Theresa May stood on the podium today with a huge task ahead of her. She needed to unite the cabinet, inject renewed energy and faith into the party, appeal to the electorate, show a human side, and outline her vision for the country. Mainly for reasons beyond her control – and for some within it – she achieved all of that today.
The speech started solidly and she was articulating her vision well. She was passionate and talked about what she was in the business of politics for. Identifying injustice and putting it right – it had all the hallmarks of her first speech on the steps of Downing Street. It was what wooed the electorate and gave her stellar poll ratings. She talked about discrimination, the need to give voice to vulnerable people, and delivered a really quite compelling argument in favour of the free market economy.
And despite all this very good content, something else will get all the media attention. A heckler handed her a P45 in the name of Boris Johnson. She took it, she made a joke, and she carried on. Then her voice failed. She has a cold at the moment and again she battled on through it. Stoicism is something she is known for. Sympathy for someone battling adversity is what the British public are known for. Together this combination will surely give her a boost and put her enemies back in their box. Feel sorry for her if you must, but feel admiration for her too for pushing through. This has made her seem more human and that can only have good consequences given her reputation for being a bit robotic.
The speech lasted longer than expected because a sympathetic audience gave her more standing ovations to allow her to catch her breath and take a sip of water. And if we’re honest, some of the announcements will have been missed because people were not waiting to hear what she said but whether she could physically say it. But she attacked Corbyn, she lamented the viciousness that has crept into political discourse, she condemned narrow minded nationalism and told us a second referendum in Scotland was denied.
The election was a real learning curve for Theresa May. The policy announcements proved it with extra money for a social house building programme and a promise to review student debt. She also stuck by the election pledge to introduce a price cap on energy bills. She knows if the Conservatives are to have a hope at the next election they need a wider appeal.
So now we wait for the fallout. Will this prove the point when the public gets behind her and sees her for what she’s doing and what she’s putting herself through? Will her detractors feel cowed into being less aggressive? Boris Johnson will be feeling sheepish today for his antics, but how long will it last? The phrase ‘this is what I’m in this for’ was repeated over and over. But it’s the stuff that you’re not in it for that really tests you and grinds you down. And she showed she has the mettle to double down and get on with the job. It’s tough at the top.