by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 5
October 2022
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14:45

Did green protesters save Liz Truss?

Her performance was visibly energised by the interruption
by Peter Franklin
Greenpeace protesters breathed new life into the PM. Credit: Getty

The most dynamic performance during Liz Truss’s speech to Tory conference came not from the podium, but the audience. “Out! Out! Out!” they bayed. To be clear, this wasn’t directed at the Tory leader, but to a small group of protesters who interrupted her.

I’m not sure who they were (Rishi Sunak has a solid alibi) but Truss owes them big time. Up until that moment she was floundering. Though she walked-on to the motivational strains of ‘Moving on Up’ by M People, Truss’s rhetoric was M-for-mediocre. The energy in the hall ebbed away as she paused for clap lines that didn’t deliver. 

Then, as if on cue, the protestors piped-up, prompting the delegates to rally to their leader’s defence. Once order was restored, a visibly re-energised Truss warmed to her theme — which, of course, was growth. 

In particular, she turned her ire against what she called the “anti-growth coalition”, which she said was made-up of Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, militant unions, Michael Gove and Extinction Rebellion. Admittedly, I may have imagined the reference to Gove, but she was thinking it so loud, I can hardly be blamed.

In any case, this was the heart of the whole speech: an us-against-the-world oration intended to solidify her support within the Party. 

From a speech-writing viewpoint, this tactic most obviously evokes Tony Blair’s 1999 conference speech in which he inveighed against “the forces of conservatism” (i.e. a list of his political foes). But I suspect a second source of inspiration: a 1984 speech to the 1922 Committee in which Margaret Thatcher juxtaposed the “enemy without” (i.e. General Galtieri’s invasion of the Falklands) and the “enemy within” (i.e. the militant Left). It just so happens that Truss’s attack on the “anti-growth coalition” came straight after her condemnation of Vladimir Putin.

Whether consciously done or not, it was, on this occasion, the closest she got to dressing-up in Thatcher’s clothes. Given the events of the week, she could hardly invoke her heroine directly: “I’ll turn if you want me to. This lady is for turning.”

It is to Truss’s credit that she referred to the u-turn on the top rate of income tax. What’s more she didn’t exactly rule out further u-turns. The fact that there was no mention of welfare policy in the speech was an especially interesting omission. 

Indeed, one suspects that, rather like Boris Johnson and levelling-up, Truss’s growth objective is now more of a political totem than a far-reaching programme of economic reform. Any pro-growth measures she can get past the money markets will serve mainly as a rallying point — “are you with me or against me?”

As a tactic for surviving as leader it will probably work, for a while. But as she came off stage today, to more than polite applause, the fact is that her enemies are still waiting in the wings.

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Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

I agree. One might almost think those eco-protesters had been ‘planted’ to garner support.

Like the woman who poured excrement over a statue of Captain Tom, their efforts appear to have backfired.

I’m not sure she was floundering particularly up to that point, but a natural public speaker she ain’t. However, if she plays her cards right this needn’t be a negative for her. She seems to enjoy presenting herself as a pretty normal citizen elevated through hard work to high office (“the first Prime Minister to attend Comprehensive School”) and that might just be enough to retain red wall votes whilst appealing to the blue shires.

I wasn’t impressed at all with her handling of the top tax rate climbdown, but it’ll be interesting to see how the polls move, from a very low ebb, before the one that actually matters.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Murray
David Harris
David Harris
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

As they sang at another party conference some years ago: “Things can only get better…”

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

(“the first Prime Minister to attend Comprehensive School”)
I thought that was John Major????

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
2 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Major went to a grammar school

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Wasn’t he nicknamed John “O level” Major?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

No, he was the first PM who had actually failed a London Transport bus conductors arithmetic test… The type of ” egalitarian’ life we live as the ghosts of Disraeli, Peel, Gladstone, Liverpool, look on….

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well I could her clearly speak without umm, er ahhh of the previous incumbent.

John Walsh
John Walsh
2 months ago

John Major went to the same school as me,Rutlish Grammar,in Merton.

Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas
2 months ago

Am a bit confused, can anyone help? Thought Truss was in line with ERG mob who are the hedge-funders driving govt policy. Have they not benefited from the tu

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago
Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Damp sandal wearing vegetarians raised a laugh.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
1 month ago

Fracking was a big world changing deal in the US. Legalizing fracking in the UK could make a big difference in energy prices and economic growth. The only problem is that, as I understand it, mineral rights in the UK are owned by the government. To successfully implement a fracing program in the UK, the elected government has to force the bureacracy to implement the program. Firing a few uncooperative bureacrats to encourage the others will be required.

The beauty of legalizing fracking is that the opposition will probably underestimate its importance .

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
1 month ago

Some government but a lot is the Crown estate. Hence their eagerness to a free with the new KIng’s suggestion that he tender the proceedings of the Crown Estate in exchange for an annual grant. The Crown Estate’s income is huge & growing, not least because they own the sea bed up to the high water mark. All those offshore wind turbines? Guess who charges them rent

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
1 month ago

This article is true – she was in major trouble before the banner waving stunt. The reality is, most people can’t abide sanctimonious protestors, never mind the right wing of the Tory party. I fundamentally disagree with fracking, for a host of environmental reasons, but the problem with these protestors is twofold. Firstly, they think ‘their’ issue trumps all others. Secondly, they delude themselves that stunts like this achieve anything. All the evidence shows, they make no difference.