Liz Truss vows to get Britain 'through the tempest' in maiden Tory conference speech as PM

Prime minister cheered as loud protest interrupts key speech on aspiration to bring party back on side

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Liz Truss said she would “get us through the tempest” and “get Britain moving” as she delivered her first Tory conference speech as party leader.

The prime minister set out to reassure the party that she had an aspirational plan to grow the economy, breaking the country out of a high tax, low growth cycle. She said her three priorities were "growth, growth, growth" and despite the turbulent weeks since taking control, pledged to keep an "iron grip" on the economy.

Ms Truss, who arrived at the hall in Birmingham alongside her husband, Hugh O’Leary, faces a tough task restoring Tory morale after a conference that has seen a U-turn over a totemic tax policy, Cabinet dissent and the threat of another major split over the level of benefits.

She told a packed hall in Birmingham that she intended to create a "new Britain, for a new era".

Prime Minister Liz Truss and her husband, Hugh O'Leary, arrive for the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham. PA

“Together, we have mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the rock on which modern Britain was built," she said. "We’re now in a new era under King Charles III."

The global economic crisis triggered by Covid-19 and compounded by the war in Ukraine was her government's top preoccupation.

“In these tough times, we need to step up," she said. “I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and put us on a stronger footing as a nation.”

The speech was interrupted just a few minutes in with activists waving a banner reading "Who voted for this?".

Ms Truss responded: "Can we get them removed?"

Greenpeace tweeted that its activists denounced the prime minister "shredding" her party’s 2019 manifesto promises on fracking and climate action.

Greenpeace activists hold up a sign in protest during British Prime Minister Liz Truss's speech. Reuters

Therese Coffey, the deputy prime minister, said Ms Truss coped admirably with the flag-bearing protesters who upstaged the early part of the speech, saying the Greenpeace activists had illustrated the main point of the address. “And [from] exactly the sort of anti-growth coalition which she’s concerned is holding our country back,” she said.

“It didn’t hold her back today I can tell you.”

Ms Truss accused opposition politicians of being “enemies of enterprise” as she declared she is on the side of workers and commuters.

The prime minister told the conference: “The anti-growth coalition doesn’t get it, because they don’t face the same challenges as normal working people.

“These enemies of enterprise don’t know the frustration you feel to see your road blocked by protesters, or your trains off due to strikes.

“In fact, their friends on the hard left tend to be the ones behind the disruption.

“The anti-growth coalition think the people who stick themselves to trains, roads and buildings are heroes.

“I say the real heroes are those who go to work, take responsibility and aspire to a better life for themselves and their families.

“And I am on their side.”

Liz Truss, the UK prime minister, during her keynote speech at the Conservative Party's annual autumn conference in Birmingham, UK, on Wednesday, October  5, 2022.  Bloomberg

The prime minister, who was elected as Tory leader on September 5, acknowledged that not everyone will be in favour of her methods.

She repeated her message "I get it and I have listened" to explain why she and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng made a U-turn on abolishing the 45p tax rate on top earners because it “became a distraction”. She gave her backing to the beleaguered chancellor.

Ms Truss said: “Over the summer, we had a robust debate and the Conservative Party will always be the party of low taxes.

“Cutting taxes is the right thing to do morally and economically.

“Morally, because the state doesn’t spend its own money: it spends the people’s money.

“Economically, because if people keep more of their own money, they’re inspired to do more of what they do best ― that’s what grows the economy."

She claimed to know what the public wants, pointing out to applause that she is the UK's first prime minister to have gone to a comprehensive school, which "taught me two things: one is that we have huge talent across our country and two that we’re not making enough of it".

She cited her experience of witnessing low growth during her upbringing in Leeds and Paisley, and also recalled a story of being given an air hostess badge during a flight as a child while her brothers were given "future pilot" badges to stress her determination to change things.

She said: “I’m not going to tell you what to do, or what to think or how to live your life. What I’m interested in is the hopes and fears that you feel every day. Can you get a good job locally? Is it safe to walk down the high street late at night? Can you get a doctor’s appointment?

“I know how you feel because I have the same hopes and fears. I want what you want.”

Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers her keynote speech at the Conservative Party annual conference. PA

Truss boost for defence

On defence spending, Ms Truss said new threats to security in Europe and beyond would lead to more money going into protecting the nation. “We’re increasing defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade,” she said. “This will ensure that our armed forces are ready to tackle new and emerging threats. We are working with our friends and allies to support Ukraine in the face of Putin’s brutal war."

The former foreign secretary said the annexation of Ukrainian territory was just the latest act in a series of breaches of international law.

“We should not give in to those who want a deal which trades away Ukrainian land. They are proposing to pay in Ukrainian lives for the illusion of peace," she said. “The brave Ukrainian people aren’t just fighting for their security but for all our security ― this is a fight for freedom and democracy around the world.

“We will stand with our Ukrainian friends however long it takes," she said. "Ukraine can win, Ukraine must win and Ukraine will win.”

Earlier, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Ms Truss made her pro-growth agenda clear during her leadership campaign. He said Ms Truss will lead the Tory party into the next election .

“The prime minister made it really clear what her philosophy was when she was running for the leadership," he said. "If people weren’t listening properly ... that’s more their problem than hers.

“She said that she was going to go for growth. She said she wanted to increase investment.”

Updated: October 05, 2022, 11:46 AM
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