Mrs May, who at one point was handed a throat sweet by the chancellor, did make it to the end of a speech in which she vowed to “renew the British dream”. She announced plans for more council houses and a cap on energy prices. But they were overshadowed by the problems she had delivering the set-piece speech in Manchester. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the annual conference “was meant to be about restoring Theresa May’s authority – it may prove instead to have been further undermined”.
Mrs May was interrupted early on in her speech by comedian Simon Brodkin – also known as Lee Nelson – who managed to make it to the podium to hand her a P45, a redundancy notice, saying to her that “Boris asked me to give you this”. After he was removed and she got encouraging cheers from the audience she joked that the only P45 she wanted to give out was to Jeremy Corbyn. But she struggled to finish the speech because of a croaky voice, having to stop several times to drink water.
Sources close to the prime minister have said that the PM had caught the “conference cold”, and that her many interviews and meetings this week have taken their toll on her voice. They say the prankster who interrupted her speech has been arrested for a breach of the peace and there will be a thorough investigation of security. To add to her woes, some of the letters fell off the conference stage backdrop. By the end it read: “Building a country that works or everyon.” Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said of the prime minister’s performance: “If ever there was a metaphor for battling through adversity, that was it.” In the speech itself, Mrs May delivered a call for a “modern, compassionate Britain” and focused on her personal commitment to social justice and fairness.
She also apologised to activists in Manchester for an election campaign that had been “too scripted, too presidential”. And she said the “British dream” that “life should be better for the next generation” was out of reach for too many people, something she vowed to dedicate her premiership to fixing. Mrs May began her speech by outlining the reasons why she joined the Conservative Party more than 40 years ago, stressing that the things that have made her most proud in politics have not been the positions she has held, but “knowing that I made a difference – helped those who cannot be heard”. She announced that there would be an independent review of the Mental Health Act, to tackle injustice, and would press for justice to be done for the families of those killed and injured in the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
“That’s what I’m in this for,” she said. Turning to Brexit, Mrs May said she was “confident that we will find a deal that works for Britain and Europe”. She also reassured European citizens living in the UK that “you are welcome here” and urged negotiators to reach agreement on this policy “because we want you to stay”. Mrs May said it had “always been a great sadness for Philip and me that we were never blessed with children”, but she said this did not stop her wanting to help young people on to the housing ladder. Hailing plans to “reignite home ownership” in Britain, she said the government plans to invest an additional £2bn in affordable housing, taking the total budget up to almost £9bn. If ministers made the land available and gave young people the skills to build the houses, she challenged house builders to ensure they “build the homes our country needs”.