Today’s conference keynote was meant to be Theresa May’s moment to tell the Conservatives to “shape up and give the country the government it needs”. She acknowledged the errors of her election campaign, and began to wax lyrical about her plans to renew the “British dream”, but it quickly became a nightmare. A protester handed her a mock P45, while her delivery was further interrupted by a series of agonising coughing fits as letters fell off the party’s slogan behind her.
The Prime Minister powered through, and tried to laugh it off on Twitter afterwards by posting a picture of the text of her speech on a table surrounded by Strepsils cough sweets, Olbas Oil and a bottle of Covonia with the comment *cough*. Her struggle drew sympathy from Tory MPs, her audience – who tried to help her regain composure with regular bouts of applause, and Telegraph commentators. “Everyone was willing her on,” Michael Deacon wrote. “But God, it hurt to watch.” Philip Johnston wonders why she wasn’t “saving both her voice and what she had to say for the big event” rather than spending the last few days giving plenty of media interviews and speeches at reception events.
The outpouring of pity is not exactly helpful for a Prime Minister who hoped to reassert her authority today. “That was the PM at the top of her game,” Michael Gove told the Telegraph, which is not exactly the most helpful review. Janet Daley found it “too easy” to see the cough-ridden speech “as a metaphor for her whole leadership: brave, conscientious but unfit”. Others are aghast as to how the prankster infiltrated the hall while Mrs May spoke, with an inquiry underway over the unprecedented security breach. “The Tories have to ask themselves why their conference is now seen as easy prey for jokers and self-publicists of all stripes,” Tom Harris warns. Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who as chairman oversees the conference, declined to say if he would resign.
The Prime Minister lost her chance to send Conservatives away from Manchester with a spring in their step as her speech turned into an excruciating event. Mrs May has her party’s sympathy, but she will have to fight if she wants to maintain their confidence.
Source: for MOR£