Liz Truss sparks furious backlash with broadside against ‘anti-growth coalition’

PM’s broadside at critics branded ‘Orwellian’ by Tory former cabinet minister

Andrew Woodcock,Adam Forrest,Kate Devlin
Wednesday 05 October 2022 20:03 BST
Greenpeace protesters removed from Tory party conference during Liz Truss speech

Liz Truss has sparked a furious backlash after blaming the UK’s economic woes on a supposed “anti-growth coalition” of opposition parties, trade unions, think tanks, environmentalists and opponents of Brexit.

Countryside campaigners the CPRE said the prime minister’s “disingenuous and misleading” broadside presented a “false choice between the economy and the environment”, ignoring real concerns over the threat posed to rural communities by fracking and the loosening of planning regulations.

Ms Truss’s comments, in a keynote address to her first Conservative conference as PM, were also branded “Orwellian” by Tory former cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell, who said the hit to growth came from Brexit itself, and not those who opposed it.

One minister in Boris Johnson’s government said of Ms Truss’s claim of an “anti-growth coalition”: “The obvious question is – how many Conservatives does she think are in it?”

In a speech concluding a chaotic conference of U-turns and split, the PM promised to “get Britain moving” with a bonfire of red tape and regulations to be unveiled by ministers over the coming weeks.

She named her top three priorities as “growth, growth, growth”, apparently unaware that the same aspiration had been declared by Sir Keir Starmer in July.

But critics were quick to point out that Tory administrations were in charge during the years of sluggish economic performance which she tried to blame on “anti-growth” forces.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Ms Truss was “at the heart of building a Conservative economy that has led to the flat wages and low growth she highlighted today”.

And TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told The Independent: “Liz Truss has some brass neck.

“Years of botched Tory economics have resulted in the UK suffering one of the worst rates of economic growth, the worst real wage decline and the worst investment share in the G7. The only kind of growth the Conservatives specialise in are longer NHS waiting lists, higher child poverty rates and bigger banker bonuses.”

Namechecking the London home of a number of right-wing thinktanks, Ms O’Grady said: “There’s only one anti-growth coalition in this country – and it’s the Conservatives and their ideological allies on Tufton Street.”

Addressing the Birmingham conference just days after seeing her party plunge in the polls as she performed a massive U-turn on taxes for the rich, Ms Truss said she was intent on a radical programme of reform which would create “disruption” but deliver “a growing economy and a better future”.

New investment zones around the country would enable faster development of industry and housing by offering tax breaks and streamlined planning processes.

And “all EU-inspired red tape” would be replaced with new UK-only regulations that are “pro-business and pro-growth”, she said.

To applause from delegates, she claimed that there was an anti-growth coalition “at work across the country” to block her plans.

“I will not allow the anti-growth coalition to hold us back,” said Ms Truss. “Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP, the militant unions, the vested interests dressed up as think tanks, the talking heads, the Brexit deniers and Extinction Rebellion.

“The fact is they prefer protesting to doing. They prefer talking on Twitter to taking tough decisions. They taxi from north London townhouses to the BBC studios to dismiss anyone challenging the status quo.

“From broadcast to podcast, they peddle the same old answers. It’s always more taxes, more regulation and more meddling. Wrong, wrong, wrong.”

In an apparent attempt to link her critics with law-breaking, she claimed that members of the “coalition” regarded protesters who disrupt traffic and glue themselves to trains as “heroes”. And she said that they “do not face the same challenges as normal working people” whose side she said she was on.

Questioned after the speech, the PM’s press secretary rejected the suggestion that her allegations amounted to a smear on all those challenging her policies.

He said that her criticism of think tanks did not extend to those pursuing “centre-right” ideas, but refused to say whether it included independent experts like the Institute for Fiscal Studies – who recently branded the government’s economic platform “unsustainable” – or chef Jamie Oliver, who has campaigned for action on child obesity.

CPRE director Paul Miner said: “This disingenuous ‘anti-growth coalition’ rhetoric ignores rural communities up and down the country who have heartfelt concerns about the government’s agenda.

“It’s not eco-protestors organising the resistance to fracking, it’s ordinary people who are furious at what they see as a litany of betrayal and broken promises.”

Free speech campaign Article 19 raised concern over the tactic of framing all criticism of the government as being against the UK’s national interests

"Autocrats and dictators crush protests because they don’t want to look weak. Democracies look strong by encouraging them,” the group’s executive director, Quinn McKew told The Independent. “The UK government must decide which side of history it wants to be on."

And Mr Dorrell, vice-president of the European Movement, said: “For the PM to put describe opponents of Brexit as ‘anti growth’ is Orwellian. It is the purpose of Brexit to create barriers where previously there were none. These barriers restrain trade and impoverish people.”

Max Anderson, senior communications officer at Conservative think tank Bright Blue, said: “She has to be aware that the mandate that she has comes from the 2019 election manifesto.

“We know she is in part trying to emulate Thatcher, but she must be aware that Thatcherism was not built in a day.”

“She has to try to reach out rather than make more opponents. Because nearly everyone wants growth and there are great ideas out there she can embrace which will make life politically easier”.

Naomi Smith, chief executive of Best for Britain, which campaigns for closer ties with the EU, said: “Brexit has meant more red tape, costs and labour shortages for businesses of all sizes across the UK and Truss’s continued denial of this fact exposes her government as the true anti-growth coalition.”

In an unusually brief 35-minute speech that was disrupted by Greenpeace protesters, Ms Truss unveiled no new policies. She hinted at her opposition to anti-obesity initiatives by promising she would not interfere in “two-for-one” offers at supermarkets and indicated that new legislation would prevent European judges from overruling UK courts.

Up to 10 papers setting out details of “supply side” reforms to remove barriers to investment are expected to be rolled out by Whitehall departments over the next five weeks ahead of chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s 23 November medium-term fiscal plan.

Ms Truss received a brief standing ovation at the end of her speech, but the reaction of some MPs was lukewarm, with one telling The Independent she had not done enough to stave off a mooted rebellion over welfare.

“She says she gets it, but I don’t see evidence of it yet,” said the MP. “She has to give in on benefits. We’re not going to give in on that.”

A former minister who has been critical of Ms Truss’s leadership said: “She didn’t flop nor did she really excite, but given the bar was so low she performed above expectations

“She landed some messages well, but did she really nail the message to the public – look at what we are doing for the ordinary person and we are on your side? I’m not so sure.”

Former cabinet minister David Davis said that the speech was not a “nightmare” but could not on its own deliver the “credibility recovery” needed by the PM.

“It’s the first brick in the wall of recovery, but what she needs to do now is impose discipline on the cabinet and deliver diplomacy with the backbenches,” he told The Independent.

“What we need to see is a rather more reflective approach to what is undoubtedly a radical revolution that she is trying to bring about.”

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