Conservative Party Conference 2017: Is the Writing on the Wall for May?

Theresa May Grafitti

By Jwslubbock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It is indicative of how badly the knives are out for Theresa May that media commentators mocked for the audacity to have a cough and a cold when delivering a key speech at the Tory Party Conference earlier this week, and rather than admonish the so-called ‘comedian’ who delivered her a phantom P45 on stage.

As if that wasn’t enough embarrassment, some of the letters that made up the backdrop of ‘building a country that works for everyone’ fell down, leaving the stage resembling something knocked up by a harassed caretaker ahead of a school play.

The upshot is that it matters not where your political allegiances lie, the Prime Minister has been badly let-down by the media on all sides of the spectrum this week.

Instead, we should really be focusing on the content of her message: her immediate aspirations personally and the long-term future of the Conservatives, Brexit, the fragile relations between the US and North Korea and many of the other ‘hot potatoes’ May currently has on her plate.

This was a speech in which May talked about ‘renewing the British dream’, with plans for more council houses and capped energy prices to help those less well off. Shouldn’t that be the key takeaway message, rather than the Prime Minister’s tickly cough?

In some sections of the media, May’s ill health was portrayed as some kind of metaphor for her weak grip on the top job at 10 Downing Street; as if somehow she had been further undermined by a whole bunch of happenings that were beyond her control.

It is a speech that will ultimately be remembered for the cough and the P45, rather than one in which Theresa May reinforced her status as a Prime Minister with a firm hold of her employment.

It may also be remembered for the moment that the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was caught on camera ‘reminding’ Boris Johnson to stand up and clap at the end of the PM’s speech.

So What Did May Actually Say?

You’ll do well to find reporting of the actual content of the PM’s message, such was the determination amongst journalist to publish the fun, shareable aspects of the speech based upon their viral, ‘shareable’ nature.

So what Theresa May actually say in her presentation to the conference?

The main thread was her hope to deliver a ‘modern, compassionate Britain’, with fewer financial divides and greater social justice for all. May’s plan to reintroduce a greater number of council housing schemes – necessary in these harsh financial times, but a rather 1980s approach to tackling welfare issues, and cap energy prices are just two of her planned methods to create societal equality, and – cynically, but realistically – appeal to more compassionate voters who ditched the Tories in their droves at the last General Election.

There was a real appreciation on the part of May to highlight a more wider-lensed approach to politics as part of the next four years of Conservative reign, saying that she was dedicating to ensuring that the ‘British dream’ that ‘life should be better for the next generation’ is top of her agenda.

The PM also mentioned Brexit, as you might expect, and reiterated her desire to find a solution that ‘works for Britain and Europe.’ That may be the hardest of all her pledges to succeed with….

Opinion Divided

So what did her fellow Conservative Party members think of her speech? We already know how the media reported the debacle, but the most important opinions are those of the party members who could, in theory at least, oust her at any time.

The most vocal of May’s critics has been the former Tory chairman, Grant Schapps. He has said that he has the backing of at least 30 Conservative members (ooh, you’re hard) in calling for a leadership challenge, with Schapps telling the BBC ‘I don’t think we can go on like this.’

“I think it’s time we actually tackle this issue of leadership and so do many colleagues,” he continued. “We wanted to present that to Theresa May privately. Now I’m afraid it’s being done a bit more publicly.”

For what it’s worth, 48 Tory MPs would need to sign the official letter for any leadership election to be triggered.

But May has garnered plenty of support this week too, including most notably from Michael Gove, who told Radio 4’s Today programme that the ‘overwhelming majority of MPs and the entirety of the cabinet’ support the PM.

And Scottish leader, Ruth Davidson, commented on May’s cough-laden performance that ‘if ever there was a metaphor for battling through adversity, that was it.’

So the Prime Minister has retained the support of many of her cabinet aides, and that should at least buy her some more time at 10 Downing Street.