Forget the coughing and the P45 – May’s speech was a disaster regardless

The PM's address was a farce - even when you ignore her delivery.

It’s a speech that will be remembered for a long time to come. Just not for the reasons that the Prime Minister hoped for.

This was a conference address heralded by Boris Johnson’s beyond-the-pale comments on Libya – saying it was ripe for investment once they ‘clear the dead bodies away’. A charming trailer for the PM’s rousing words.

Then, just before her speech began, she was handed her P45 by prankster Lee Nelson, setting her on course for a cough-filled lecture on the ‘British dream’.

With a (literally crumbling) backdrop of internal unrest, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: “This was the speech of a brave Prime Minister struggling on, while her disloyal Cabinet colleagues openly plot against her.”

But more than the coughing and the pranks, it was the pledges within this speech that are most worthy of laughter.

On housing, the PM pledged £10bn towards expanding the inflationary Help to Buy scheme – yet just £2bn for social housing.

Campaign group Generation Rent called it a mere ‘trickle’ of funding given what was needed:

“Compared with the £10bn being ploughed into the wasteful Help to Buy scheme, only £2bn for social housing suggests the government is still focusing too much on the symptoms of the housing crisis rather than its causes.

“Investment in social housing would mean permanent homes for the 75,000 families in temporary accommodation and lower market rents, whereas Help to Buy will get a small minority of renters into home ownership, while pushing up prices for the rest of us.”

Her words on creating a ‘British dream’ – a country that works for all workers – were met with derision by Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady:

“The Prime Minister ignored the plight of Britain’s five million public servants, who deserve a pay rise after seven long years of falling real pay.

“She said nothing about cracking down on bad bosses pushing people onto zero-hours contracts, badly-paid agency work and bogus self-employment. And she has no plan to bring the well-paid skilled jobs of the future to every region of the UK.

“Instead, we heard more platitudes, designed to quiet her restless party and distract attention from the looming threat of a job-destroying no deal Brexit.”

The Greens’ Caroline Lucas MP laid into May’s whitewashing of her own record in government:

Meanwhile May’s exercise in ‘saying a lot without actually saying anything’ was ridiculed by Labour’s MEPs.

Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s acting leader in the European Parliament, said: “If she is under the illusion her cabinet is united on Brexit, if she is of the opinion that her leadership of negotiations with our EU partners are going well, she must be dreaming.”

Jon Trickett condemned the PM for reheating old Ed Miliband-esque rhetoric: “All she has to offer are watered down versions of Labour’s ideas, reheated policies, and empty promises.

 “On housing there were warm words but nowhere near enough action, on tuition fees she talked of a “review” but failed to mention that the Tories trebled them to over £9,000 and on energy bills, she provided no clarity after months of confusion and u-turns.

“And there was nothing at all to deal with the crisis the Tories have created in the NHS, nor to deal with the fact that working people’s wages have flat-lined under the Tories.”

In delivery, this was not a hard speech to savage – it was beset with problems from start to finish. But it’s the substance that is most worthy of ridicule – a PM who is all substance and no action when it comes to building a Britain that works for everyone.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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