Tory conference: Can Theresa May rescue her leadership, or has her party lost patience?

Tory conference: Can Theresa May rescue her leadership, or has her party lost patience?
Theresa May’s political stock is collapsing after a battering in June’s snap election, and amid deadlocked Brexit negotiations. Can the PM convince her party she is the woman for the job, stop the cabinet infighting and rally them behind her?

Amid a crippling cabinet split over government policy and Brexit, the Tory leader addressed her party at its annual conference in Manchester, where she briefed them on their “duty” to serve Britain.

“For beyond this hall, beyond the gossip pages of the newspapers, and beyond the streets, corridors and meeting rooms of Westminster, life continues - the daily lives of ordinary working people go on,” the PM said in her first major speech to the party since the self-imposed disaster of her snap election in June.

“And they must be our focus today. Not worrying about our job security, but theirs. Not addressing our concerns, but the issues, the problems, the challenges that concern them.

“Not focusing on our future, but on the future of their children and their grandchildren – doing everything we can to ensure their tomorrow will be better than our today.”

It comes just days after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gave an interview in the Murdoch-owned Sun tabloid where he set four red lines for Brexit, which include the resolve to limit the transition period to two years only and “not a second more.”

Because his remarks go far beyond May’s statements in Italy two weeks ago, the interview was seen as yet another challenge to the Tory leader’s authority.

Johnson, who also set himself out as a ‘man of people’ as he called on the government to allow a pay rise for public sector workers, had already stirred controversy at the beginning of the month when he penned a 4,300-word essay in the Telegraph, in which he said the UK would never agree to a divorce bill.

This neglected the fact the government had just agreed a £30 billion bill could be paid over a two-year transition period.

During the speech May seized the chance to quieten speculation over her leadership as she steers the UK out of the EU.

“There will be obstacles and barriers along the way. But it has never been my style to hide from a challenge, to shrink from a task, to retreat in the face of difficulty, to give up and turn away,” the PM said.

“And it is when tested the most that we reach deep within ourselves and find that our capacity to rise to the challenge before us may well be limitless.”

The PM apologized for the embarrassing result of her ill-advised snap election in June, which cost the Tories their majority.

May pledged to “root out” injustice in Britain, arguing Labour should stop “pretending they have a monopoly on compassion.”

Also attacking Labour’s leftward swing, she said the Tories must defend free and open markets “with all our might.”

The PM turned to discuss Brexit, saying her government’s “first and most important duty is to get it right.” She also reassured EU migrants living in the UK “you are welcome here” and we “want you to stay.”

The UK government “rejects the isolationism of the hard left […] and we choose a global Britain instead,” and will seek a post-Brexit Britain that will “reach beyond the borders of Europe” to make “friends” around the world.

A post-Brexit scenario will not see Britain “retreating behind its borders.”

Claiming credit for employment reaching a record high, the deficit being down, and overall economic growth up, the PM said her party is the one to introduce a pay rise for the lowest earners.

She said she will take “personal charge” of a “new generation of council housing,” as a further £2 billion will be put towards affordable housing, bringing its total budget to £9 billion.

Recognizing that “education is key to unlocking the future,” the Conservatives also pledged to undertake a major review of student financing.

She said new policies would see the pay threshold at which graduates have to start repaying their tuition fee loans raised from £21,000 to £25,000.

Britain’s ruling party also pledged to publish a draft bill to put a price cap on energy bills in a bid to end the “rip off energy prices once and for all.”

May concluded her speech saying her party has come to know the “terrible toll of terrorism all too well” and that it “never seek to justify such acts of terror [...] but stand strong in the face of terrorism.”