What’s wrong with people who “taxi from North London town houses to the BBC”? It’s the question that many are asking Liz Truss after her speech at the Conservative conference. Apart from the fact that taxis don’t come cheap and, given London traffic, it might well be quicker on the tube, in which case the Victoria Line is very convenient for Highbury and Islington to get to the BBC at Portland Place. However, if as PM, you want time to think about how to respond to all those difficult questions that Today presenters evidently only ask of Tory Prime Ministers, then taking a bus is a good idea.
When she’s not in Downing Street, Truss lives in a town house in Greenwich (south east London), but there is no need to envy those who live in Islington. Greenwich is packed with elegant terraces, comfortable Victorian villas, pretty cottages and, just like Islington, some less attractive 20th century architecture. I rather suspect it’s the thought of all those smug types in Islington being able to get a taxi to Portland Place relatively cheaply and swiftly that’s getting up our PM’s nose. One of her gaffes has barely been uttered before some woke North London weirdo is hailing a cab and heading off to the Beeb for a public chortle with Martha Kearney or Sarah Montague.
The “anti-growth coalition”
And this rather tongue-in-cheek introduction of course leads us to the “anti-growth coalition” which our prime minister has identified as a threat to her and (now former chancellor) Kwasi Kwarteng’s most treasured policies. There are plenty of groups that she has in her sights: first and foremost the opposition parties which, much as many of us would wish it, are hardly an advert for co-operation let alone coalition. But this is normal rhetoric – most party leaders include some kind of attack against their rivals during keynote speeches at party conferences. However, her diatribe – it cannot be described as anything else – went on to label an eclectic number of organisations and groupings as dangerous because, in her view, “they don’t face the same challenges as normal working people”.
So the enemy are now the unions (“militant” of course) who are fighting to get normal working people, their members, pay rises that will keep up with inflation and help with energy bills. The enemy are the broadcasters who dare to report and comment on the shenanigans of the Conservative Party. And what about the podcasters and the talking heads? How dare they use their platforms to question growth at all costs?
Truss’s enemies are also “the vested interests dressed up as think-tanks” – this said without a hint of irony, despite the fact that the Tories’ favoured one, the Institute for Economic Affairs, inspired the doomed 45% tax cut. The enemy is the large number of normal working people who dare to use Twitter to express their concern about unworkable government policies. The enemy in the actual hall were two young women from Greenpeace who heckled and held a placard asking, ‘Who voted for this?’ They were hustled roughly out of the venue for having the cheek to challenge her insane oratory.
There were others supposedly holding Britain back: “Brexit deniers and Extinction Rebellion” merited a special mention. Although it is wearisome to be blamed as a Remainer for holding the country back, we are in good company and an ever-growing band.
This is where the bleak ideology of the speech resonated with groups Truss did not mention, but which have already expressed their concern about the direction her government is taking. So talk of investment zones with little or no regulation, of new oil fields to be opened in the North Sea, of lifting the ban on fracking and of unrestricted development, not only in our cities and towns but in our countryside, is causing the great institutions that protect our National Parks, our wildlife and our areas of outstanding natural beauty, to object in no uncertain terms.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has accused the government of launching “an attack on nature” and in this they have been supported by the National Trust, and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, not to mention the fishing fraternity. Not the usual groups to oppose a Conservative government so openly. The uncertainty over the future of the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), by which farmers receive subsidies for farming sustainably and protecting the environment, has caused anger and distress.
Opposition from left and right
So, Truss was cheered to the rafters (by some) for identifying her so-called enemies of growth in her angry and nasty speech, but it’s a greater feat to have bonded those on her list with vast swathes of the population, many of whom are natural Tory voters, who might well have voted Tory again had it not been for the policies she seems determined to push through. She has managed to unite the country, bringing together the woke and the workers, the shires and the cities, the environmentalists and the farmers, venerable societies and left-wing pressure groups, in a howl of disapproval that is reflected in appalling opinion poll ratings and the inevitable U-turns.
The only conclusion is that there is nothing wrong with taking taxis from town houses in North London or anywhere else to the BBC, if you are willing to engage in the proper processes of democracy, allowing for debate and questioning from those who speak truth to power and hold politicians to account.
And judging by Liz Truss’s refusal to take questions from the press, she is trying to avoid all such debate. Having sacked her chancellor, hopefully it’s only a matter of time before Truss herself has to go.
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