“Every time a change is imposed, it causes disruption.” Britain’s Prime Minister Liz Truss tried to convince Conservative party members gathered in Birmingham on Wednesday for her annual congress that she knows what’s in her hand, after nearly two weeks of turbulent markets, with the pound plummeting and his own party’s internal rebellion over tax cuts for the wealthiest, cast doubt on his continuity at Downing Street. “Not everyone will endorse this change, but everyone will benefit from its fruits: a growing economy and a brighter future,” he has promised to members of a formation that has sunk in almost irreversible pessimism in recent days.
The Prime Minister took the stage to the rhythm of the song ‘Moving On Up’, which launched the success of British group M People in the ’90s. “I go up, you go. Nothing can stop me”.
It had been no more than 10 minutes of a stiff and anxious speech, eliciting barely applause from the congregation, when two Greenpeace activists broke into the public eye and began yelling at the Prime Minister. “Who voted for fracking? [fractura hidráulica para la explotación de hidrocarburos]?” They chanted as they held up a banner that read, “Who voted for this?” The assistants and security team dragged the two badly mannered activists out and silenced them with boos and applause for Truss.
Two Greenpeace activists interrupted Prime Minister Liz Truss’s speech in Birmingham on Wednesday OLI SCARFF (AFP)
Not previously designed, the effect could have been better. Nothing mobilizes the Tories more than a sense of being them against the rest of the world. The Prime Minister used the incident with a forced smile but enough reflexes to launch the slogan with which she wants to save her ailing mandate: fight the so-called “anti-growth coalition”. Like his predecessor Boris Johnson, Truss wanted to stick to an anti-elite populist message, seeking unity and support from a Conservative Party fragmented by his controversial economic policies. “I will not allow the anti-growth coalition to force us to follow suit. Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, trade unions, mainstream interests masquerading as think tanks, talk shows, Brexit deniers, Extinction Rebellion environmentalists or any of those who have come here today to shout… they choose to protest , to act, to write on Twitter, to make difficult decisions”.
That is, them against us. It was one of those moments where Truss was able to inject some energy into an audience that had given in to the defeatism of the past few days.
Subscribe to EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Truss has reiterated that the lifting of the 45 percent tax ceiling, forced by protests from very relevant party figures, was “a distraction” for top earners. “I got it. I listened,” said the British Prime Minister. But most of his tax break (income tax, corporation tax, social security contributions or wealth transfers), which accounts for almost 50,000 million euros in government debt, is still pending. “Lowering taxes is moral and economically the right thing,” he defended. “The Conservative Party will always be the low-tax party,” he promised.
The problem with the Prime Minister, reflected in her speech, is that she plays with the contradiction of criticizing everything that has been done over the past few years – years that she has been part of Conservative governments – while attempting to reconcile everyone Earn medals of the same era. It promises an economy with minimal public interventionism while boasting of injecting direct aid to households and businesses to alleviate the energy crisis on a scale almost unheard of in other European countries. “I’m determined to try a new approach and break this long cycle of high taxes and low growth,” Truss said.
In his speech he even mimicked the slogan popularized in his day by Labor Party member Tony Blair when he asserted that his three priorities were “education, education, education”. In the case of Truss, it’s “growth, growth, growth.” But the applause that began with that sentence was minimal, late, and soulless, like that of a large portion of those heard throughout the speech. Only when he vowed to continue aid to Ukraine and not to tolerate a peace with Russia that involves a cession of territory did Truss sound like someone who believes in what he says, rather than a politician who is nervous looks from side to side trying to follow the sentences written on the screens of the teleprompter he was reading.
support of the Minister of Economy
Truss has offered words of support for his finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, whose continuity has been questioned by many Conservative MPs. And like him, he also wanted to make his commitment to balanced budget management clear. “I also believe in fiscal responsibility, in getting the maximum value out of taxpayers’ money, in a healthy economy and in a healthy state,” he said.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng welcomes Liz Truss’s speech in Birmingham on WednesdayKirsty Wigglesworth (AP)
But especially after years in which Brexit and Johnson’s own stance have seen the Tories distance themselves from his natural constituency, Truss has sought to encourage his own by reclaiming conservative essences: “I love business, I love entrepreneurs, I love people taking responsibility, starting their own business and investing in the country’s economy”.
However, it wasn’t his words that calmed markets, but rather the extraordinary intervention by the Bank of England, which began buying government bonds last week. Truss campaigned against Britain’s Monetary Authority throughout the summer primary, challenging its independence. A month later the speech is different: ‘It is true that it is the Bank of England that sets interest rates independently and politicians should not interfere. We will work closely with the bank,” he promised.
The prime minister was dismissed with applause and she has almost a week to go before parliamentary work resumes. The polls give the Labor opposition an overwhelming advantage (up to 33 points) in voting intentions and no Conservative now wants snap elections that would spell the party’s ultimate ruin after 12 years in power. In theory, Truss has two years to correct the country’s course and show whether his plans for change are working or if they are pure ideological smoke. What has become clear to him this week is that he doesn’t even enjoy 100 days of courtesy from a new prime minister. There is already a powerful current within the party ready to watch it closely and constantly threaten its continuity.
Hours after the speech, Mike Pickering, one of the founders of the group M People, tweeted: “I don’t want my song to be the soundtrack of so many lies,” reminding Truss of another part of the letter: “You did harmed me. your time is up Get out. Pack your things.”
Follow all international information on Facebook and Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading