Liz Truss was supposed to arrive in Downing Street to give her first speech as Prime Minister at 4pm. She was delayed. The waiting television crews and print journalists jostled for position. Producers barged pushy hacks out of the way. Cabinet hopefuls James Cleverly, Ben Wallace and Nadhim Zahawi loitered on the street corner twiddling their shoe caps into the asphalt. Protesters and political voyeurs were pushed back onto the other side of Whitehall.
By 4.30pm the street was full, the sky darkened and the rain began. Umbrellas unfurled. Coats were donned. Droplets became drops. A black bin bag was put over the podium as a stream ran down the street. Someone handed me a plastic bag to cover my shoulders. The dilemma was obvious: Truss couldn’t give her first speech as Prime Minister blinking the rain away from her eyes. So we waited.
When her Range Rover did finally turn down the street, her chosen MPs applauded and she strode towards the podium as her husband, Hugh, skulked along the pavement.
Truss opened her speech with the now obligatory praise for her predecessor. As I wrote this morning, Boris Johnson and Truss have different values. The former loves big infrastructure spending and state projects. The latter wants to cut taxes and slim down the state. That posed a serious problem for Truss: how would she hold on to those whom Johnson convinced to vote Conservative for the first time in 2019? Her speech today was a first, small attempt to bridge that divide.
Levelling up was not mentioned, but she called for investment to be more evenly spread across the country. She asserted that the economy, energy and the NHS would be her priorities. She desperately tried to channel Johnson’s optimism, declaring her love for “modern brilliant Britain”. Any illusions about gravitas were quickly scuppered by the sounds of Gary Jules’s cover of “Mad World” wafting from the crowd of protesters. This wasn’t going to be the speech to carve her name into the history books. She approached the big black door, turned, held up her hand like she was giving a toddler a high five and went into No 10.