“I don’t believe in regrets,” Liz Truss says. She does not repine at the blue on blue attacks during the leadership debates, and wants instead to concentrate in the two years until the general election on “really delivering what we promised in the 2019 manifesto”.
Truss gives an unrepentant defence of her tax plans and her determination to go for growth, and proposes changing the Bank of England’s mandate. She says she would be “very happy to have Rishi as part of my team”.
Since the start of the leadership campaign, she added, she has “taken Twitter off my phone, and I’m living in bliss, just focussed on Conservative Party members”.
According to Truss,
“People voted Conservative not because they wanted some Labour policies. They changed their vote from Labour to the Conservatives because they wanted things to be different.”
In this interview – which was held yesterday morning, in the new CCHQ in Leeds – she outlines how she wants things to be different, but first touches on the sudden end to the Talk TV election debate earlier this week.
ConHome: “Have you given the inside story of that Kate McCann fainting fit in full?”
Truss: “You know, she just, she fainted, I was busy talking about Russia/Ukraine, I didn’t know what had happened, I was just completely shocked. I’m very pleased that she’s better now.”
ConHome: “Did you actually tend her yourself, did you bend over her?”
Truss: “I went to try and help her, and then some people arrived with some medical equipment. The whole set-up was that there was an audience, but they were in a different studio, so I think a lot of people didn’t realise what had actually happened.”
ConHome: “During this week’s BBC debate, the Political Editor of The Times tweeted, “A spokesman for Liz Truss claims that Rishi Sunak is not fit for office: ‘Rishi Sunak has tonight proven he is not fit for office. His aggressive mansplaining and shouty private school behaviour is desperate, unbecoming and is a gift to Labour’.
“Is Sunak fit for office? If not, why? And if so, why the tweet?”
Truss: “Rishi is someone who, you know, is a very effective minister. I would be very pleased to have Rishi as part of my team, depending on how things work out, and I’m not in any way complacent.
“There’s still a lot of this campaign to go. What we’ve seen in this leadership contest is really talented people come forward, you know, Kemi, Penny, Suella, and what the future needs to be, we need to bring the party together, we need to have the best of the Conservative Party and people who are people that deliver and can drive forward our country, and that’s my focus.”
ConHome: “So this tweet didn’t convey your views.”
Truss: “I don’t know anything about this tweet. I have to say that since this election campaign has started I’ve taken Twitter off my phone, and I’m living in bliss, just focussed on Conservative Party members, travelling round the country talking to members, and my positive message which is about turbo-charging our economy, unleashing the potential of Britain, keeping taxes low, being pro-business, that’s what my campaign is about.”
ConHome: “But does someone tweet on your behalf? Sometimes on Twitter you have to be quite spontaneous and quick.”
Truss: “I know, but we’re here in Leeds today for the hustings, and I’m just being totally focussed on talking to our members, because that’s what this is, this is the party members’ decision.
“And there’s all kinds of people on Twitter who’ve got absolutely nothing to do with the Conservative Party. So actually the majority of them perhaps are not of our way of thinking.”
ConHome: “We focus on the tweets, though, because it captures perhaps the slightly self-destructive – in party terms – nature of some of the debate so far.
“Because we’ve also seen those debates where hackles have been raised and accusations of mansplaining have later been levelled.
“Do you regret taking part in any of those debates? Do you think they’re distracting from you actually going to hustings and speaking to party members?”
Truss: “I don’t believe in regrets.”
ConHome: “Je ne regrette rien. To quote your favourite singer, you just want to shake it off, do you?”
Truss: “Well absolutely, Taylor had it right. But look, this leadership election happened very, very quickly. And in fact I was in Indonesia when the PM took the decision to step down and when I arrived back in the United Kingdom frankly a lot of the die had been cast on the format of this leadership election.
“And it is what it is. I think we’ve now had the opportunity to debate, people have seen there is a serious economic divide between me and Rishi.
“We’ve had that out in a series of debates. So whatever the other stuff, I think people understand my position on taxation, my position on economic growth, being pro-active on those post-Brexit freedoms to unleash the potential of our economy.
“And the debate has highlighted that fundamental difference. But now I am focussed on working, talking to party members, putting across a broader range of policies.
“And I don’t think the debates are the best format. I think the hustings that we’re having are a better format to have that discussion.”
ConHome: “On economic policy, you’ve also mentioned in the last week that you think the mandate of the Bank of England should be changed. How would you change the mandate? How high do you think interest rates should be?”
Truss: “We should look again at the Bank of England’s mandate. It was set in 1997 in completely different times, and one of the issues round controlling inflation is around monetary policy, and that’s not just about interest rates, it’s also about quantitative easing that is taking place.
“And I want to look at the best practice of central banks around the world, look at which banks have been best at controlling inflation, and revisit the mandate.
“I haven’t made any decisions and the Chancellor hasn’t made any decisions about exactly how that mandate would change.
“But I think it’s important that we review our monetary policy and the monetary policy settings and the mandate of the Bank of England, and make sure it is delivering for the times we’re in now.
“And of course inflation is a major concern for people. It has pushed up people’s bills, it’s one of the reasons I want to make sure we are taking as little in tax from people as possible, because of those inflationary pressures that they’re facing.”
ConHome: “The route traditionally to lower taxes is reducing spending. You have proposed a spending review. Do you have any idea of what areas you would want to cut in order to finance tax cuts, or do you think this is not necessarily something you have to do in order to cut taxes?”
Truss: “First of all, some of the tax points I’m making are about not raising taxes. So the current proposal is that we raise corporation tax to be the same level as France.
“And I think that will put off investors from investing in Britain, in fact there’s some evidence that that is already happening, and it will mean in the long term we get less revenue in.
“So as has been pointed out by many, if you raise taxes too high, it’s counterproductive, you get less revenues in.
“The tax reduction I’m proposing on National Insurance, which is reversing the decision that broke our manifesto commitment, and holding tax low on corporation tax, as well as having a temporary moratorium on the Green Levy, those are affordable within our existing budgets.
“And we will still be able to start paying down the National Debt in three years.
“But what I will do is take the tough supply-side decisions in order to really get the economy going, so low-tax investment zones, sorting out Solvency II and MIFID, sorting out the trade unions, putting that legislation through on essential services…”
ConHome: “Building more houses?”
Truss: “Well I’ll come to that in a minute. But so that we get the economy going, which is important to avoid a recession.
“The number one problem in this country, which everyone is feeling in their pockets, is a lack of economic growth. We’re currently projected to have a recession, we need to avoid that, we need to get growth going, and we need to keep taxes low.
“Now on the Spending Review, I did want to answer that question, I don’t want to cut public spending. So I support the extra money that we’re putting into social care, for example.
“What I want to do is reform the public sector over the long term, so it’s more efficient. So for example we have many people who are currently economically inactive. We need to improve the incentives to help get those people into work.
“But that takes time. So what I will do is lay out a ten-year plan for public service reform, and a ten-year plan to change Britain’s economic growth rate.
“We should be growing on average at 2.5 per cent. And happiness is a faster-growing private sector than public sector. That’s what we need to achieve.
“What is a mistake is putting up taxes now that will hamper growth. You cannot tax your way to growth. Do you want me to answer on housing?”
ConHome: “Yes. Housing is very important, especially for young people who see no hope of ever getting a place of their own.”
Truss: “Absolutely, but the way we have gone about it, and I say this not just recently, but the previous Labour Government as well, top-down Whitehall-set housing targets do not work.
“They create huge fear across the country, and they haven’t actually delivered the housing that we need.
“So what I favour, I’m talking about these low-tax investment zones which will also have a simpler planning system attached to them, more incentives at a local level to build houses, but that also are connected to businesses, a modern Bournville if you like, and infrastructure.
“We need to think differently, and we also need different approaches in different parts of the country. What’s good in Cornwall is not necessarily good in London. In London I support more building up of houses, allowing people to extend their houses upwards, using brownfield sites.
“In places like Cornwall, having more homes where people working in local industry can live and they’re attached to each other, like Bournville.
“What we have at the moment is a very antiquated, antediluvian planning system.”
ConHome: “Would you repeal the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act?”
Truss: “What I would do is use the Levelling Up Bill to put in these low-tax investment zones and to do what we can to improve the system.
“But the system does need long-term reform.”
ConHome: “So the Town and Country Planning Act wouldn’t apply in these zones?”
Truss: “Well there would be new zoning rules. But these zones, they would be locally driven, they would only be there if it was supported by the local Members of Parliament, the local council, that’s important.
“I was a councillor in Greenwich and I sat on a planning committee and it is hours of my life I will never get back. The whole system where you make all these decisions and then you get overruled by the inspectorate in Bristol doesn’t work, and we do need to change that.
“A lot of the things I’m talking about need long-term reform, but my absolute objective is in the two years until the general election really delivering what we promised in the 2019 manifesto, getting the economy growing, reducing taxes, to help people to get into work, help companies start up.
“I want us to be on the side of the self-employed, the small businesses, the people who get out of bed every day to get into work, and who do the right thing. That’s what I want to focus on.
“There are longer-term reforms needed in government, longer-term reforms needed to help the economy grow, but the immediate focus has to be on unleashing that potential and driving growth.”
ConHome: “We interviewed Rishi Sunak yesterday and he was citing without actually naming Patrick Minford and saying with your tax plans interest rates would go up to seven per cent, that’s what Minford has said.
“We wondered whether with interest rates at seven per cent perhaps there’d be a housing crash.”
Truss: “Frankly this is just scaremongering. Inflation is projected to come down next year. And the Bank of England is independent, it makes decisions about interest rates completely independently of government.”
ConHome: “Should it have raised interest rates sooner?”
Truss: “Well, as I’ve said, I want to review the mandate.”
ConHome: “And that won’t impair their independence, reviewing the mandate?”
ConHome: “They might start to feel a bit nervous.”
Truss: “Well are we really saying that the mandate Gordon Brown set in 1997 is fixed in stone forever? I mean that seems an extraordinary claim.
“It’s always been the case that the Bank of England operate within the mandate set by the Chancellor. And what I’m saying is that should be reviewed.
“But the tax plans I put forward, first of all not raising corporation tax is not inflationary, in fact it should have a positive effect on bringing down inflation because we’re increasing supply in the economy, so there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest any of my plans would affect inflation.”
ConHome: “This contest is obviously affected by the early release of ballot papers, which has incentivised you to make pledges early, and then of course the question is whether the pledges are deliverable.
“And an obvious example is your commitment to lifting the ban on new grammar schools. There’s not much more than two years left. How could you get this through the Lords? It wasn’t in the manifesto so you can’t say the Parliament Act covers this as a manifesto commitment.”
Truss: “Well I’m a huge supporter of grammar schools. I went to school not too far from here, at Roundhay School in Leeds which was a comprehensive.”
ConHome: “Was it a former grammar school?”
Truss: “It was a former grammar school and it became a comprehensive school. My two daughters now attend a grammar school, and I want people around the country to have the choice that we have to be able to send our daughters to a grammar school.
“And I also want to see more free schools opened, so for example the Michaela School in Brent I think is a fantastic example of a school which completely counters the soft bigotry of low expectations and expects high standards of everybody.
“And for me it’s about parents and children having the choice of that range of good schools. And the more good schools we have the more choice people have.”
ConHome: “What are you going to be able to do about this, supposing you become Prime Minister, between now and the next general election?”
Truss: “Well I will make the case to the country that this is the right thing to do, and I will encourage the Lords to support the will of the democratically elected House of Commons.”
ConHome: “Do you feel constrained by the 2019 manifesto? Are there things that you were elected on in 2019 that you would not necessarily agree with, that you would rather scrap and embark on a more Trussite agenda if you had the chance?”
Truss: “I think it’s a very good manifesto. We need to deliver it. And what people are going to judge us on at the next general election is have we delivered.
“This is why it’s so important for me not to raise National Insurance when we didn’t have to, because we had a specific manifesto commitment not to do so.
“It also why it’s important to level up the country, get spades in the ground, show the economy is growing, because that is the big promise we made in 2019, that things were going to be different.
“People voted Conservative not because they wanted some Labour policies. They changed their vote from Labour to the Conservatives because they wanted things to be different.
“They want to see more enterprise in their area, more opportunities, more good schools, better transport. Those are all the things that we promised. That is why people voted Conservative and that is what we need to deliver.”
ConHome: “At what point then did you realise it was a mistake to have voted Remain in 2016?”
Truss: “Well pretty much after the public voted to leave. First of all, the public have voted that, I said on the day I’m putting my shoulder to the wheel to deliver this.
“And pretty much immediately frankly I saw the huge opportunities, and none of the portents of doom came to fruition.
“I want to get all of the existing EU law off the statute books by the end of 2023.”
ConHome: “Thirty-two per cent of Tory MPs backed you in the last ballot. Boris Johnson was just over half. Iain Duncan Smith was 33 per cent. What kind of basis is this for leading the party in Parliament?”
Truss: “In terms of my parliamentary supporters I’ve got supporters from right across the Conservative Party. And I would want to run a Government of the most talented people wherever they’re from in the country, whichever part of the Conservative Party they’re in.
“And I would unite people around the delivery of our 2019 manifesto, and the promise of unleashing Britain’s opportunities. I’m a positive, optimistic person, I believe our best days are ahead…”
ConHome groaned at the use of the cliché.
Truss: “I do! I hate this declinist stuff. There’s too much talking the country down, saying ‘you can’t do this’, saying ‘if we do this it will all be a disaster’. That’s why I’m in politics.”