That was a safety-first speech. It was much shorter than a usual party conference speech, it did not contain any policy announcements, and in fact it did not really contain much news at all. Given the hostile reaction to much of what the government has been saying in the last four weeks – on the financial markets, in the polls (the opinion markets), and among MPs – the fact that Truss managed to get through this without antagonising her party any further is probably a bonus. She hasn’t made things worse.
Quite a lot of the speech sounded like the stump speech she was making during the Tory leadership, or what she was saying during the hustings. These arguments were successful with her audience – Conservative party members – and so it probably made sense to provide them with an encore today. But hardcore free market libertarianism is a niche enthusiasm, even in the Conservative party, and there was nothing in the speech that will make her economic agenda sound more appealing to the public at large than it is already (which is not very). The speech was not even particularly well written.
It is not as if the government has no plans. Within the next few weeks the government intends to introduce supply-side reforms (deregulation, mostly) in eight areas, but Truss did not want to talk about these in detail at all. Perhaps she realises the plans will not be universally welcomed, even by her party. You can imagine the conversation in the speech-drafting session. “Shall we include the bit about ripping up the working time directive, or issuing more visas for seasonal workers, or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plan to allow people on high salaries to be sacked for no reason? Probably best we don’t.”
Welfare was another black hole in the speech. Truss did address the controversy over the 45% top rate of income tax (using the same words Kwasi Kwarteng used), but she did not talk about uprating benefits. Given the mood in the party, she may have already given up hope of getting away with not uprating them in line with inflation.
The most memorable passage of the speech was the attack on the “anti-growth coalition”. This sounded like a routine Daily Mail whinge about anyone with vaguely progressive views. It did not amount to a serious critique, and some of it may have angered her own MPs (for example, the line criticising people who “taxi from north London townhouses to the BBC studio to dismiss anyone challenging the status quo” – a category that includes a large number of prominent Tories).
It was also hypocritical. If Truss really wants to go to war with the anti-growth coalition, she would pick a fight with Brexiters opposed to rejoining the single market, MPs who block development on the green belt and politicians who want to restrict immigration. But she can’t, because that’s her party.