Theresa May doesn’t use an autocue for her speeches. She feels that reading off a screen at the back of the hall makes it far harder to connect with the audience. But the Prime Minister had no need to worry about her connection with the audience at this conference. Tory activists love her; they regard her as one of their own and are rejoicing at her leadership. ‘The grown ups are back in charge’ was a refrain heard frequently in Birmingham this week.
The mood of Tory activists has been further improved by what Mrs May has said about Brexit. Her commitment to trigger Article 50 by the end of March has reassured them that Britain really is leaving the European Union and the tone of her speech on Sunday indicated that she is aiming for the kind of clean break with the EU that most of her audience at conference wanted. (There were grumblings from pro Remain Tories that their brethren had largely stayed away this year.)
May’s comments on Brexit have delighted Tory Eurosceptics: ‘We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again,’ she declared. ‘And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.’
Those MPs who formed the awkward squad under David Cameron are now seeking out journalists to praise Mrs May. One pointed to the chief whip, Gavin Williamson, who used to be Cameron’s parliamentary private secretary, and said: ‘He used to have to call me before the Prime Minister said anything on Europe and try and get me to keep quiet. Now he has to call George [Osborne] and Nicky Morgan. That’s how much things have changed.’
If May’s aim was to make sure that she didn’t alienate her right flank, she has succeeded.