Has Liz Truss done enough to save herself? Our panel’s verdict

<span>Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA</span>
Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Mick Lynch: Hostile rhetoric from Truss will prolong the rail dispute

Irony appears to be lost on our new prime minister.

After barely a month in charge, Liz Truss’s policies have sent world markets into a tailspin and made mortgage holders worse off, and the value of the pound against the dollar fell to record lows. Yet in her vapid speech to the Tory faithful today, she declared trade unions’ part and parcel of an “anti-growth coalition”.

The role of my union, RMT, is to improve members’ wages, make sure they have decent conditions and ensure through campaigning that our railways are safe for millions of passengers. We want our railways to grow and prosper. However, the rail industry, despite making exorbitant profits for private companies and contractors, wants to strip thousands of jobs, introduce a P&O-style fire-and-rehire scheme and cut safety standards to unacceptable levels. Truss’s government sets the parameters for spending and is withdrawing billions from rail infrastructure, making it very difficult to find a resolution to strikes.

Despite Truss trying to drive a wedge between working people and unions, it is unions that lead the way in providing hope for millions of workers in this increasingly dire cost of living crisis.

RMT wants to make a deal, and as the transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, has said, there is a deal to be done on the railways. But hostile rhetoric from Truss or any attempt to reduce workers’ right to take effective strike action will prolong our dispute for many months to come.

  • Mick Lynch is the secretary-general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers

Polly Toynbee: There’s no way back from this abyss

Banal, vacuous, repetitive, full of economic balderdash … the only mercy in Liz Truss’s speech was its length – short and sour. Some expected contrition on benefits, but not a word reassured low-paid people that she won’t cut universal credit, consigning 5 million children to poverty. “We have your back,” she said, but not theirs, as her tax cuts still gift the richest people 40 times more than those who are low paid. Nor does she have the back of those people facing monster mortgage rises. Proudly “disruptive” Mrs Nasty made no attempt to play nice.

We got mindless mantras – “aspiration”, “hard work”, “enterprise” – and her evidence-free assertion that she can magic up the growth her party has tanked in the last 12 years. She would be trounced by any half-adequate sixth-form debater. She drew only polite applause in the hall, but maybe she’ll take comfort from Donald Trump thinking “very highly” of her today.

There’s no way back from her abyss, no ladder out of her self-dug hole. Her lip-smacking taste for “disruption” spooks voters just as it spooks markets. “Fiscal responsibility” and “sound money”? That’s blown, so only a massacre of public services will pay for her wanton tax cuts. If she does “make the poor pay the price”, Gordon Brown is right to warn of “a national uprising”.

  • Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist

Sahil Dutta: ‘Doing things differently’? Her message was grimly orthodox

Liz Truss was right about how hard it has been to grow the UK economy. For the past decade there has been scarcely any growth at all. But blaming this on a conspiracy of podcasters, taxes and trade unions is unchained from reality.

For the last 50 years almost every government has delivered lower growth than its predecessor. So history isn’t on Truss’s side. Neither is the contemporary context. The effects of US monetary tightening, raising interest rates, are cascading across the world economy, making recession more likely than growth.

The real question, then, is less how we will we grow the economy than who will pay for stagnation. This is something over which governments actually have more control.

And for all her talk of “doing things differently”, here Truss was grimly orthodox: low taxes on profits and capital gains, deregulation and private provision of much public infrastructure, enriching only the wealthy. All the while Britain’s social security remains dysfunctional and UK poverty rates unacceptably high.

Nonetheless, Truss’s economic plans have flipped how her opponents discuss the economy. From questions of ownership reform, social infrastructure provision and redistribution, they now discuss “sound money”, currency markets and debt reduction. The risk for progressives is that these traditionally Conservative priorities take precedence at just the moment the Conservative party spectacularly implodes.

  • Sahil Dutta is a lecturer in political economy and co-author of Unprecedented: How Covid-19 Revealed the Politics of Our Economy

Owen Jones: Truss is the one who does not understand the British people

To be generous to Liz Truss, her debut conference speech at least presented a coherent vision. She has a clear enemy: the so-called “anti-growth coalition”, which variously includes those seeking to save human civilisation from the climate emergency, trade unions defending workers’ rights, and advocates of social reform.

Slashing taxes is “the right thing to do, morally and economically,” she declared. But, contrary to this, Rishi Sunak observed that cuts to corporation tax don’t increase investment. Morally, big business benefits from state largesse – from an educated workforce, to basic infrastructure.

Her declaration that “we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice” doesn’t answer why 12 years of Tory rule have been accompanied by the longest squeeze on wages in modern history.

Denouncing her opponents for not understanding the British people is certainly courageous from a prime minister whose party is polling up to 33 points behind Labour. It’s Truss who doesn’t understand the British people. Her extreme libertarian free-market ideology has vanishingly little electoral appeal. So when Greenpeace protesters disrupted her speech with a banner saying: “Who voted for this?”, they may have been zoning in on fracking, but it is a pertinent question that can be applied to Truss’s entire rightwing agenda.

  • Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

Fatima Ibrahim: What is the point of ‘disruption’ if it only works for the rich?

A few minutes into Liz Truss’s speech, protesters from Greenpeace stood up with a banner that said, “Who voted for this?”

It was an apt question, as the prime minister spoke about opening up the UK to hugely unpopular fracking and nuclear energy, both expensive policies that neither provide energy security nor tackle the climate crisis. Absent from her speech were plans to roll out renewable energy and insulate homes, which would actually give the UK energy security, create well-paid jobs and lower bills, as well as carbon emissions.

Truss sees herself as a disrupter. A leader willing to do what’s needed in the face of unprecedented pushback. But what is the point of disruption if it only works for the rich at the expense of everybody else and the planet on which we all live?

Green groups have been labelled as part of an “anti-growth coalition”, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Activists such as myself are committed to clean, equitable growth for all. This current energy crisis has been caused by more than a decade of inaction by the Conservatives. Unlike her predecessors, Truss will find it harder to distract people by finding scapegoats to blame. We’ve seen enough.

  • Fatima Ibrahim is the co-founder and co-director of Green New Deal Rising

Isabel Hardman: After a dreadful week, this was the best she could hope for

Liz Truss’s speech was workmanlike. It wasn’t inspiring or particularly energising. But it did the job, reminding her supporters of the aspects of her character that they admire. It has been a dreadful week for the prime minister, and so this is probably the best she could have hoped for. She is respected by her friends as someone who really does just keep bulldozing her way through personal adversity, and she did that today, appearing unfazed not just by the calamitous conference that she was closing up, but also by the group of protesters who popped up midway through the speech.

Though she directed her criticism at the “anti-growth coalition” of the protesters and the Labour party, you might be forgiven for thinking that she was also taking aim at her own party when she slammed those who spent too much time on Twitter and were the “voices of decline”. She won’t be the one to fight her own party in public, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those around her take this accusation of declinism to opponents such as Michael Gove and Grant Shapps.

The problem is that while her speech did the job, the rest of the conference has not. Truss might have been able to justify some of the mistakes she made as being ones taken in a rightful rush to sort out the economic situation she faced. But they have also left even her supporters feeling they can’t trust her enough on the big controversial calls that she still has to make. For that reason, however long she has left of her premiership will also be workmanlike and far less rousing than she would have hoped when she was bulldozing her way into the job.

  • Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of the Spectator and a presenter of Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster