May’s Conference Speech: Renewing the ‘British Dream’ for a New Generation

On the election

But we did not get the victory we wanted because our national campaign fell short.

It was too scripted. Too presidential. And it allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity, when the public wanted to hear a message of change.   

I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign.

And I am sorry.

On Injustice

And when people ask me why I put myself through it – the long hours, the pressure, the criticism and insults that inevitably go with the job – I tell them this: I do it to root out injustice and to give everyone in our country a voice.

That’s why when I reflect on my time in politics, the things that make me proud are not the positions I have held, the world leaders I have met, the great global gatherings to which I have been, but knowing that I made a difference. That I helped those who couldn’t be heard.

Grenfell Tower

It’s why after seeing the unimaginable tragedy unfold at Grenfell Tower, I was determined that we should get to the truth.

Because Grenfell should never have happened – and should never be allowed to happen again.

So we must learn the lessons: understanding not just what went wrong but why the voice of the people of Grenfell had been ignored over so many years. That’s what the public inquiry will do. And where any individual or organisation is found to have acted negligently, justice must be done.

Mental Health

It’s why tackling the injustice and stigma associated with mental health is a particular priority for me. So we are building on our record of giving mental and physical health parity in law by investing more in mental health than ever before. But there is widespread concern that the existing Mental Health legislation passed more three decades ago is leading to shortfalls in services and is open to misuse. Detention rates under the Mental Health Act are too high. And it is people from black and minority ethnic populations who are affected the most. So today I can announce that I have asked Professor Sir Simon Wessely to undertake an independent review of the Mental Health Act, so that we can tackle the longstanding injustices of discrimination in our mental health system once and for all.

Free Markets

That idea of free and open markets, operating under the right rules and regulations, is precious to us.

It’s the means by which we generate our prosperity as a nation, and improve the living standards of all our people.

It has helped to cement Britain’s influence as a force for good in the world.

It has underpinned the rules-based international system that helped rebuild post-war Europe and the world beyond.

It has ushered in the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of communism, and the dark days of the Iron Curtain; securing the advance of freedom across Europe and across the world.

It has inspired 70 years of prosperity, raising living standards for hundreds of millions of people right across the globe.

So don’t try and tell me that free markets are no longer fit for purpose. That somehow they’re holding people back.

Don’t try and tell me that the innovations they have encouraged – the advances they have brought – the mobile phone, the internet, pioneering medical treatments, the ability to travel freely across the world – are worth nothing.

Brexit

I know some find the negotiations frustrating.

But if we approach them in the right spirit – in a spirit of cooperation and friendship, with our sights set firmly on the future – I am confident we will find a deal that works for Britain and Europe too. And let’s be clear about the agreement we seek.

It’s the agreement I set out earlier this year at Lancaster House and again in my speech in Florence ten days ago.

It’s a new deep and special partnership between a strong, successful European Union and a sovereign United Kingdom. A partnership that allows us to continue to trade and cooperate with each other, because we see shared challenges and opportunities ahead. But a partnership that ensures the United Kingdom is a sovereign nation once again. A country in which the British people are firmly in control.

Not Quite the Worst Speech She Could Have Delivered

The worse thing Theresa May could have done is declare her mantra that she was “getting on with the job”. What actually happened was a close second.

Plagued by a cough and then a comedian who handed her a P45, Theresa May’s speech was pretty much a disaster. Clearly nervous, her final humiliation came when the lettering of the conference logo began to fall from the wall.

No leader can cope with such humiliation. Especially a female leader.

There was a general irony here that this was by far the most personal speech the Prime Minister has given: she talked about her diabetes, and her sadness at not having children. She referenced Alexander Paul who influenced her stop and search policy. Yet, for all the humanity the script showed she was unable to show her human side as everything went wrong around her. All she could do was keep going.

Imagine how Tony Blair would have reacted to a protestor with a P45.

She apologised for the election. And it is clear that the Tories have listened on policy: she refered to Help to Buy as a stop gap measure; the energy cap, borrowed from Labour, ditched after the election - was back.

The “British Dream” section seemed hackneyed, tired and borrowed - because it was borrowed. There was no spark there. She spoke about a “more open, more global Britain”. There were no “citizens of nowhere”. This was the speech she should have given last year.

The very obvious juxtaposition gave the speech a tragic feel: what might have been.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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