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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
David Smith in Oxon Hill, Maryland

‘We need a bigger bazooka’: Liz Truss takes aim at left ‘deep state’ at CPAC

Liz Truss, the former British prime minister, has made a fresh bid for political relevance by addressing a far-right conference in the US, railing against Joe Biden, transgender rights and a so-called leftwing-run deep state.

Truss was greeted by gentle applause and dozens of empty seats when she walked on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the National Harbor in Maryland. CPAC styles itself as the biggest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world but is now widely seen as a glorified Donald Trump campaign rally, drawing speakers only from the populist right of the Republican party.

“Conservatives are now operating in what is a hostile environment and we essentially need a bigger bazooka in order to be able to deliver,” Truss said in a 15-minute speech entitled Taking Back Our Parties. “We have got to challenge the institutions themselves. We’ve got to challenge the system itself, and we’ve got to be prepared to take that on as conservatives.”

CPAC provides a safe space for Truss, far from the ridicule that she faces in other arenas at home and abroad. Many Americans are aware that her 50-day premiership was outlasted by a 60p ($0.70) head of iceberg lettuce in a competition set up by a British newspaper with a webcam. When she arrived at CPAC on Wednesday, the liberal commentator Molly Jong-Fast responded on X with four lettuce emojis.

The incentives are commercial as well as ideological. Truss’s public relations offensive in the US coincides with the publication of her book Ten Years to Save the West. “I’ve written a book which is coming out very soon and you can pre-order it,” she told CPAC in what critics might identify as the key line of the speech.

A giant advert for the book was prominently displayed at the conference venue alongside one for a biography of Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who recently conducted a sycophantic interview with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. Elsewhere at CPAC a virtual pinball game featured photos from the 6 January 2021 insurrection, which many attendees regard as a heroic protest.

Truss’s appearance here followed those of a series of far-right politicians and media personalities who asserted that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump, described Biden as a “desiccated old husk of a former human being” who might be replaced by Michelle Obama, and characterised the “transgender industry” as a “monster”.

Apparently at ease in such company, Truss insisted that western values were being undermined. “Our history is being challenged, even our biology is being challenged,” she said. “Can you imagine? Could you imagine 10 years ago that we’d be talking about what a woman is or what a man and having a serious argument about it. It’s incredible.

“And yet every issue the left win, they push it even more. They push it to even more extreme. Meanwhile, we’ve seen President Biden asleep at the wheel in the White House.” She also complained: “We’ve got a new kind of economics in the west. It’s called ‘wokenomics’.”

A small table crowded with items, including a number of items of produce with googly eyes pasted on, yellow and green lights, the Union Jack flag of the UK, and a digital timer.
A screenshot taken from the Daily Star webcam of a wilting head of lettuce. Photograph: Daily Star

Truss went on to push a narrative modelled on that of Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist linked to global far-right nationalist movements, who at CPAC in 2017 called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. She argued that the left has infiltrated public and private institutions in “the deep state” and sabotaged her efforts to cut taxes and reduce the size of government.

“I’m not saying I’m a perfect person or I did everything exactly right,” she said of her time as prime minister. “But I faced the most almighty backlash for those conservative policies that I tried to put in place from the usual suspects in the media, from the usual suspects in the corporate world and also from people that were meant to run the government.”

She added: “Even the IMF [International Monetary Fund] intervened and even President Biden intervened to have a go at my policy. Now, can you imagine being attacked on your economic policy by the inventor of ‘Bidenomics’? Talk about offensive.”

Truss took office after winning a Conservative party leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson. Her plan to spur economic growth with a mini-budget containing £45bn ($54bn) in unfunded tax cuts – including an income tax reduction for the highest earners – unleashed economic chaos. She resigned in October 2022, becoming the country’s shortest-serving prime minister.

Truss went on to call for Republicans to win back the White House, Senate and House of Representatives but stopped short of explicitly endorsing Trump, whose plans to “drain the swamp” coincided strongly with Truss’s critique.

The ex-PM’s speech at CPAC, which earned ripples of applause but not the cheers that some speakers receive, follows her recent launch of the popular conservatism movement in London as she seeks to rehabilitate her image. Attendees welcomed her presence at a conference where Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, is still revered.

Harry Maynard, 71, from Tallahassee, Florida, said: “It’s great that she’s here. I’m sorry she only lasted six weeks. She was hijacked and so was Boris – Bo Johnson – whatever his name is.”

Emmett Geul, 19, a student and a member of the army national guard in Ohio, was excited about Truss’s appearance. “I feel like London and England as a whole needs to be on a more conservative track,” he said. “I know there’s a housing crisis going on; the cost of living is rising. But I just feel if we have strong conservative voices all over the world, things oftentimes are more mellow. We’re not getting involved in wars.”

Geul endorsed Truss’s critique of the deep state. “It’s a lot of nepotism. They often look out for each other and they have their own interests at heart. They’re not oftentimes looking out for the people’s interests that ultimately got them elected.”

Katelyn Meeks, 21, a student, said Truss had been unfairly treated in Britain: “It’s definitely hard to go up against the bureaucracy in the deep state when you’re fighting something you don’t know, the what’s known or unknown. You never know your next step or your next plan or your next move.”

Polling by the market research company Savanta shows that Truss remains one of the least popular frontline politicians in Britain. Her favorability numbers are at -54%, trailing Boris Johnson at -25% and Rishi Sunak at -27%, its survey found.

Later, Truss appeared alongside Bannon on Real America’s Voice, a far-right TV channel, in a hallway outside the main conference auditorium.

When Bannon raised recent comments by Nigel Farage warning of a radical Islamic party gaining seats in the British parliament, Truss replied: “There’s going to be a byelection in the next few weeks, and it could be a radical Islamic party win in that byelection. So that is a possibility.”

Questioned by Bannon, she clarified that she was referring to Rochdale in northern England. The former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway is standing for the Workers’ party in Rochdale.

Bannon asked the audience if Truss was “tough enough” to turn the situation in Britain around and some people cheered: “Yes!”

But the former prime minister added: “I need a few more friends, though, to be frank. I need a few more people to help me.”

She told Bannon: “Once you’ve sorted out America, you come over to Britain and sort us out.”

Bannon quipped: “I think I would be banned there.”

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