Tom Goodenough

Theresa May’s disastrous conference speech: the newspaper verdict

Theresa May’s disastrous conference speech: the newspaper verdict
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Theresa May’s Tory party conference speech was a memorable one if only for all the wrong reasons. A prankster, her faltering voice and a broken sign meant the Prime Minister’s reboot did not go to plan. Here is the newspaper verdict on May’s nightmare speech:

The luck that all leaders need has ‘deserted Theresa May’, says the Times. The Prime Minister’s speech was undoubtedly a ‘presentational disaster’. Yet while ‘there will be many who see this ill-starred speech as the last straw’, whether the PM survives ‘cannot be decided on the basis of optics’. Instead, the party needs to consider its options, and ask what it can do once May 'gets her voice back’ - or, indeed, ‘what alternatives there might be were she to quit or be bundled out.’. Whatever the party does decide, it’s clear some urgent thinking is required. ‘May seems to understand the seriousness of Britain’s housing crisis’, but her answer yesterday - which could mean as few as 5,000 new homes a year - was ‘timid’ and when you take away the ‘theatrics’ from the conference hall in Manchester, May’s address was 'well-meaning but thin’. It’s true that she bared ‘a little of her soul’, and also vowed to 'sweep away injustice’. Yet she only mentioned the main topic of the day – Brexit – ‘halfway through the speech’, by which point it was too late, the Times says. One thing she managed to do was unite her party ‘in sympathy’. It's a pity that ‘what she needed was authority’.

May’s speech is ’the most unusual leader’s speech delivered to a Conservative conference since Margaret Thatcher’s after the Brighton bomb in 1984’, according to the Guardian. The paper says ‘it was an excruciating public agony’ and the ‘metaphorical potential’ of the sign tumbling down behind her ‘was lethally obvious’. When May arrived in Manchester she was ‘the most politically vulnerable prime minister of modern times’. There’s a chance ‘May will get a sympathy vote for battling on in such rotten circumstances’, the paper says. After all, ‘a dose of adversity may have made her seem more human than her robotic image’. Whatever the public makes of her address though, ‘Mrs May’s speech had one undoubted achievement: it managed to get the Tory party to think about something other than Brexit’. But the ‘new start’ the party badly needed has not happened in Manchester.

The fact that May’s speech went wrong ‘was not her fault’, says the Daily Telegraph, ‘but it was symptomatic of a government in trouble’. A leader losing her voice would not normally matter - but ‘it does when you are seeking to show strength’, the paper points out. Yet ‘while the glitches in the speech were simply bad luck, its contents were intentional’ – and these ‘lacked coherence’, says the Telegraph. Her defence of the free market clashed with the energy price cap which she announced. What's more, this policy is ‘a bad, and not very Tory, idea’, according to the Telegraph, which also criticises the PM’s housing strategy. May now ‘has a monumental task ahead of her’, the paper concludes. ‘The country must hope that she is up to the task.’

‘No one can fault Theresa May’s courage’, the Sun says. Yet what worries the paper is 'the lack of ambition in what she said’. On housing, 'a bold PM would have torn up our archaic planning rules. Mrs May didn’t,’ the Sun says. And the ‘game changing’ idea the Tories need to win over the under-45s wasn’t anywhere to be seen in her speech. The paper goes on to compare the set in Manchester to ‘the sign outside Fawlty Towers’. ‘Who needs Basil’s hotel?’, asks the paper: ‘We now have the Tory Party’. It’s high time for the party to undergo a renewal from ‘bottom to top’. ‘Its conference was like a funeral,’ says the Sun. ‘This entire party has come unstuck’, the paper concludes.