“Who voted for this?” two Greenpeace protesters demanded in the middle of Liz Truss’s speech.
Had they asked their neighbours, they would have found that most of the people in the hall voted for her, and were resolved, in her hour of need, to demonstrate their support.
The protesters instead showed their commitment to this country’s fine old tradition of adversarial politics. They were determined to have a row, so stood up and unveiled a banner bearing the question “Who voted for this?” with the implied answer being “No one at all!”
What a service they performed for Truss. The Prime Minister is a warrior in search of adversaries, and here were two popping up straight in front of her, producing a moment of danger.
“Out, out, out!” the audience chanted. The banner was torn down and briefly replaced with a reserve banner, before amid a chorus of boos the protesters were bundled out of the hall and the assembled Conservatives converted their sense of outrage into a prolonged and heartfelt standing ovation.
Truss herself looked on with a smile. This was better than she had expected, and better than her oratory deserved.
“I think they arrived in the hall a bit too early,” Truss said when calm had at last been restored, meaning there was a passage later in her speech which Greenpeace would have found more offensive.
But really her whole speech was intended to offend “the anti-growth coalition”, which she said includes “Extinction Rebellion and some of the people we had in the hall earlier”.
It also, as it happens, includes many small-c conservatives who loathe the excesses of capitalism and were devoted readers of Michael Wharton’s Peter Simple column in the old Daily Telegraph, often writing to tell him he was a voice of sanity in a world gone mad.
Truss is no Wharton, but does share his aversion to “Hampstead thinkers”, who in her version travel by taxi from their North London town houses to the BBC studios.
“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” Truss declared in ringing tones, never happier than when she can divide the world into Ayes and Noes.
Some in her audience may have felt a twinge of concern at the growing size of the anti-growth coalition, to which she seemed at quite frequent intervals to add anyone who does not agree in every particular with her economic plan.
“We can’t give in to the voices of decline,” she declared in her peroration, which was followed by another standing ovation.
There had also been a standing ovation to greet the arrival of Truss, and towards the end of her speech the Ukrainians received a standing ovation after she declared in her most martial tone that they will win.
So there is fight in the Conservative Party yet. The voices of decline have not silenced the voice of Truss. The PM continues to believe she can smash the anti-growth coalition, and her supporters still yearn for her to do so.