By Conor Holohan
Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester had for many weeks been built up as a pivotal moment in her leadership. The weeks leading up to the conference were characterised by cabinet in-fighting over Brexit.
Boris Johnson caused fury among the right-wing press for rocking the boat when he published his unauthorised 4,000-word Brexit piece in the Telegraph. The Foreign Secretary claimed that he was merely trying to explain the positive opportunities that Brexit presents. However, many accused him of trying to force the Prime Minister out of a ‘soft’ Brexit position in her speech in Florence days later. The piece was also seen as an attack on Philip Hammond, who is famously dower about Britain’s post-Brexit prospects.
There was speculation that, if May did not adhere to Johnson’s short-term transition and clean break approach in her speech, he would resign as Foreign Secretary. Johnson was accused of backseat driving by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, and in the following mud-slinging it was revealed that Philip Hammond had texted Boris on June 8th pledging his support should Mr Johnson move against the Prime Minister. Days after this revelation, Hammond could not, when asked, bring himself to say that Theresa May would lead the party into the next election.
Since the failed attempt at increasing the Conservative’s majority, Conservative MPs, activists and especially those who lost their seats have been extremely critical of May’s leadership. The biggest question in the lead up to the conference was; can they forgive her? In accordance with this huge question within the party, early on in her speech, the Prime Minister apologised.
She told the conference; ‘Our national campaign fell short. It was too scripted, too presidential and allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity. I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign and I am sorry.’ The only thing that would have been more conciliatory for the activists present would have been if May had brought out Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill in stocks and allowed conference attendees to pelt them with rotten fruit. It was exactly what the conference wanted to hear. There was fury over the presidential style of the campaign, which shut popular ministers away from interviews and allowed Jeremy Corbyn’s personality to shine in contrast to the dull and scripted ‘Maybot’.
The Prime Minister announced £2billion to build 25,000 council homes as well as draft legislation for an energy bills cap. Despite these significant and profoundly one-nation announcements, coverage of the speech was dominated by trivia about her coughing fit and a prank (which has now prompted a security review) by a comedian who made a career out of poking fun at working class people, the real name of whom is not worth a Google.