Last Wednesday was the day the Conservative Party surrendered. Lost and shattered, scared and full of dread – they made it clear how desperate they were, how devoid of ideas they had become and how close to the edge they feel.
Theresa May’s speech was an utter disaster, front to back – from the prankster handing her a copy of Boris’ P45, to the faulty sign falling to pieces, to the now infamous coughing fits, the conference came to encapsulate the incompetence and lack of organisation that grips the Conservative government.
May has seen the writing on the wall, whether or not the rest of her party have – the times, they are a-changin’. Labour and their ideas are on the rise and somehow, in just two years, we have gone from Labour being “Tory Lite” to the Tories being “Diet Labour”. Labour now just needs to watch from the opposition benches as the Tories implement their old ideas and wait for their own chance to bring about the new ones.
If you took the transcript of May’s speech, crossed out the names and showed it to a visitor from 2015 they’d immediately deem it one of Ed Miliband’s greatest hits. From the “British Dream” (Miliband’s idea of each generation passing on a richer Britain to the next), to the cap on energy prices that the Tories branded ‘socialist’, to the large-scale investment in social housing, the priorities, policies and language all have much more in common with Miliband’s ideas than those of Cameron or Thatcher.
In case there were any doubts, Miliband was no Blairite: labelled “Red Ed” and seen as a rejection of the hyper-centrist legacy of his forebears, his ascent to the leadership was a shock success for the Labour soft left. This isn’t the Tories shifting some policies to the middle: they’re shifting them wholeheartedly to the centre-left.
But Ed Miliband isn’t the only high-ranking politician May’s been copying. President Josiah Bartlet, Martin Sheen’s lovable character in The West Wing, also had his ideas repeated word for word. When May talked about “reaching deep within ourselves to find that our capacity to rise to the challenge may well be limitless”, she was stealing from a fictional President who went off the air a decade ago, and indeed one from the left-leaning Democratic party. If grabbing ideas from your opposition wasn’t the very definition of desperation, I think that might be.
With all the drama, parody and mockery however, many are missing out on the actual ideas May put forward. To put it bluntly, they are far too little, and much too late. Her talk of the “largest social housing scheme since the 70s” turned out to be another laughably small promise. Whilst the £2 billion budget might sound meaty, it equates to barely 5,000 houses a year – not even an eighth of the average 41,000 that Margaret Thatcher’s government erected every single year.
Some ideas are merely flip-flops; the freeze on tuition fees at £9,250 is not only a blatant reversal of previous policy but still keeps tuition fees higher than they were at the start of her premiership. The energy cap is interesting, but just two years ago we were told it would be a disaster by the very people who now support it.
Ideas on Brexit were most notably absent from the speech as indeed they appear to be absent from the minds of government ministers. And that’s it. Those three stolen, watered-down, forgettable ideas, comprised the entire content of her key-note speech. If it hadn’t been a disaster, we’d all have forgotten by now. There is simply nothing on offer.
The disconnect between the Conservatives and British youth is staggering, the former desperately telling themselves that it is the promise of “freebies” that is winning over students to Jeremy Corbyn, rather than the promise of a new political reality.
The scraps she is content to throw are not nearly enough to reverse the growing political divide between young and old and her attacks on Corbyn were like white noise, repeated slogans from a disastrous election.
She has nothing. The rest of May’s time in office will be a struggle to cling on, a fight for the right to be the Tories’ fall guy, and the honour of taking the blame for Brexit. The plot to remove her is now in the open and whether her premiership lasts another two years or two days, we all know that this speech was the beginning of the end.
On reflection, it’s hard not to feel bad for Theresa May. For all her bumbling incompetence, she hardly chose to be pranked mid-speech, she wasn’t responsible for affixing the letters behind her and I’m almost certain she didn’t write the speech herself.
That doesn’t change the fact, however, that her ideas, her policies, and her tone were all desperate, failed attempts at appeasement. Selling out to left-of-centre ideas is all the Tories have left. The initiative is lost: they are being routed from the field and, in front of her party and the entire nation, Theresa May has surrendered to Labour.