May’s speech at Tory conference interrupted by prankster
Prime minister apologises to party for her performance in this year’s election campaign
British prime minister Theresa May reset her “mainstream Conservative agenda” on Wednesday, taking on her critics, and even a protester who interrupted her mid-speech, in an attempt to prove she can lead Britain and secure a strong Brexit.
In a keynote conference speech when the protester and a coughing fit brought her words almost to a halt, Ms May won over many members in the hall by promising to reinvigorate the party by offering pledges to younger people and families alike.
After prankster Lee Nelson, who handed Ms May a sheet of paper marked P45, was led away by security officials, the prime minister recovered to say: “I was about to talk about somebody who I would like to give a P45 to, and that’s Jeremy Corbyn. ”
The incident happened just moments after Ms May apologised to her party for her performance in the botched campaign for this year’s snap election.
She admitted the campaign was “too scripted, too presidential” and said she took responsibility for its shortcomings. After calling an election three years early in the hope of increasing her dominance in the House of Commons, Ms
Ms May lost 13 MPs and forfeited her majority, forcing her into a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party.
She won long applause from party delegates as she said: “We did not get the victory we wanted because our national campaign fell short. “It was too scripted. Too presidential.
“And it allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity when the public wanted to hear a message of change.
“I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign. And I am sorry.”
Ms May struggled to deliver her speech, repeatedly coughing and losing her voice.
With the party members applauding to keep Ms May going, she had to stop on several occasions to drink water and take a cough sweet which she said came from chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond.
As Mr Hammond delivered the sweet to the stage Ms May joked: “I hope you noticed that, the Chancellor giving something away free,” as she continued to attempt to give her speech.
The 61-year-old Ms May also said she didn’t mind being called the “Ice Maiden” but that unlike many of her critics she came from lowly beginnings, something that convinced her of the need of what she called a British dream.
Her address could be make or break for the prime minister, whose attempt to present a united front at the conference has been undermined by foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a possible leadership contender who received rousing applause for his speech on Tuesday.
“This is a Conservatism I believe in, a Conservatism of fairness and justice and opportunity for all, a Conservatism that keeps the British Dream alive for a new generation,” she told the cheering crowd.
“That’s what I’m in this for,” she said in a phrase she repeated at least eight times. “That’s what we must all be in this for.”
The conference in the northern English city of Manchester was a sombre affair, light on policy and heavy on self doubt. Despite coming second in the June election, the opposition Labour Party’s annual meeting was almost celebratory.
After Labour’s assault on capitalism, the backbone of Conservative policy, Ms May wants to underline the importance of re-arguing the defence of free markets and fiscal prudence.
But she also wants to engage with younger voters who have flocked to the policies championed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran leftist who has promised to renationalise the railways and end tuition fees that leave graduates in debt.
One senior Conservative said delegates were “hungry for ideas” and leadership, wanting their prime minister to win back the upper hand over Labour, which has closed the gap with the Conservatives in the opinion polls.
The run up to Ms May’s speech, however, was overshadowed by Mr Johnson who once again dominated the airwaves after he stunned some party members at the conference by saying Libya could become a new Dubai if it could “clear the dead bodies away.”
Again there were calls for Mr Johnson to resign or be sacked, demands that Ms May had hoped had been put aside after the foreign minister pledged his loyalty to her after setting out his own Brexit plan in a local newspaper.