The UK Prime Minister’s speech to Conservative Party Conference
During a Conservative Party conference dominated by speculation over who is best suited to lead the Party in the future, Theresa May sought to use today’s speech as a platform to re-assert her own leadership credentials and to present her vision of a renewed “British dream”.
However, confronted by an intruder with a mocked up P45 unemployment form and troubled by a persistent cough, that not even the Chancellor’s throat sweets could remedy, this was undoubtedly a challenging experience for a Prime Minister under close scrutiny.
While the headlines tomorrow will focus on the series of unfortunate events that hampered the Prime Ministers delivery, the speech itself contained several significant policy announcements aimed at progressing the Prime Minister’s ambition of leading a Government that offers a “voice to the voiceless”.
In a big shift away from the Cameron/Osborne focus on building homes for owner occupation, May promised a significant expansion in council housing with local authorities to be given new freedoms to build their own homes, while also being forced to assess local need and set targets to construct more housing in their area. Additionally, a further £2 billion will be invested to build affordable housing.
This policy demonstrates the importance that the Prime Minister places in reconnecting the Party to young voters, many of whom have struggled to afford housing and favoured Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party during the General Election. The eagle-eyed may also have spotted that the title for this year’s conference “Building a Country that Works for Everyone” contained a clue to the policy announcement to come – even if the slogan itself couldn’t make it to the end of the speech.
The Prime Minister confirmed that she would push ahead with the Conservative manifesto pledge to introduce legislation to cap energy prices, which many speculated had been set aside following the General Election. A draft Bill will be released next week setting out the Government’s framework for implementing this policy. This section of the speech was redacted in the version handed to journalists before the Prime Minister stood up, showing it was meant to be the ‘rabbit out of the hat moment’ that headline writers would focus on – sadly, for Theresa May, events ensured this was not meant to be.
Other policies announced include a review of the Mental Health Act by Professor Sir Simon Wessley aimed at addressing any injustices present in the current system, an extension of the free school programme and the introduction of an opt-out organ donation system in England.
By urging her Party to speak for “ordinary working people” and tailoring a policy platform to match, there are parallels between this speech and May’s initial address outside Downing Street last July. This was also evident in the tone of the speech, which was often of a personal nature.
In the later part of her speech, May received a standing ovation when arguing that “the test of a leader is how you react when tough times come upon you”. Faced with a challenging set of circumstances for a Prime Minister delivering a conference speech, May proved once again that she will continue to confront adversity head on.
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