Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
5 October 2022

Liz Truss’s strident rhetoric cannot disguise her political weakness

The Prime Minister’s speech cheered Tory activists but her problem is the rebel MPs awaiting her at parliament.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Liz Truss today, 5 October, tried to defeat journalism. The Prime Minister’s first Conservative conference speech as leader was so content-free that reporters were left unsure of what to report.

Her address was a predictable 34-minute indictment of all those opposed to the government, who she has given a new label – “the anti-growth coalition” – and it contained no new policy announcements (which many Tory MPs were probably relieved about).

The new leader, whose party has been in power for 12 years, tried to shore up her position by claiming Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP were the ones holding the country back, and that she would “build a new Britain for a new era”. There was no mention, of course, how growth has been partly thwarted by Brexit – a policy championed by many in her cabinet.

The most powerful person in the country, who worked for the energy giant Shell and lives in a Greenwich townhouse, also brazenly attempted to paint her critics as elitists, who “taxi from north London to the BBC studio to dismiss anyone challenging the status quo”.

This was a safety-first speech, which mashed together familiar lines from press releases sent out during the interminably long Conservative leadership race. The only brief moment of excitement came not from the stage but from Greenpeace protesters, who asked the question posed by many people won over by Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda in 2019: “Who voted for this?”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Truss dismissed them as being those who “prefer protesting to doing”. And Tory activists may be comforted by a leader who played the old hits – cutting “red tape” on business, junking all remaining EU laws, slamming “militant unions” on strike.

Content from our partners
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023

But Truss’s problem is not with the Tory rank and file. It’s with the MPs back in parliament who are girding themselves for battle over the not-so-mini-Budget and the welfare cuts Truss is committed to. Perhaps mercifully for the Prime Minister, the vast majority of Tory MPs avoided Birmingham.

Truss allies dismiss this week’s rows as “conference ricochet” and insist they are not fatal to her leadership. But it seems obvious how she will handle opposition to policies such as ending the ban on fracking and new grammar schools: despite welcoming comparisons to the “Iron Lady”, the weakened PM will be forced into a series of U-turns. 

By saying almost nothing – she listed her priorities as “growth, growth, growth”, and claimed the “enemies of enterprise” were “wrong, wrong, wrong” – Truss has survived for today. Whether she can for much longer is another question altogether.

[See also: Liz Truss wants to govern a country that does not exist]