Former Prime Minister Liz Truss spoke in a packed town hall at an event organised by the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) yesterday evening. Following strict security checks, Truss addressed the crowd and engaged in a Q&A, discussing her time at Oxford, talking about the pervasive nature of “woke ideas”, and how Oxford students had an important role to play in a “conservative intellectual revival.”
Truss read PPE at Merton in the 1990s and became President of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats in her first year, only switching to the Conservative Party the year she graduated. Her time as Prime Minister became the shortest in British history after she resigned on her 50th day in office with a 9% approval rate. This followed her government’s mini-budget proposal to cut taxes which caused financial upheaval and crashed the pound’s value to its lowest in history. Her short premiership was ridiculed by a livestream of a head of lettuce.
With around 400 in attendance, Truss walked into the speaking chamber to great applause. She began by stating that this was her first speech in Oxford since she left 30 years ago, adding that this was also the first OUCA event she hadn’t been “chucked out” for being a member of the Liberal Democrats.
Touching on her time at university, Truss stated that she came into Oxford as a Liberal Democrat believing in “freedom and low taxes.” However, after she “came across the woke brigade at Oxford” and was “censured for sexism for saying a sabbatical officer for women was patronising” her views took a more conservative turn.
A common theme across Truss’s speech was the importance of creating a new consensus in British politics regarding economic policy, with her stating that “we need reinforcement – we need to win the battle of ideas”, especially as she thought “the conservatives were losing the argument.”
Truss said that “lefties are more focused on your race, gender, place of origin or which group you’re from than your ideas or your beliefs” and that she was surprised to see these “nonsense ideas in big corporations, in the civil service” even after she began her professional life.
A list of ideas Truss condemned included the notion that being a woman or belonging to an ethnic group was important, that being ashamed of British history was mainstream, and that the “trans extremists [refused] to talk about basic issues of human biology, which we know to be true.”
Speaking of the US, Truss criticised “Bidenomics” for its high public deficit and declared that Canada was becoming a “woke haven” under Trudeau, eliciting a great laugh from the audience. She stated: “We are never going to be able to stand up to President Xi or Putin if we don’t have belief in our own values: Property, family, free-trade, individual rights”, adding that “the eco-nutters or the anti-capitalists are willing to stick themselves to roads. We need to be as determined to convince the younger generations as they are.”
When asked whether she thinks there is space for a fundamental reassessment of Conservative party policy, Truss said that “the argument we’ve got to win is that if you raise taxes, you get less tax revenue”. She criticised the Sunak government’s fiscal policy by saying that she wouldn’t “want to be in a conservative government that’s consuming 47% of our GDP, in a country where taxes are at a 70-year-high.”
Truss also defended the mini-budget that lost her the premiership, telling attendees: “We’ve seen that if those policies had remained in place, we would’ve had more economic success and the public finances would’ve been fine”. Conversely, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Truss, refused to let the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) release said forecasts.
When asked about the U-turn she had to make on the mini-budget, Truss stated that “I had to do that on pains of the markets going crazy. I was pretty much threatened point-blank that the UK wouldn’t be able to afford its debt if I went ahead with my program.” Putting blame on the fact that “we have a civil service establishment that doesn’t support lowering taxes or cutting public expenditure.”
Instead, she consistently criticised the OBR and the Bank of England for not believing in the same “dynamics” as she does, claiming that “all of the agenda is being set by the left” and that her brand of free-trade economics are the “only policies that work.”
Truss went on to defend Boris Johnson, calling him an “electoral asset” and saying that “we were crazy to get rid of Boris. To put Boris down was a fundamental problem of the Conservative party and anyone taking the job after that was going to have to fix that mistake.” She later highlighted that this was despite their differences: “He’s much more pro China and a Net Zero enthusiast than I am.”
When asked about the upcoming general election and the possibility of a Labour victory, Truss was not optimistic of their success, stating: “If Labour gets in power for a long time we’re in Argentina territory.” She added that “if they do get in government next year, they won’t stay in for very long.”
When an audience member questioned how she could blame the left when Labour opened up a 30 point lead in the polls under her premiership, Truss responded that she had “sought to change things in the right way” in every role she had. She explained that “in any cabinet role you have, you do not make the big call” and that although she was Prime Minister, she didn’t hold this role for very long.
In response to a question about young people, Truss stated that “it’s not inevitable that young people are Left wing,” claiming that many are just “frustrated with the status quo. She added that she’s not only against “identity politics”, but also against “age-identity politics”.
When an audience member questioned if Truss was a zionist, she simply responded with “yes”, eliciting applause from the front benches. When asked what she thought of affirmative action, she stated “I’m against it”. When then asked for further clarification, she repeated “I’m just against it”, later emphasising the need for a meritocracy.
Truss ended her speech by stating that problems like housing or pay could not be fixed until the fundamental issue of economic growth could be solved, receiving a large round of applause as she exited the room.