Prime Minister Theresa May’s tweet simply titled *coughs*, after her headline speech at the Tory autumn conference resembled a pharmacy counter with a half-eaten pack of Strepsils strawberry lozenges, a bottle of Olbas oil, Covonia cough syrup, a box of Ultra Chloraseptic Anaesthetic throat spray and a glass of water.
Alongside her prime ministerial red box was the copy of her speech from hell through which she coughed and spluttered. Throw in a prankster who handed her a P45 form, the party’s confab slogan peeling off the wall and there was enough material for hours of comedy sketches.
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) October 4, 2017
May had wanted to use the Conservative Party’s annual conference to bring her divided party together and pitch herself as the only person able to deliver Brexit and keep opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn out of power.
She started by apologising for calling a snap June election which stripped her party of its majority in parliament, then pitched a revitalised ‘British Dream’ for which she proposed fixing broken markets and uniting the country.
But her speech was soon hijacked by comedian Simon Brodkin also known as Lee Nelson, who handed her a P45 letter, a document given to employees when they leave or are sacked from their job. The fake document had been “signed” by the comedian using the name of her ambitious Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Then May began a coughing fit and was repeatedly forced to take gulps of water, even coughing into her glass, and was soon offered a lozenge by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. While she was speaking, several letters from the slogans behind her on the stage began to fall off. Twitter users soon seized on images of the missing letters to poke fun at the Conservatives.
The 61-year-old May once branded the ‘Maybot’ for her stiff performances won standing ovations for persevering with the hour-long address, in which she struck a more personal tone – saying she did not mind being called the ‘Ice Maiden’ and describing her ‘great sadness’ at being childless.
Her speech sought to offer party activists a renewal of Conservative values while making new promises to a younger generation and those “just about managing”.
“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.”
Brexit minister David Davis told Reuters it had been “a very good speech, it hit all the issues people care about”. Other cabinet ministers also applauded May.
Many in the audience said her coughing fit and the unscripted appearance by the comedian had helped to win them over.
“Actually, if all that stuff hadn’t happened, it would have just been another kind of wooden presentation,” said Pippa Smith, a 26-year-old party member from London. “It was a good speech, but I think actually it did her a favour.”
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip), said May was so useless that if she remained as leader then Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn would soon be in power. Labour lawmaker Seema Malhotra said: “It just couldn’t get worse than this. What a disaster. It’s a shambles, not a government.”
HOUSING BOOST FALLS SHORT
Responding to the PM’s conference announcement to fix UK’s broken housing market with a £2bn injection of funds to build 5,000 council social housing a year, Radical Housing Network, an umbrella group for campaigning housing equality groups including the Grenfell Action Group said: “May is pumping £10bn into a housing policy that worsens the housing crisis: Help to Buy has kept house prices high, provides subsidies to a small number of people, and does nothing to address the chronic shortage of low-cost housing.
“And her announcement of £2bn for affordable housing alongside permitting some councils to build more social rent homes is simply tinkering at the edges of a failed system. May’s announcement was proclaimed a ‘revolutionary’ shift in policy – but in fact would only provide homes for just 5% of the 1.2 million people who have languished on waiting lists for years.
“Over decades we have lost 1.5 million council homes while powerful property owners dominate the market. In London, millions of people are stuck in poor housing on extortionate rents while developers game the system, while only a fraction – 13% – of new houses announced last year met even the low standard for ‘affordability’ set by the Conservatives.”
“If May wants to prove she’s ‘listened and learned’ on housing, she needs to get serious about providing the safe, decent and affordable homes which we desperately need. It’s estimated that we need national public investment of £10bn to provide enough council homes to meet demand, and it’s essential that tenants and communities are involved in the planning of those homes.
“Corbyn’s commitment to put tenants back at the heart of housing policy could be the start of real change, yet change is yet to be seen from London’s Labour-run councils – including Lewisham, Haringey and Holloway – who continue to sell off public land and housing for profit in flawed ‘regeneration’ schemes, despite community opposition.
“The tragedy at Grenfell starkly revealed what happens when residents’ concerns and voices are ignored. Grenfell should mark a turning point for all parties, who must commit to real action on our broken housing system.”
Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, said: “We’re pleased to see the government acting to ease the misery of millions of private renters and tackling the desperate need for social homes at genuinely affordable rents.
“All new money is welcome, but the reality is that with over 1.2 million households on waiting lists already, this is only a fraction of the long-term investment required. It will need to be the start, rather than the end.
“We hope the government will be matching the size of their ambition to the sheer scale of the problem, with far more funding and the new powers for councils promised by the Prime Minister. Turning around our housing crisis for ordinary families will take a real commitment and a bold long term strategy.”
(With additional reporting from Reuters)