(Image from The Guardian).
On Monday, 18 September, Ms Liz Truss spoke at an Institute for Government event about what she believes are the issues with the UK economy, a speech which can be viewed in the video
below (begins after 7:20 minutes).
This speech comes almost a year after her government unveiled a series of economic measures, described as a mini-budget, that included £45bn of tax cuts alongside support for people struggling with rising energy bills (BBC, 2023). These plans triggered weeks of economic turmoil and just a few weeks later, Ms. Truss was forced to scrap almost all of the measures. Her premiership also did not survive the changes, and she resigned on 20 October 2022, less than a month after the mini budget. In fact, Ms. Truss’ tenure as prime minister lasted only 49 days, the shortest in the UK’s history (Sky News, 2023).
Until this recent speech, Ms. Truss had said little about her tenure. However, on Monday, she stated: “Some people said we were in too much of a rush. And it is certainly true that I didn’t just try to fatten the pig on market day; I tried to rear the pig and slaughter it as well. I confess to that. But the reason we were in a rush was because voters wanted to see results. I knew with the level of resistance and the lack of preparation time that things weren’t going to be perfect” (BBC, 2023).
She further argued that her tax cuts were not unfunded as they would have increased revenue in the long term. She also commented that communication “could have been better and the operation better honed”, but that she was unable to implement her plans because of a “powerful force compromising the economic and political elite, corporatists, parts of the media and even a section of the Conservative parliamentary party” who opposed her ideas (BBC, 2023).
Moreover, the former Prime Minister called on the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to make cuts in taxes, arguing for a cancellation in rising corporation tax, to cut the top rate of income tax and reform IR35, and advocating for the return of VAT-free shopping for tourists.
In her own words, “we need to get a grip on the ballooning welfare and pensions bill. This means slowing the rate of increases to benefits and tougher work requirements. It also means raising the retirement age further” (BBC, 2023).
She singled out the Bank of England, declaring they had kept interest rates too low for too long and extended an area of cheap money without warning of the consequences (Sky News, 2023).
At the end of her speech, Ms. Truss revealed she would also be attending the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the first conference with Rishi Sunak as their leader, and would be “saying more” on the matter (Sky News, 2023).
She finished her speech by declaring that she did not “regret” the choices she had made during her tenure. “If people say, well, you put the case back for free markets, what I think I have been able to do […] this has given me a real insight into why it’s so difficult for governments to deliver, you know, a smaller state or tax cuts,” she stated (Sky News, 2023). “It’s not just a problem that there isn’t enough political agreement, we actually have real institutional issues with delivering these things and that is what I’m going to be exploring further” (Sky News, 2023).
During the question session following her speech, Ms. Truss further defended her policies, stating interest rates, which had jumped sharply and led to rising mortgages due to the mini budget policy, had been “artificially low” for many years and would have risen anyway (BBC, 2023).
Considering the fact that Ms. Truss had been keeping a lower profile this past year, this speech seems to mark the start of a more vocal political campaign in the next couple of months. This is especially true as she is currently writing a book titled Ten Years to Save the West, in which she will share her experience from her time in government (The Guardian, 2023). This is set to be published in April of next year.
Current Reflections on Truss’s Speech
Ms. Truss’s policies starkly contrast with PM Sunak’s, with many of her advocations the opposite of policies he is pursuing.
Despite the fact she has stated she does not envision a return to Downing Street, if the Conservative Party were to lose power at the next election, a debate over its future direction is likely to ensue, and it will be up to party members to decide which of Mr. Sunak’s or Ms. Truss’s policies they would wish to follow (BBC, 2023).
Downing Street said Mr. Sunak had not watched the speech (BBC, 2023).
More significantly, Truss’s speech has sparked criticism from both opposition politicians and members of her own party.
Conservative MP Conor Burns stated that the “only service she could provide is sustained silence” (The Financial Times, 2023).
The Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, said: “Liz Truss giving a speech on economic growth is like an arsonist giving a talk on fire safety” (Politico, 2023).
Furthermore, Labour has called on the prime minister to block Liz Truss’s resignation honours list. Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Paymaster General, argued that “those who crashed the economy” did not deserve to be rewarded (BBC, 2023).
There will be much interest in seeing what Liz Truss has to say next at the Manchester Conservative Party conference in October.
Edited by: Shahnawaz Chodhry
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