OPINION - Liz Truss rails against the ‘anti-growth’ coalition

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

In the run-up to the 1983 general election, John Golding, Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, recalled telling Michael Foot how bad the polls were. Foot couldn’t believe it.

“You’re wrong,” he insisted. “There were a thousand people at my meeting last night and they all cheered.” Golding countered, “There were 122,000 outside who think you’re crackers.”

Liz Truss will be pleased with her speech to the Conservative Party Conference. The delivery was fluent by her standards. Indeed the interruption by climate protestors seemed to loosen her up. And the audience in the hall – the people who put her into Number 10 – lapped it up.

In other words, the speech succeeded on its own terms. Following days of cabinet infighting, an embarrassing U-turn on policy and market turmoil stemming from her Chancellor’s mini-budget, Truss got her message across. She was pro-growth, and anyone who disagreed with her was part of the ‘anti-growth coalition’. This group included, but was not limited to:

  • "Labour" – Who haven’t been in government for 12 years

  • "The Lib Dems" – Now both parts of the coalition can pretend it never happened

  • "The SNP" – Leaving a successful union for ideological reasons would be madness after all

  • "The militant unions" – Trains are cancelled, anyone want to split a taxi from Birmingham to north London?

  • "The vested interests dressed up as think tanks" – except the Institute for Economic Affairs or Taxpayers' Alliance

  • "The talking heads" – No, not those ones. Those ones.

  • "The Brexit deniers" – Lord Frost and the ERG who think we won't have Brexited properly until we ban all exports to France

  • "Extinction Rebellion" – Who share the government's net-zero ambition but hey-ho

Truss uttered the word “growth” 29 times. But saying something out loud is not the same as a plan to get there, or a parliamentary majority that will vote for it. A considered strategy wouldn’t involve just cutting the top rate of income tax – boilerplate Tory fare. Instead, it would focus on closer EU alignment, planning reform, a more liberal immigration policy, skills and adult education, doubling down not running away from net-zero.

One thing that people do like about Truss that has come up in focus groups is that at set piece occasions (though less so in interviews) she says what she believes and why she believes it. Problem is, the group of people who reward her for it is small and shrinking. YouGov has the prime minister as less popular than Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn at their respective nadirs.

Therefore in a narrow sense, today was a success. Truss got through the speech unscathed. In fact, she got to deliver the leader’s speech she always dreamed of giving. Whether it sets the stage for a political comeback remains unclear.

In the comment pages, Defence Editor Robert Fox says that like a Chicago mobster, Vladimir Putin knows he is badly losing the numbers game. While Comment Editor Robbie Smith has moved to Greenwich, the new Notting Hill set, at the worst possible time.

And finally, the Office for National Statistics has revealed Britain’s most popular boys’ and girls’ names. Sadly, Jack has departed the top 10 for the first time since the time series began in 1996. If you want a proper deep dive, the boffins at the ONS had some fun here.

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