Climate protesters disrupt Truss’s big day
Anti-fracking Greenpeace protestors crashed Truss’s maiden PM speech by asking ‘who voted for this?’
image Oli Scarff / Getty Images
words Sophie Wilkinson
It was Liz Truss’s first pop at a conference speech, the opportunity to set out her vision as prime minister, the aim of her party and how it will meet the goals it’s set itself. The idea is to gee up the ranks so they can tow the line for her over the next year and build public and businesses’ trust in her.
It’s not a great time for the new PM. First off, the mini-budget announced by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng set off economic havoc that led to housing market disruption, a 37-year dip of the pound’s worth and the Bank of England needing to step in to bail out pensions to the tune of £65bn, has forced the government into an early-days U-turn. Before, those earning over £120k per year - that’s about 600,000 of the wealthiest earners in the UK - had a 45p rate of tax scrapped, saving them, on average, £10k per year. But enough rich people reminded Truss that they don’t really need this extra cash, not if it meant the UK was hurtling towards a recession again.
The result has been polls showing voters shifting towards Labour, with Keir Starmer’s party leading by 50 points to the Conservatives’ 25 points in one poll.
Secondly, Truss strolled on stage to M People’s Movin’ On Up, a song sung by the legendary Heather Small. Small has just recently spoken out against the government’s decision to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda (something new Home Secretary Suella Braverman said is “an obsession of mine” earlier during conference). Plus, her son is a Labour councillor!
Doubtless Heather Small's disapproval is not a political loss in the same sense as sending the UK’s economy tanking is a political loss, but if the Conservatives can’t win on money, and they can’t win on culture, what else do they have?
The very Great Britain they’ve set out to conserve, right? Well, um, according to environmental charities, wrong. Very soon after Truss told the conference hall how “I know how it feels to have your potential dismissed by those who feel they know better”, two women in the audience launched a protest.
Looking convincingly Tory enough to have been let in to the auditorium - and in fact, Greenpeace is allowed a stall at Tory conference - the pair, protesting on behalf of Greenpeace, unfurled a banner reading “Who voted for this?” While chanting “who voted for fracking”.
Because, after all, Liz Truss wasn’t voted in by the public, nor her party, just a group of Conservative members that make up less than 0.2% of the country. And now, the UK government, bereft of keen cyclist Boris Johnson and his friend and former editor of The Ecologist, Lord Zac Goldsmith, is U-turning on previous pledges on green policies.
Truss’s response to the protestors, who packed TWO banners with them ready to unfurl, was a simple “let’s get them removed”. They promptly were, to boos for them and cheers for Liz.
Fracking, a process of drilling into shale rock with a mixture of sand, water and chemicals in order to extract gases from under its surface, started in Lancashire in 2011 but caused mini-earthquakes. Fracking has been nearly entirely banned in the UK until Truss came back to power and she decided it would be fine to lift the ban in order to lessen energy prices across the UK.
Truss has been asked about fracking by a local BBC Lancashire journalist they asked: “We are the only area of the country that has done it, and it caused earthquakes, people’s houses shook. Why do you think it is safe to continue, because none of the science has changed?”
And the Prime Minister’s reply went: “What I want to be clear about is we will only press ahead with fracking in areas where there is local community support for that … Fracking is carried out perfectly safely in various parts of the world, and the business secretary will make sure that any fracking that takes place is safe.”
And that’s why Greenpeace protested at the Conservative conference, because although Jacob Rees Mogg - yes, that’s our business secretary - says he’d be fine with fracking in his back garden, that doesn’t really mean it’s actually safe to do so.
Truss stepped back into the stride of her speech after the protestors’ disruption, and even referenced them when pitting herself against the “anti-growth coalition” of left-wingers such as “Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP, militant unions, vested interests dressed up as think tanks, the talking heads, the Brexit deniers and Extinction Rebellion”. As she put it, “some of the people we had in the hall earlier…they prefer protesting to doing, they prefer talking on Twitter to taking tough decisions, they prefer taking taxis from townhouses in north London to the BBC Studios to dismiss anyone challenging the status quo.”
Which is an interesting take, because the status quo is that Liz Truss is Prime Minister, and the women challenging that today in the conference hall were swiftly dismissed, lanyards ripped from their necks.
To find out more about what Greenpeace is doing to combat fracking and how you can get involved, visit their site here.
To email your MP to ask them to do more to stop the government from fracking, head to Friends of the Earth.