It will likely be a speech remembered for many years to come, but for all the wrong reasons. As one of Theresa May’s most personal performances to date was overshadowed by an unrelenting cough, a comedian heckling her with a P45 document “from Boris” and her slogan falling apart behind her as she struggled through a calamitous address. Many have highlighted the metaphoric impact of her slogan visibly collapsing behind her, with the party that have prided themselves on competence and party management — disunited and fumbling in front of the electorate.
Despite attempts from the Tory faithful to support her with long periods of applause, the look of palpable pain on the faces of her cabinet — including Boris Johnson — was clear for everyone to see. Of course, everyone gets a cough, and perhaps it was just terrible luck for the Prime Minister that her most important speech — intended to revive the Conservatives — was blighted by an unfortunate loss of voice, rendering her words futile.
Nevertheless, pity is something that no politician hopes for, especially not the Prime Minister, and even more so a leader lacking support and authority from the electorate and their own party. However there were brief moments of humour, with an undoubted humanity shown by May — as the most excruciating moments of her speech were often accompanied by a witty remark and personality that eluded her so significantly during the general election campaign in June.
The majority of people would have been unable to ascertain any policy initiatives put forward by the Prime Minister, yet it is still worth mentioning the substance of the speech itself minus the coughs. The energy price cap and increased housing pledges were introduced, as well as the previously established student fees freeze at the recently increased figure of £9,250. All of this points to an intense problem for the Tory party, as their policy proposals are being forced leftwards as a result of the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing Labour party. They are stuck between a rock and a hard (left) place: whether they go all out in attack of Corbyn’s left wing agenda and risk alienating voters, or accommodate left wing policies, shown by May’s adoption of Miliband’s energy price cap — which was deemed “marxist” by Tories not long ago.
Theresa May ended her speech calling for party unity after a volatile week of infighting, begun by Boris Johnson and his much criticised intervention on Brexit. However there is a feeling that the Prime Minister’s time may come to an end closer than many predicted, with talk of a Tory plot to oust May despite the lack of credible replacements. May came into conference season a wounded animal, and her address was meant to arrest Tory fears and concerns over her leadership, yet it seems that her stock has only sunk impossibly lower. At times excruciating, it was a speech that will live long in the memory — and was symbolic of Theresa May’s fraught premiership as Prime Minister since the election.