Liz Truss takes firm grip at PMQs dispatch box in first leaders' showdown

New Conservative leader provides sharp rebuttals, laughter and steely reserve 24 hours into her premiership

New British Prime Minister Liz Truss attends her first Prime Minister's Questions session at the House of Commons in London. EPA
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Liz Truss swept all before her at her first Prime Minister’s Questions — skewering the opposition, heartening Tory morale and even raising laughter among friend and foe.

It lacked the classical references and swagger of Boris Johnson’s PMQs but there was also an absence of the evasion and vagueness of the former prime minister.

A straight-talking, professional approach, high on ideology, has returned to Westminster, perhaps in good time to contend with the economic maelstrom ahead.

If there were waverers in support for their new leader among the Tory backbenchers at midday on Wednesday, there were far fewer 37 minutes later, when Ms Truss gathered her large, red government box and strode out of the chamber.

She left behind a bemused Labour opposition, unable to land a single blow, a befuddled Scottish National Party leader and beaming Conservative benches.

Even former prime minister Theresa May appeared momentarily in raptures after Ms Truss’s response to her question of why it was that the Conservatives had provided three female prime ministers and Labour not even a single woman leader.

The Labour Party could not find a female boss “or indeed a leader that doesn’t come from north London”, she responded to raucous laughter and cheers.

So demonstrably bayoneted, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had no option but to sit back and chuckle, hoping voters might soon forget the harm done to his party by his fellow north Londoner, socialist Jeremy Corbyn.

Concession was perhaps made by the opposition, as this was Ms Truss’s first PMQs and she has yet, beyond appointing her Cabinet, to make any serious government decisions that can be scrutinised.

Prime Minister Liz Truss departs 10 Downing Street to attend her first Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. PA

Furthermore, she has stolen Labour’s clothing by letting it be known that the Tories will adopt their policy of putting a cap on energy prices — possibly about £2,500 ($2,900) per home — to avoid debilitating debt for households and businesses.

This, Sir Keir stated, would cost at least £100 billion and it was clear that working people would have to pay for it through taxes.

“The face at the top may change, but the policies remain the same,” he quipped.

Ms Truss's riposte was swift and rapier-like.

“There's nothing new about a Labour leader who is calling for more tax rises,” she said to great cheers. “He doesn't understand that people want to keep more of their own money.”

Her direct approach reached is zenith when asked a rambling question about whether she would publish a review on child social care. “Yes” she said, then sat back down.

A similar response was reserved for Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party leader in Parliament who sparred long and bitterly with Mr Johnson.

“Would the freeze on energy prices be paid for by a windfall tax [on energy companies], yes or no?” he demanded.

“No, it won't be paid for by a windfall tax,” she replied. “I don't believe we can tax our way to growth.”

Mr Blackford looked crestfallen at her directness then became evasive as Ms Truss pushed for the Scottish government to commit to building new nuclear power stations.

When asked by an opposition MP if she would call a general election to give her a proper mandate to govern, she replied that she would not.

“The country is in a very serious energy crisis and the British people want a government that is going to sort it,” Ms Truss firmly stated, as she approached the 24-hour mark of her premiership.

Her government has clearly decided — like the Germans and others — to buy their way out of the crisis caused by Russian’s aggression in Ukraine.

On Thursday, Ms Truss will return to Parliament to announce a package that will cost Britain £100bn or more to enforce the price cap. Here the opposition will have something to pick over and criticise.

For now, Ms Truss is on the front foot. There is also something different about her government: of her immediate front bench, seven were women — possibly a record for PMQs — and two were African-heritage men and all exuded a sense of purpose rather than bitter infighting.

One thing Ms Truss certainly wasn’t — and did not try to be — was her jovial predecessor. She more resembled the steel of her political idol Margaret Thatcher, who after a good number of PMQs earned the title of the “Iron Lady”.

Updated: September 11, 2022, 7:51 AM