Prime minister Liz Truss has told the Tory party faithful that she will lead Britain through “stormy days” during the economic “tempest” caused by the Covid-19 crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Truss, who has been in power for just a month, sought to rally Conservative MPs behind her faltering leadership at a party conference that has descended into acrimony, cabinet infighting and confusion.
In her keynote speech on the final day of the conference, she said she had three priorities for Britain: “Growth, growth and growth.”
Truss argued that the Conservative party faced an “anti-growth coalition” of think-tanks and opposition parties that did not understand “aspiration”.
By contrast, she was on the side of “white van drivers, hairdressers, the plumbers, the accountants, the IT workers”.
After opinion polls showed slumping public support for her government, Truss told delegates that she had fought to get where she was: “I know how it feels to have your potential dismissed by those who think they know better.”
Truss vowed to “get Britain moving”, adding to applause from fellow Tories that she refused “to consign our great country to decline”.
The speech was disrupted by two protesters with a Greenpeace flag saying: “Who voted for this?”
Truss reminded delegates about the government’s intervention to help households and businesses from rising energy bills, claiming it was bigger than any similar scheme in other European countries. But Germany announced an €200bn energy support plan to rival the UK’s earlier this week.
The prime minister insisted that she was sticking to plans to “level up” the regions of the UK, a policy forged by her predecessor Boris Johnson.
“I know what it’s like to live somewhere which is not feeling the benefits of economic growth,” Truss said.
“I’ve seen the boarded-up shops and people with no hope turning to drugs,” she said. “We need to fund the furthest-behind first.”
She argued that the answer to Britain’s economic problems was “growing the economic pie so that everyone gets a slice” by continuing to cut taxes.
The announcement of Truss’s fiscal plans last month, which featured £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, prompted wild gyrations in sterling and gilt markets. But she remained unapologetic about the fallout from the tax policies.
“Not everyone is in favour of change but everyone will benefit from the results,” she said. “The Conservative party will always be the party of low taxes.”
The prime minister was forced on Monday to reverse a plan to scrap the 45p top rate of tax by rebel Tory MPs, prompting home secretary Suella Braverman to accuse her colleagues of staging “a coup”. Kemi Badenoch, trade secretary, in turn accused Braverman of using “inflammatory language”.
Truss sought to quash rumours that she could sack chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng in the wake of the U-turn on the 45p tax rate. “The chancellor and I are in complete lockstep,” she said.
On Wednesday, the pound reversed earlier gains to shed nearly 1 per cent against the dollar, trading at $1.1375. The currency had earlier reached as high as $1.1495, recovering to levels reached before the chancellor unveiled the tax cutting plan on September 23. Sterling has fallen 16 per cent this year.