BIRMINGHAM, England — Liz Truss named her priorities as “growth, growth, growth” in a Conservative Party conference speech interrupted by environmental protesters.
In her first address to Tory conference as prime minister — which came after a bruising week marked by a high-profile tax U-turn and party infighting — a combative Truss hit out at opposition parties, trade unions, “vested interests dressed up as think tanks,” pundits, Brexit “deniers” and campaign group Extinction Rebellion as obstacles to growth.
During the Birmingham speech, two Greenpeace activists raised a sign reading “Who voted for this?”, a challenge to the government’s decision to lift a ban on fracking for shale gas. It prompted the prime minister, who was cheered by supporters in the room amid the disruption, to dismiss the pair as part of “the anti-growth coalition” shortly after they were bundled out by security.
Truss, who has faced sharp criticism of a recent tax-cutting budget, used her half-hour address to promise to break Britain out of a “high-tax, low-growth cycle,” arguing it is “wrong to invest only in places which are thriving, as economic models often have it.”
“For too long the political debate has been dominated by the argument about how we distribute a limited economic pie,” she said, reprising a familiar theme. “Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice.”
Britain’s new premier sought to cement her economic message — namely that growth will follow her initially controversial policies — after being knocked off course earlier this week with an abrupt reversal of plans to cut the top rate of tax. The tax climbdown came after open dissent in Tory ranks, but may not be enough to bring the party back together. Even her Cabinet appears divided as a decision looms on whether to increase social security payments in line with inflation.
Truss poured scorn on “the voices of decline” and vowed to take the hard decisions necessary to ensure “Britain’s best days lie ahead.”
Strikingly absent from the speech was any mention of her journey to the top job, opposed by more than half of her parliamentary colleagues, or efforts to bring the Conservatives back together after weeks of bitter rows. While Truss pledged to “get us through the tempest,” she did not dwell on the challenges faced by the U.K. this winter as voters count the cost of rising inflation.
With the speech held in the smaller of two auditoriums at the conference’s Birmingham venue, Truss spoke to a packed hall. However, many attendees had disappeared early to avoid rail strikes.
The prime minister received a standing ovation for her words on Ukraine, as she argued that the West did not stand up to Russia early enough and vowed this “won’t happen again.”
Labour dismissed the conference address, with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves saying: “Liz Truss has been a government minister for the last 10 years. She has been at the heart of building a Conservative economy that has led to the flat wages and low growth she highlighted today.”
In the wake of the speech, Truss’ press secretary defended its lack of policy announcements, promising plenty in the weeks to come and saying the speech was short “because she wants to get on with delivering stuff.”