Today it was time for the prime minister’s speech. The train strike meant that quite a few people had left the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham a day early. They didn’t want to get stuck – that, at least, was their story. When Liz Truss speaks, it is with all the warmth of the talking clock. Her delivery has a Terminator-like, halting awkwardness, a leaden, tone-deaf quality that brings to mind someone beating a carpet.
As she walked out onto the stage the sound system played Moving On Up, a jaunty 90s synth-pop hit, and the prime minister grinned at the crowd. Behind her, on the huge blue stage set, were the words “Getting Britain Moving”.
“It’s fantastic to see the cranes on the skyline, building new buildings,” read the prime minister from her autocue, in the first of many obviously unedited lines. Moving swiftly on to her political philosophy, Truss assured the audience that “I’m not gonna tell you what to do or what to think,” adding that “I’m not interested in how many two-for-one offers you buy at the supermarket.”
She then moved from philosophy to recall a moment of bitter unfairness from her childhood. Young Liz was on a plane with her parents, and someone gave her a junior air hostess badge. Her brothers, she said gravely and with a scowl, were both given junior pilots’ badges. Hearing this, the audience fell about laughing.
It was shortly after this that two Greenpeace protestors stood up with a banner and began shouting. “Let’s get them removed,” Truss muttered darkly into the microphone, as they were bundled out by security.
The crowd loved it. The sight of burly men frog-marching the two young women environmentalists from the hall got easily the biggest cheer of the day. “Later in my speech I am going to talk about the anti-growth coalition, but I think they arrived a bit too early,” quipped Truss, before assuring her crowd that “we are doing more to protect people from the energy crisis than any other country in Europe.”
From there she moved swiftly onto growth, her favourite subject – and it seems also her favourite word. “We must level up our country in a Conservative way,” she said, adding that “We must grow the pie”. Reacting to this statement on Twitter, the noted restaurant critic Jay Rayner made clear that it is not possible to grow a pie.
“I have a clear plan for the economy – growth, growth and growth,” said Truss, in the first of several repeat-the-word-three-times-to-sound-like-Thatcher moments. Also like Thatcher, she wants to cut taxes, because “It is the right thing to do, morally and economically”. That got a round of applause. Turning to the awkward matter of her party’s near-existential argument over the abolition of the 45p rate of income tax, it was, she said airily, a “distraction”. Even so, Truss said, “I get it and I have listened,” though it was not clear from her remarks what exactly the “it” is that she now gets.
Contrition? Not a bit of it. “It would have been wrong” not to go ahead at full tilt with the tax plans, she said. Apparently unfazed by the prospect of global unpopularity, the prime minister also promised to “expand our Rwanda scheme”, in which migrants arriving in Britain would be flown to the central African country. She assured the hall that the home secretary would “bring forward new legislation to make sure no European judge can overrule us”. There was a smattering of applause. In the audience Suella Braverman, the home secretary, beamed.
“I will not allow the anti-growth coalition to hold us back,” said Truss, in yet another huge topic-swerve. And who makes up this coalition? People “who taxi from their north London townhouses to BBC studios,” that’s who. They are, said Truss, a sworn Thatcherite, all those tiresome people who “pedal the same answers” to Britain’s problems.
As for Keir Starmer, he has “no clear plan and no long term vision for Britain”. Mark Drakeford won’t build an M4 relief road and Nicola Sturgeon won’t build more nuclear power stations. “Does the anti-growth coalition have any idea who pays their wages?,” Truss beamed at the audience, who spotted their cue and applauded. “They don’t face the same challenges as normal people.” They are, she said, menacingly, “enemies of enterprise”.
“The status quo is not an option,” she said, drawing to a close. “We must stay the course,” and she rounded off with a final promise to “build a new Britain for a new era”.
It was a tangled, spaghetti-like speech that was perhaps a little low on coherence. Not much wit, either, or humility. Or charm. Or any grasp of the domestic and global economic and financial calamity that she and her policies have created. On the plus side it was short. Having got it over with, there was no onstage spousal embrace, no waving and pointing to buddies in the crowd or soaking up of applause. Instead Truss strode off and after one over-the-shoulder wave, was out of the hall.
The Greenpeace protestors who had earlier disrupted her speech had held up a banner, reading, “Who voted for this?” Many Conservatives, and voters around the country, will have seen it. Having heard this really very poor and uninspiring speech, they may be asking themselves the same question. The unavoidable answer — no-one.