Liz Truss’s first speech as prime minister was brief, but her every utterance will be pored over for clues about her plans when the UK is facing crises on multiple fronts.
Here are four key takeaways from her carefully crafted address:
Praise for Boris Johnson
Let me pay tribute to my predecessor. Boris Johnson delivered Brexit, the Covid vaccine, and stood up to Russian aggression. History will see him as a hugely consequential prime minister. I’m honoured to take on this responsibility at a vital time for our country.
Truss began her speech with a nod to her predecessor, hanging on the coattails of Johnson’s popularity with a key chunk of the Conservative party. She is reliant on their support and so had to lavish the outgoing prime minister with praise.
Repeating key talking points from Johnson’s allies, she hailed him for taking the UK out of the EU, the success of the Covid vaccine rollout, and strict sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Truss hinted that while he left under a cloud of deep unpopularity, he would be remembered differently – and leave a lasting effect on the country.
Energy action plan this week
Now is the time to tackle the issues that are holding Britain back. We need to build roads, homes and broadband faster. We need more investment and great jobs in every town and city across our country. We need to reduce the burden on families and help people get on in life … I will take action this week to deal with energy bills and to secure our future energy supply.
After weeks of drift by what has been criticised as a “zombie government”, Truss was aware that empty rhetoric would not be enough to sate the desire to hear her proper policy plans. While those were still lacking and will be set out in statements to the Commons over the next week, the new prime minister hinted at the issues she will prioritise: building roads, homes and rolling out broadband. She promised that long-awaited “action” on energy bills would be announced by the end of the week.
Nods to Churchill
We will transform Britain into an aspiration nation, with high-paying jobs, safe streets and where everyone everywhere has the opportunities they deserve. I will take action this day, and action every day, to make it happen … We shouldn’t be daunted by the challenges we face. As strong as the storm may be, I know that the British people are stronger. Our country was built by people who get things done.
There was also an interesting tone used by Truss, who repeated Churchill’s famous slogan of “action this day” to hammer home the immediacy of her planned reforms. She seemed to nod to Churchill again later in the speech, when she referenced his promise that “we can ride out the storm” – the wartime prime minister had used the same phrase in his “we shall fight them on the beaches” speech in 1940. However, her use of “aspiration nation” – an old political cliche employed by David Cameron and George Osborne – will be interpreted by some as being vacuous.
We now face severe global headwinds caused by Russia’s appalling war in Ukraine and the aftermath of Covid … I will deal hands-on with the energy crisis caused by Putin’s war.
It was only two lines, but Truss deliberately sought to lay the blame for the energy price rise crisis squarely at Russia’s door. Wary of the political blowback she will face for getting her response to it wrong, the new prime minister wanted to remind Britons why they should continue to put up with paying significantly higher prices.