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Liz Truss makes the case for Labour Her conference speech redefined chutzpah

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)


October 6, 2022   4 mins

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” snarled Johnny Rotten as he simultaneously left both the stage in San Francisco and the Sex Pistols. Liz Truss took the opposite tack in her speech to Conservative Party Conference. Pledging to “stay the course”, she concluded by declaiming: “That is how we will build a new Britain for a new era.” It was a peroration so underwhelming that her loyal audience were unsure whether to politely applaud or launch into the obligatory standing ovation that follows the speech’s conclusion. Only the Prime Minister’s silence, and nervous smile, signalled this was the end.

It was Mario Cuomo who said that politicians “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose”. Truss’s speech was confirmation that while she campaigned in prose, she is committed to governing in boilerplate. All the political clichĂ©s were there: “hard choices”; “the status quo is not an option”; “grow the pie”; “I get it”; “tough times”, and the hoary old favourite “on your side”, clunkily delivered as “on their side”. The last was the giveaway: this wasn’t a speech aimed at the country but at the conference hall. The audience, even though it was bulked out with passing randoms because of the rail strike, was willing Truss on.

And she gave the hall what they wanted — her greatest hits. Deregulation. Lower taxes. Higher defence spending. An attack on Putin. An attack on the enemies within: “They taxi from north London townhouses to the BBC studio to dismiss anyone challenging the status quo. From broadcast to podcast, they peddle the same old answers.” But there was no substance. None of the “hard choices” were specified or stepped out. Why haven’t houses “been built where they are needed and wanted”? What are the “barriers to growth” that will be lifted?

It was a short speech, lacking the tour d’horizon that is normally central to a leader’s address. It was one which raised questions without answering them. It plagiarised Keir Starmer – when the Prime Minister said “I have three priorities for our economy: growth, growth and growth”, she was shamelessly lifting from the Labour leader who, in July, had said “We need three things: growth, growth, growth”.

More substantially, she trebled down on her Chancellor’s “mini-Budget” — justifying it as a response to the “drift and delay” she had inherited, though failing to mention that the Tories have run Britain for the last 12 years, and that she had been in the Cabinet for three-quarters of that time. Truss left her audience in no doubt that she was appalled by her government having to levy the “highest tax burden that our country had had for 70 years”, but was apparently unable to name who was responsible for these punitive levels of taxation.

The classic illustration of the Yiddish word “chutzpah” used to be the man who murdered his mother and father and then threw himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. The Prime Minister, a self-avowed fan of Margaret Thatcher, surely supplanted him when she talked about the effects of a failed economy: “I know what it is like to live somewhere that isn’t feeling the benefits of economic growth. I grew up in Paisley and in Leeds in the Eighties and Nineties. I have seen the boarded-up shops. I have seen people left with no hope turning to drugs. I have seen families struggling to put food on the table.” Never has an attack on Thatcherism been so roundly supported by Tory conference.

Yet in a sense, Truss has learned the crucial lessons of Boris Johnson’s leadership: that not only has there been an integration of politics and celebrity, but that the narrative forms of soap opera also now frame politics. Politicians can, like the stars of daytime soaps, live in a perpetual present; what they said yesterday has no relevance to what they said today and what they will say tomorrow. Character isn’t fate — it’s reinvented daily.

The difficulty is that the bond markets don’t take such a post-modern view. They price uncertainty though long-term gilts, and it trickles down to wallets and handbags across the UK through mortgage payments. In her conference round of interviews, the Prime Minister responded by saying that interest rates are rising globally and, anyway, they are a matter for the Bank of England rather than the government.

It’s a view. But it seems unlikely that Andrew Bailey will be cursed over breakfast tables rather than Liz Truss. If, as is likely, the increases in mortgage repayments are at least £200 a month, then those costs will dwarf the financial support given to households by the energy price cap. “Black Tuesday” — when so many mortgages were simply withdrawn from the market — may come to loom as large in 21st-century UK politics as “Black Wednesday” did at the end of the last century. And with the same effect.

It is often said, not least on the Left, that the Labour Party is used to spending long periods in opposition. There were four election defeats before New Labour were elected in 1997; there have been four election defeats since David Cameron ousted Gordon Brown. Less frequently observed is that when the Tories lose, they also stay out of power for a while. Harold Wilson beat Ted Heath in four of the five general elections they fought. Tony Blair won three terms in a row. Tory defeats, though less frequent, are no less devastating. With Labour poll leads ranging from 33% across the country to 38% in the battleground “Red Wall” seats, the question is not whether Starmer will be the next Labour Prime Minister, but how big his majority will be.

The longer the general election is delayed, the worse the defeat is likely to be, particularly amid the drumbeat of rising mortgages. Yet, with a working majority of 71, the Tories cannot be thrown out of office. The dream scenario whispered about at Tory conference was about a change of rules that would allow a vote of no confidence in Truss and a new leader by acclamation. Yet, with Suella Braverman describing the ditching of the higher rate tax cut as a “coup”, who can envisage a one-candidate election? And what about Boris Johnson who surely hopes for a Churchillian return?

There is a lot of ruin in a party. And it is beginning to look as though the Tories are determined to find out exactly how much there is.


John McTernan is a British political strategist and former advisor to Tony Blair.

johnmcternan

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polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

Why is Unherd giving space to political activist like McTernan?
He has no knowledge or analysis to offer. He is just a propagandist for a political party. I will go to the MSM if I want this

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Because the man has much more experience and insight into how Westminster operates than you or me. While he may not be entirely neutral, that doesn’t mean what he has written is incorrect and should be dismissed out of hand.
Truss has only been in the job a month, and despite politics being on hold for half of that due to the death of Her Majesty she’s still managed to spook the markets and tank the Tories support

Last edited 1 year ago by Billy Bob
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Spot on. Would upvote but it isn’t working.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

polidori redux is a snowflake.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Smith
Aidan Anabetting
Aidan Anabetting
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

It might be better to weigh the arguments in the article rather than resorting to the fallacies of ad hominem or tribalism.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

I merely pointed out tha he is a party hack. I can read him in the Mirror for free, so why am I being charged to read him here?

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I don’t share McTernan’s politics but he’s a political operator. Here and in Australia. You don’t have to agree with him but he’s definitely worth listening to.

sean Mahony
sean Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Quite agree. complete rubbish. not worth the paper it is written on

Nick SPEYER
Nick SPEYER
1 year ago

Ever get the feeling you have just read an article by a lefty who really doesn’t understand very much about anything?
Yes, we know the media and political activists like McTernan don’t like the Conservatives and would like to turn the UK into Venezuela. But, the UK is a democracy and the people, on the whole, simply just aren’t stupid enough to vote Labour to the extent needed for them to win an election, even when the Conservatives are somewhat rudderless and confused.
So ……. just carry on writing about the demise of the Conservatives and a inevitable and wanted Labour government in the near future. But, importantly, don’t forget to have lots of salty tears ready for the day after the next election.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick SPEYER

Tories got only 43% of the votes in the last election (yes, I know how elections work in UK) so are they the people or are the 57% that didn’t vote Tory?! And many people vote Tory because they didn’t want Corbyn.
Opposition don’t win elections, governments lose them. If you are as clever as you pretend you should know that. You have to be a fool to bet on the Tory party to win the next election.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

Blair’s guru whining about Thatcher? Good joke.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

The author is right. The Tories are devouring themselves, exhausted and facing electoral defeat. I just wish a top.Blairite would focus on two more interesting and important issues. Firstly, the total policy vacuum of Labour. Starmer is a slave to the vast dysfunctional public sector. Has he ever proposed a single cut?? Will he?? Of course not. He and Labour will let the State play magic money tree until the forest burns. His idea of 70% home ownership is actually rather sick when the bubble his Master first created is about to burst. Secondly – is it not clear that we are being swept up – on coattails of the Great Crash – into the Poat Political Age. By that I mean – a time when only the Technocracy holds the real levers of power. The Executive – of any party ..it matters not – cannot enforce their will when it runs up against the vested interests accrued in the 2 decades of Missrule. Border control? Thats gone well. Planning laws to accomodate the unplanned for 10million? Forget it. Wage restraint in public sector or reform of a broken NHS? Dream on. Fracking? Haha! Not one will be constructed. Net Zero fanaticism has and will stop reservoirs airports roads. Wake up. Parties are inpotent now and will be almost irrelevant when the tsunami hits this winter. When the Declinidsystem crashes only it is only the State and its legions of technocrats who will hold power.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Advisor to Blair. Why isn’t he in jail?

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago

There are some dodgy ‘facts’ quoted here. Wilson beat Heath in 3 out of 4 elections, not 4 out of 5. New Labour’s 13-year period in office was the outlier. The other periods of Conservative opposition since 1945 lasted 6 years (Attlee), 6 years (Wilson I) and 5 years (Wilson II, Callaghan), a single electoral term or just beyond. Not really ‘staying out of power for a while’.

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
1 year ago

So a new leader who everybody called “a bit thick” including me, has seen this cost of living crisis for what it is (and it is not inflation driving it!), and is starting to put in policies that will actually help normal people and isolate the Bank of England (the maintainer of the quo and defender of billionaire gilt marketeers) from being the central player.
Ah, well so there we have the source of this endless bad news cycle against Truss. She is actually doing something practical and not what the elites want her to do….hmmm interesting…

Last edited 1 year ago by Antony Hirst
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Antony Hirst

Yes, in your world pigs fly!

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
1 year ago

As a young management trainee I was treated to a Video Arts training vid featuring John Cleese. It was his company I believe. The vid was about sales. It features Cleese as the stereotypical sales guy. Brash, positive, pushy, well dressed, full of it. ( I managed sales teams so don’t get me wrong. The stereotype is just that) and then there was a little nerdy guy. Shyish. Reserved. Not massively dynamic. They were selling “widgets”. He just spoke to customers normally. What they wanted. Why they needed it. When they needed it. How it could be delivered, that sort of nitty gritty prosaic stuff. Well.. to cut a long story shorter, at the end of the day the Cleese character and his iconic black book had sold nowt. While nerdy man had sold a shed load. On hearing this the Cleese character exclaims. “Him. But he’s not a salesman!”. And then the point is made. The boss looks a bit puzzled and then says…”Well I suppose he isn’t, but people do tend to buy quite a lot from him.”
Perhaps John McTernan has seen this.
I think the PM is a terrible sales person. But maybe people “misunderestimate” her.
How many times have I heard in a mixed group of friends the realization that paying folks to stay home for 2 years has chickens coming home to roost. No one thinks the pandemic was cost free. Here’s the bill. They don’t like it. But they believe it’s real and has to be paid. They’d rather hear Starmer saying it should have been higher still but that no-one has to pay. But there’s the battle. No one believes him. They might not like her message but deep down they know it’s true.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Truss made an error of judgement in the way the top rate tax reduction was announced without an accompanying OBR forecast, but all she has to do is counter that with the Starmer misjudgements on holding a second Brexit referendum and wanting longer lockdowns, both of which would’ve had far more serious consequences for the UK than a climbdown on income tax.
The question i’m not sure about is whether she has the political nous to call Starmer out when the Commons returns. Open goals can still be missed.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

To be honest Truss changes direction more often than a wind sock. I’m no fan of Starmer but for her to attack him in the manner you describe would leave her looking like a hypocrite

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Correct. Starmer led the first Remainiac Coup, forever overturning the principle of losers consent in our democracy. He is an ideological identitarian, bending the knee to BLM and trans mania. As a Hard Locker he demonstrated his utter contempt for private enterprise which suffered hugely while his pals in the public sector got rich. He was a hypocrite over partygate forgetting the presence of the foul mouthed yob Rayner and encouraged that second media-led Remainer Coup. His effort to present himself as a Neo Tony is working only because of the Tory implosion. He is a coward and behind him and Rach lies a rabble of demented Corbynistas as unworthy and incapable of governance as the divided weary Tories. Few know what QE is. None are involved with business. How dare the Tories hand power to such a man and such a nasty dangerous gang.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Superbly put!

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

The Tories have twice already pulled off the trick of selecting a new leader who disowns what went before and wins an election. Their chances of doing the same again are – agreed – slight. Other than the economic context, the Tory Party has a major internal division. It is now divided between the members and the MPs and the members will not forgive the MPs for their current treachery. Those MPs thinking that the best policy is to contrive to bring forward the next election and allow Labour to take the blame for the coming financial crisis should realise that many of them won’t be Tory candidates the next time the Tories win their seats.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago

Boris Johnson doesn’t look too bad in retrospect. A trifle too Berlusconi perhaps, but that will fade from memory faster than Liz.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Will Truss rename it ” The Maisonette of very Commons”?

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
1 year ago

She does not make a case for Labour. Both parties make a case for us to get rid of both of them.