After days of market turmoil and currency volatility since the “fiscal event” of the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, last week, Liz Truss has run the gauntlet of local radio with a series of back-to-back morning interviews with stations from Bristol to Teesside, Norfolk to Lancashire. Below is a selection of the prime minister’s most difficult exchanges.
Heat or eat or homeless
One of the more difficult lines for Truss to parry came from Sarah Julian at BBC Radio Nottingham, who expanded the “eat or heat” dilemma to say to the prime minister: “People are no longer worried about whether they can heat their homes, they’re worried about whether they can keep their homes.”
Julian, with a local hero in mind, also said to Truss: “The mini-budget will benefit the rich much more than anyone else. It is like a reverse Robin Hood.”
Truss stuck to her guns through most of the morning, repeating the mantra that the only way to get more higher paid jobs in the UK is through higher overall economic growth, which, despite the market reaction, is what she insisted she was still aiming for.
In the interview with BBC Radio Leeds, Truss said: “I understand families are struggling with their fuel bills and we had to take urgent action to get our economy growing, get Britain moving and also deal with inflation. Of course, that means taking controversial and difficult decisions.”
Fracking woe in Lancashire
The local stations format allowed for the prime minister to be pressed on a range of issues that might not come up in shorter national interviews, and Graham Liver at BBC Radio Lancashire had Truss on the ropes over the contentious issue of fracking.
After she had stuttered her way through not being able to explain what a new “local consent” mechanism would involve, he told her: “Our local MPs don’t want it. All Conservative. In the past the county council have said they didn’t want it. Yet your government overturned it. The science hasn’t changed. Why can’t you tell us this morning there won’t be a return to fracking in Lancashire.”
The reply from Truss? “I don’t accept the premise of your question.”
There was a slapdown for the business and energy secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well. Asked if she agreed with him that people who opposed fracking were like “luddites”, she said: “I wouldn’t have expressed it like that, I can assure you.”
The £2,500 energy bill conundrum
Most of the interviews featured a section on energy bills, and the prime minister seemed, at least initially, to be saying that nobody would pay more than £2,500 this winter, which isn’t how the Ofgem price cap is structured.
Liz Truss said several times in her radio round that no family would pay more than £2,500 this year for energy bills.
This is just *not* the case - and here’s why 👇🏼 https://t.co/T7SR37rCe8
— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) September 29, 2022
As someone on social media noted, there was an opportunity at one point to try to pin down Truss on whether she actually understood one of the key planks of her energy price policy. By the time of later interviews, she had begun adding the caveat “typical household bill”, suggesting someone in Downing Street had finally passed her a note explaining how her flagship energy policy worked.
Spooked horses in Bristol
There were some inevitable local radio quirks. On Radio Bristol, the segment with presenter James Hanson was titled “Liz Truss and service stations” on the BBC Sounds app, an unlikely combo. Although Hanson was having very little truck with Truss’s insistence that global events were to blame for the economic chaos.
“Your chancellor on Friday opened up the stable door and spooked the horses so much that you could almost see the economy being dragged behind them,” he said. As Truss spluttered a reply – “This is about Putin and the war in Ukraine” – Hanson cut across her sardonically: “The Bank of England’s intervention yesterday was the fault of Vladimir Putin, was it?”
The sound of silence in Stoke
You might imagine that Simon and Garfunkel’s classic tune The Sound of Silence was the kind of gentle song that dominates the playlist at local radio stations, but it was the speechless silence of Truss that stood out during John Acres’ interview on Radio Stoke.
As Truss tried to explain that her policies were aimed at “growing the size of the pie so that everyone can benefit”, Acres asked: “By borrowing more and putting our mortgages up?” As Truss tried to come up with an answer, there followed 3.7 seconds of silence, with only one deep drawn breath to let listeners know that the station was still on air.
When she finally began to try to justify her position, Acres said: “We’re going to end up spending more in mortgage fees under what you’ve done, based on the predictions, than we would have saved with energy.” Her response? Another long silence. Normally a broadcaster’s worst nightmare, this was radio gold.
Truss was also put on the spot when Acres reminded her that the average wage in Stoke was £25,000, and that her package of tax measures would deliver just £22.12 of savings to the poorest, while giving “tens of thousands of pounds” back to the richest.
After an hour of the non-stop interviews with BBC local radio stations, Truss may well have been thinking of the Simon and Garfunkel tune, particularly its opening line: “Hello darkness, my old friend.”