May's last word

The razzamatazz of the Cameron years couldn't have felt further away. Prime Minister Theresa May's speech at the end of the Conservative party conference lacked the punch we may have expected in previous years, and that might well have been the point. May intends to govern differently. Whereas most of Cameron's time at conference was spent with journalists or on press calls, May has been slightly less present in that regard.

The speech itself was not so different from that which she gave on the steps of Downing Street after becoming Prime Minister. Her government plans to govern on behalf of ordinary people who feel left behind. The ghost of Brexit was never far away, and her speech can be seen as a direct appeal to the people who feel let down by capitalism, and indeed the Labour Party. Much of it could be forgiven for sounding something like what Ed Miliband may have said, and his humorous tweets this morning suggest he's of a similar opinion.

There were no new announcements. It's hard to imagine the PR machine of previous years resisting the temptation to make an announcement over airport expansion, but resist she did, saying they would come in due course. Instead she talked about making the right decisions for the country, pointing to Hinkley Point and grammar school expansion as difficult but correct decisions.

The idea behind this speech was to set out her domestic agenda, but all anyone wanted to hear about was our EU negotiation strategy, and she could barely get her words out on that particular section without being subsumed by applause about the small amount of detail she set out on this. The audience lapped up her comments about making our own laws and controlling our own borders. Her comment that we will once again be a fully sovereign and independent nation did not suggest she was overly upset by the referendum result and the conference hall made clear their position with equal vigour.

Injustice was a theme that ran deep in the speech and it seems clear this is where May intends to make her legacy. The trouble being that there were so many areas of policy she addressed that it will be difficult to do that without a lot of trust in her ministers, and reports suggest all major decisions are being taken in Number 10. Either May will become like Brown and be overwhelmed by detail, or she will need to prioritise.

So back to London the government go, with a leader whose confidence is clear from her lack of concern for veneer. She has four years in which to prove to the British people that she is the leader they need and she's likely to get on with the job quietly, whenever that's possible.

Michael Stott

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search