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BIRMINGHAM, England — Liz Truss described her priorities as “growth, growth and growth” in a speech at a Conservative Party conference interrupted by environmental protesters.
In her first Tory conference speech as prime minister – which came after a difficult week marked by a high-profile tax reversal and party infighting – the belligerent Truss lashed out at opposition parties, unions, “vested interests dressed as tanks”, pundits, Brexit ‘naysayers’ and the campaign group Extinction Rebellion as obstacles to growth.
During a speech in Birmingham, two Greenpeace activists held up a sign reading ‘Who Voted for This?’, challenging the government’s decision to lift the ban on shale gas fracking. It prompted the prime minister, who was cheered by supporters in the room amid the disruption, to dismiss the pair as part of the “anti-growth coalition” shortly after they were released by security.
Truss, who has faced sharp criticism of the recent tax-cutting budget, used her half-hour speech to pledge to break Britain out of a “cycle of high taxes and low growth”, arguing that it was “wrong to invest only in those places. which thrive, as is often the case in economic models.’
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by the argument about how we distribute the limited economic pie,” she said, echoing a familiar theme. “Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger piece.”
Britain’s new prime minister has sought to cement her economic message – namely that growth will be consistent with her initially controversial policies – after being derailed earlier this week by the dramatic scrapping of plans to cut the top tax rate. The tax cuts come after open dissent in Tory ranks, but may not be enough to revive the party. Even her Cabinet appears divided as a decision looms over whether to increase Social Security benefits in line with inflation.
Truss mocked the “voices of decline” and promised to take the tough decisions needed to ensure “Britain’s best days are yet to come”.
Strikingly absent from the speech was any mention of her path to the top job, opposed by more than half of her fellow MPs, or attempts to unite the Conservatives after weeks of bitter wrangling. While Truss promised to “lead us through the storm”, she did not dwell on the challenges facing Britain this winter as voters calculate the cost of rising inflation.
Truss spoke to a full house in the smaller of two auditoriums at the Birmingham conference venue. However, many members disappeared early to avoid railroad strikes.
The prime minister won applause for her words on Ukraine when she claimed the West had not stood up to Russia early enough and vowed it would “not happen again”.
Labor rejected the appeal at conference, with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves saying: “Liz Truss has been a government minister for the last 10 years. She was at the center of building a conservative economy that led to the flat wages and low growth she highlighted today.”
After the speech, a spokesman for Truss defended the lack of policy announcements, promising more in the coming weeks and saying the speech was short “because she wants to keep delivering.”