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What Kwasi Kwarteng said to Tory conference – and what he really meant

Our chief political commentator read between the lines of the chancellor’s hastily rewritten speech to Conservative representatives in Birmingham

John Rentoul
Tuesday 04 October 2022 13:41 BST
‘What a day’: Kwasi Kwarteng speaks at Conservative Party conference after tax cut U-turn

What Kwasi Kwarteng said: What a day. It has been tough.

What he really meant: Unaccustomed as I am to being chancellor.

What he said: But we need to focus on the job in hand. We need to move forward. No more distractions. We have a plan, and we need to get on and deliver it.

What he meant: We are going backwards. The plan is in ruins. My job is to try to rescue a few shreds of my reputation and get through the next 20 minutes without crying.

What he said: But first, welcome back to Birmingham. This is a remarkable city. It has a history of great brilliance. Joseph Chamberlain in the 19th century was an extraordinary civic leader.

What he meant: Joseph Chamberlain was an extraordinary politician who split both major parties. Liz Truss and I are splitting only one, so far.

What he said: For too long our economy has not grown enough. The path ahead of us was one of slow, managed decline.

What he meant: Boris Johnson was a terrible prime minister.

What he said: I refuse to accept that the tax burden reaching a 70-year high is somehow inevitable. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be.

What he meant: We shouldn’t have spent so much on schools, hospitals and furlough.

What he said: Higher growth is the only way to deliver opportunities, jobs, higher wages and, crucially, to deliver that revenue to fund our precious public services.

What he meant: That is why my first action was to give away £45bn a year of that revenue, and to let our precious public services go hang.

What he said: With economic growth, everybody benefits, and I mean everybody.

What he meant: But I don’t mean they all benefit at the same time. Some people may have to wait for the benefits to is there another phrase for trickle down?

What he said: People should keep more of the money they earn. I don’t need to tell you that. I don’t need to tell you that. I don’t need to tell you that.

What he meant: Bankers should have bigger bonuses and keep more of them. The little people can keep a little more of the little that they earn too.

What he said: I can be frank. I know the plan put forward only 10 years – er, days ago has caused a little turbulence. I get it. I get it. We are listening, and have listened. And now I want to focus on delivering the major parts of our growth package.

What he meant: Those parts that Michael Gove, Grant Shapps and Maria Caulfield will let me keep. Please?

What he said: We couldn’t simply do nothing.

What he meant: That would have been better, on reflection, but it is too late now.

What he said: We will forge a new economic deal for Britain, backed by an ironclad commitment to fiscal discipline.

What he meant: We will borrow more money for tax cuts. The Office for Budget Responsibility will point out that this has never worked. But I have ironclad certainty that they are wrong.

What he said: We will have a strong fiscal anchor, with debt falling as a proportion of GDP over the medium term.

What he meant: We will pass legislation defining the medium term as 200 years.

What he said: Today we face new challenges, and in addressing those challenges, we will act in a fiscally sustainable and responsible way.

What he meant: Today I have U-turned on the most unpopular measure in my Budget, and I now turn to my attempt to save the other fiscally unsustainable and irresponsible measures.

What he said: There is no path to higher economic growth without fiscal sustainability.

What he meant: Well, I know that now. Bear with me while I try to do the sums again.

What he said: Conservatives have always known this, and we know it still.

What he meant: Some of us worked this out late last night and had to get up to do a media round at 7.30 this morning.

What he said: There are too many rules for small business owners who want to take on an apprentice. When Britain’s risk-takers are held back, so is Britain.

What he meant: I was held back as a prisoner in the government that has been running this country for 12 years.

What he said: That is why we will review, replace or repeal retained EU law holding our country back.

What he meant: Our business should be strangled by British red tape, not EU red tape.

What he said: We will get out of the way, to get Britain building and on its feet.

What he meant: The government will resign and make way for a new government with an actual mandate from the voters.

What he said: Rather than bashing business, we are backing it. That is why we need to make our tax system simpler, more competitive and pro-growth.

What he meant: I have given up trying to make our tax system “simpler”, because it turned out that so many Conservative MPs hated it.

What he said: When we came to government, don’t forget, we were met with the full force of Labour’s incompetence. No money left, taxes raised, record unemployment.

What he meant: When they come to government, they will meet the full force of our incompetence. No money left, taxes raised, record borrowing.

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What he said: We believe in low tax, high growth and fiscal discipline. We are Conservatives.

What he meant: Well, one out of three will do. Other Conservative beliefs are available.

What he said: Yes, we have challenges to face. But our plan will take this country forward. We will get this country moving.

What he meant: We will get this country moving towards a Labour government faster than any of you believed possible.

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