The PM avoided disaster in her conference speech, which is all she could hope forby Tom Quinn / October 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
Compared with her calamitous speech to the Conservative conference last year, Theresa May’s effort this year was largely free of incident. There were coughs, but no coughing fits, no collapsing sets, no P45s. The only spectacle of note was a slightly cringe-worthy entrance by the prime minister during which she approximated a dance to the tune of Abba’s Dancing Queen.
The comparisons with last year set a very low bar for May to surmount. That is better for her than the more relevant comparisons, which should be with Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Labour conference last week, and Boris Johnson’s barnstormer at a Tory fringe meeting yesterday. Both delivered passionate and compelling, if hugely contrasting, visions of where the country should be heading. May’s speech today was more workman-like, albeit competent.
It spoke to the themes of security, freedom and opportunity in a country that works for everyone, with several policy announcements. There was a long section on the NHS and a promised strategy on improving early detection of cancer. On housing—“the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation”—May pledged to lift the cap on local authorities’ ability to borrow for house-building. She called for markets to work better and to be reformed, not abandoned, as Labour would do. She acknowledged the sacrifices people had made during the years of austerity and confirmed that fuel duty would be frozen in this month’s budget.
While the speech was wide-ranging, it was somewhat lacking in vision, aside from an airy promise that “our best days lie ahead of us.” Perhaps a grand vision would have been hubristic given that serious questions remain over how long May will be in Downing Street. This morning, the Conservative MP, James Duddridge confirmed he had written to the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, Graham Brady, calling for a vote of no confidence in May as Tory leader. It was not exactly the most auspicious prelude to the prime minister’s address. The reason, of course, was Brexit, the issue that will define May’s tenure.
The section of May’s speech on Brexit was bound to be the focus of attention. It came after Johnson’s clarion call to Brexiteers yesterday to “chuck Chequers,” the prime minister’s proposed outline of a Brexit deal with the EU.…