Liz Truss makes defiant return to political fray

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After almost a year in the political wilderness following her dramatic exit from Downing Street, former UK prime minister Liz Truss has regained her voice.

On Monday the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister made her most significant intervention to date on her disastrous so-called mini budget, which plunged markets into turmoil last September.

Her address to the Institute for Government think-tank in London was the first time she had chosen a British location for a major public appearance outside parliament this year, following speeches in Tokyo, Washington, Taipei and Copenhagen.

But her enthusiasm to address a home audience — and to demand her successor Rishi Sunak cut taxes, rein in the welfare budget and raise the retirement age — was not matched by the response to her speech from many quarters of her party.

The “only service she could provide is sustained silence”, said Conservative MP and former minister Conor Burns on social media, as he branded Truss a “drag anchor to any cause she attaches herself to” and “toxic on the doorsteps”.

Rupert Harrison, a Conservative parliamentary candidate and former chief of staff to former chancellor George Osborne, said publicly what others in his party expressed privately when he hit out at her “sheer brass neck . . . to presume to offer advice” to Sunak.

Criticising Truss’s failure to acknowledge the “real mistakes” she made in office, Harrison added on X, formerly Twitter: “Happily, nobody in the Conservative party or the Government is listening.”

While a clutch of luminaries from the party’s right flank turned up to hear her invitation-only speech — including former Brexit minister Lord David Frost and former chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign Matthew Elliott — Number 10 can take solace from the fact not a single Conservative MP was among them.

However, Truss did not appear deterred from entering the fray by the lack of parliamentary support at her event. 

“I will be speaking at conference,” she told the Financial Times after her address, confirming her intention to attend — and potentially cause a stir at — the annual gathering of the Conservative party faithful next month.

She is also writing a book on preserving the economic and cultural freedom of the west, due to be published in April, in a further signal she will continue to seek to contribute to the political debate.

It is a prospect likely to make Sunak and his aides wince, after Truss suggested in her speech that the supposed “anti-growth coalition” against which she has long railed now includes sections of the Conservative parliamentary party.

She also took aim at Sunak’s net zero commitments, declaring that Conservatives must “not be scared of the climate change activists and the Extinction Rebellions and the anti-capitalists”.

Truss accepted she had been “in a rush” to implement her economic prospectus while in Downing Street, but stood by her policies, hitting out at economists and supposed “institutional bureaucracy” for the way her programme imploded.

While her speech prompted a furious response from some colleagues, she still commands the backing of a small but loyal rump of MPs on the Conservative right.

Liz Truss, former UK prime minister, delivers a speech at the Institute for Government
A clutch of luminaries from the Tory party’s right flank turned up to hear her invitation-only speech © Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former business secretary, said Truss was “right” to be publicly making the argument for growth, as he echoed her analysis that “the government is spending too much and taxing too much”.

He added that he also shared her scepticism towards the government’s net zero pledges. “We have to look at the affordability of those. I’d like the [green] surcharge on electricity bills to go for starters,” he told the FT.

Truss’s ability to galvanise some quarters of the right of her party to speak up on tax and the green agenda is only part of the problem she presents for Sunak; another is her willingness to pick fights with the economic establishment over her doomed economic strategy.

On Monday she traded recriminations with Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor, after he told a summit in Montreal that far from achieving the Brexiters’ dream of making the UK “Singapore on Thames”, Truss’s government had delivered “Argentina on the Channel”.

Truss hit back, declaring: “Mark Carney is part of the 25-year economic consensus that has led to low growth across the western world”. She accused him of finger-pointing to avoid blame for his own “culpability” over Britain’s historically sluggish growth.

Truss also alleged in her speech that the Office for Budget Responsibility had leaked an estimate that there was a £70bn hole in the public finances on October 7 last year, which she claimed sank her “mini” Budget.

The fiscal watchdog rejected her claim, releasing a statement saying Truss was “incorrect”.

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