We’ve all been there. We’re making our most important speech of the year; the hall is full, the TV cameras on and the images are being beamed all over the world. We have a sore throat and lose our voice; we are interrupted by a prankster who hands us a mocked up P45 and the message on the stage behind us starts to fall off. Yes, we’ve all been there.
Theresa May clearly had a bad day yesterday. The Telegraph brutally, but fairly, described it as a ‘farce’. It was a barrage of bad luck; of disasters which even her sternest critic would find it hard to pin on Mrs May herself. But in the plethora of pity that has been showering the Prime Minister in the last twenty four hours many have lost sight of the key point from her speech; the speech wasn’t good enough.
Let’s park the catalogue of calamity that befell Mrs May and reflect on the speech itself. The content. What she said. Put simply, it fell way short of what was needed. What was delivered – voice problems aside – was a lacklustre, dull, at times odd speech, following her all too common old-fashioned tone and approach which has bedevilled Mrs May since the label of strong and stable fell with a clang from her shoulders. It was odd because there were passages – about the young man who spoke at the conference about equality and has since died from brain cancer and her own sadness at not having children – that were just dropped from a great height into the speech and landed with a thud, sitting awkwardly with the rest of it. It appeared to be an attempt to humanise Mrs May – to try to shed her MayBot reputation – but showing some emotion. It failed. It just felt and looked strange, awkward and uncomfortable. Sadly like so many of her performances.
Mrs May apologised for the election debacle and said it was too scripted. She then proceeded to continue with her script as a man stood in front of her brandishing a P45. She spoke about the crisis in housing and rightly diagnosed the problem, helpfully taking ownership of solving it and then announced a pathetic, drop in the ocean set of policies which will do nothing to either solve the actual problem or her political problem of under 47s moving in their droves to Labour and the welcoming arms of Mr Corbyn. The same was true of her passages on student fees and energy prices. All been said before, all just nibbling at the edges; fiddling while Rome burns.
A great speech has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has an overall theme. It tells a story. Sadly for Mrs May she failed on all of these because, even though she had a theme – the British dream – it was so misplaced and has been tried (and failed) to death by others, including Ed Miliband. That, like so much of the speech, missed the mark. As a relaunch, the rocket hardly ignited, let alone left the ground.
In 1973, at the height of the troubles in the north of Ireland, rugby teams were voting with their feet and avoiding the security danger of coming to Dublin to play in the then Five Nations tournament. The Scots and Welsh stayed at home but the English team made the trip. It was around the anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the subsequent torching of the British Embassy in Dublin but they came. They were welcomed with a standing ovation as they took the field at Lansdowne Road. They stood up and were counted. The Irish Times reported that “Dickie Kingswell, the RFU president accepted Dublin’s hospitality with typical English understatement. “We did no more than accept a kind invitation,” said the Yorkshireman. At the banquet he battle-weary farmer stood up to make his captain’s speech. “We might not be the greatest team in the world,” said the English front row. “But at least we turn up.”
The English got credit for turning up and battling through to the end but they also left tail between their legs after a comprehensive defeat. Mrs May did turn up yesterday; she did get through her speech and tried her best to navigate the various obstacles thrown in her way but that isn’t enough. In politics, turning up and taking part on its own will not do. It’s a battle of ideas – of hearts and minds – not an attendance contest. It’s a game were winning counts and second is nowhere. Sadly for her party and the country, Mrs May looked every inch a loser yesterday, bad luck aside.
Photo taken from BBC news website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41506740