t feel the same way.”
The F word
Following the market turmoil that ensued in reaction to the mini-budget, Truss will have been keen to stress that the Conservative party remained the party of “fiscal responsibility”.
Truss used the same words she has previously when acknowledging the u-Turn on abolishing the 45p tax rate, saying it had become a “distraction” and that she was “no longer proceeding with it.”
In the next breath she said she would keep an “iron grip on the nation’s finances” and that she believed in “fiscal responsibility”, “sound money” and a “lean state” — all important Conservative buzzwords.
Truss will be hoping that with this speech she would not have scared the horses further and that the party can recover its reputation.