By Helen Roberts
In case you don’t remember the disaster that was Theresa May’s conference speech last year, let me remind you. The speech was her first conference speech after losing her majority in the House of Commons. Not only did May personally apologise to the Party for the disastrous presidential-style campaign, someone in the crowd handed her a P45, she got a coughing fit and had to be handed a lozenge, and the letters of the logo started to drop one-by-one off the stage. All-in-all, it did not go well.
But this speech, well, this speech was just what the Party members ordered. I will go so far as to say, that it was spot on when appealing to the broad church that is the Conservative Party membership.
Firstly, it was self-deprecating. Her awkward dance onto the stage to Abba’s Dancing Queen was both cringy and human; and it was well received in the Conference Hall. The Maybot is no more.
Secondly, she appealed directly to the party faithful; reminding them about the unifying principles of being a modern-day Conservative: Security, Freedom, Opportunity. She spoke about being decent, moderate and patriotic. All of these characteristics and principles are the what Conservative Party members hold close to their hearts.
Thirdly, she dealt with Brexit very very well considering the circumstances surrounding conference. She didn’t mention Brexit at all for the first half of her speech. And when she did, she laid out very clear options. “We will not betray the results of the referendum and we will never break up our country.” She fought for Chequers (without namechecking it) and she explained that her willingness to consider a “no deal” Brexit was essential in the negotiations. She spoke about her faith in the UK’s resilience in the face of no deal.
Despite what will likely be the focus of media coverage, May’s speech did not focus on Brexit. She set out her soaring rhetoric about the Britain she wanted to live in and her desire to tackle burning injustices. This was the right thing to do and it was well received in the audience.
People will be asking if it was enough. In answer to that, I would say, enough for what? Enough to hold on to the leadership of the party until post Brexit? It’s still difficult to tell, but I’d put my money on yes – the risk of triggering an election and losing to Corbyn is too great. Enough to hold on until the next Conservative Party Conference? Again, difficult to tell, but possibly – it will depend on how and when the Party want to bring in their new leader. Enough to run as the Leader at the next election? No, it wasn’t enough – and it is unlikely that anything she does can change this. May is the Prime Minister for Brexit, but not beyond.
However, for now, she should hold her head high. Today, she was the Conservative Party’s Dancing Queen.