Conservative party cough-ference
In the general election campaign, Theresa May was often accused of being too robotic. She wouldn’t meet members of the public, she wouldn’t take part in debate, and she would repeat the same line over and over again (who remembers “strong and stable”?).
This week at Conservative party conference, she definitely showed her human side. Unfortunately for May, the way she showed her human side was through coughing and spluttering her way through an incident filled car crash of a conference speech. Like a car crash, though you wanted to, it was difficult to look away.
The calamity began early on. A prankster called Simon Brodkin somehow managed to secure a conference pass, even though he has something of a history in this field, and somehow managed to get to the stage to pass Theresa May a P45 mid-sentence. May handled it well, awkwardly placing the P45 on the ground, whilst Brodkin was (quite slowly) herded out of the venue. May made a quip about Jeremy Corbyn. All was well.
Then, it began.
May’s voice suddenly gave up. Reduced to a whisper, she coughed and coughed. And coughed. She coughed so much, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to give her a throat sweet on stage. Amber Rudd led the applause to allow the PM to recover.
Finally, to top it all off, the Fawlty Towers-esque signage behind May went awry, and the letters F and E fell off. The metaphor for her leadership of the Conservative party was complete.
Apparently, the letters behind May came loose because of the amount of applause that she was receiving. Given that the letters had been there all week, you can get a picture of what sort of conference it was.
Is it Shappening?
Theresa May’s speech was meant to be a chance for her to solidify her leadership. Though Conservative party conference had been a rather flat affair, a strong performance from May could serve to rally the troops and give her new impetus in the Brexit negotiations.
Instead, the news post-speech has been dominated by talk of plots to remove the Prime Minister by the long list of disgruntled Conservative MP’s (though nobody told James Gray).
The rumours reached a crescendo today after Grant Shapps MP, former cabinet minister, was outed by Gavin Williamson, the government’s Chief Whip, for trying to round up MP’s to bring down May.
Shapps is thought to have 30 colleagues on board, but he will need 48 to trigger a leadership election. As yet he is not thought to have convinced any members of the Cabinet.
Shapps is not backing a replacement candidate at this stage. He stated: "this is not about promoting an individual. It’s about having a proper and full leadership election.”
Whatever people say though, Shapps is just looking out for the interests of the country. None of this is revenge for his continued relegation to insignificance in the Conservative backbenches. None at all.
Boris Johnson's ad-Libya goes awry
After promising that he would take a break from his day job of winding up Theresa May, the Foreign Secretary has managed to single handedly damage diplomatic relations with Libya at conference this week. Boris Johnson had already filled last week’s quota for insensitivity by singing the colonial-era Kipling poem ‘Road to Mandalay’ on a visit to Myanmar. The UK ambassador was there to tell him his mic was on and to put a sock in it on that occasion, but no such luck this time.
Funnily enough, recorded and played around news stations around the world, Boris Johnson’s riff at a conference fringe event on the need to “clear the dead bodies away” in Sirte before it could be redeveloped into a next Dubai had all the levity of a pack of cyanide tablets.
Libyan parliamentarians have called for Theresa May to issue an official apology, while British parliamentarians either side of the aisle clammered for Johnson’s sacking (yet again), including his colleagues Justice Minister Philip Lee and Sarah Wollaston MP.
After staying obediently on message in his conference speech, this comment from Johnson was an unhelpful distraction for the Conservative's in their attempts to appear united. Instead, the same old question arose. How much longer until the PM admits Boris must go? Of course, this would mean running the risk that he re-join the backbenches and become the gravitational point of a dogmatic Brexit mutiny. But, with Johnson's actions now hurting the Party as well as their leader, how much longer will his Conservative colleagues play spectator?
Moment of Ruth
While the sun sets on one Conservative woman’s future, Ruth Davidson MSP’s prospects of becoming party leader seem to have taken a firm leap forwards. The Scottish Conservative Leader’s speech was by far one of the highlights of Tory conference – hell, it was a funny, much needed livener to an otherwise dreary line up. Reports have since been circulating that her decampment to Westminster may be closer to hand than previously expected.
Davidson’s curriculum vitae is certainly fuelling hope for a new dawn. Having played a vital role in ensuring Theresa May remained at No. 10 by overseeing spectacular Tory gains north of the border in the General Election, she proved she can lead a campaign. The Edinburgh Central MSP can also be credited with the longer-term revival of Scottish Conservativism, leapfrogging Labour into second position in polls and successfully defending the Union in the 2014 referendum. A Remainer, advocate of single market access, only 38 years old and a lesbian, Davidson’s appeal to young voters may well in time convince ruth-less Tory MPs to stage a coup.
However, to be Prime Minister, Davidson will need to find herself a seat in Parliament. Westminster is staying tuned for news of her candidacy in a by-election, though whether she would want arguably the toughest job in the UK remains open to speculation. As she herself warned in her conference speech on the subject of irresistible rises in politics, be it Jeremy Corbyn’s or Nicola Sturgeon’s, “I have been here before and I can tell you how the story ends.”
Souvenir of the week
It was not all gloom and doom at Conservative party conference. Delegates and MP's alike did manage to let their hair down with some late night karaoke. Matt Hancock MP certainly gave 'Don't Stop Me Now' his best effort.