Technical difficulties, a coughing bout, and a prankster interrupted UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s closing remarks at her Conservative Party’s annual conference on October 4.
Intended to shore up her fragile hold on 10 Downing Street since losing a majority in Parliament in the June snap election she called, the speech instead served to many as a symbol of her rocky tenure as Prime Minister.
During the speech, comedian Simon Brodkin, also known as Lee Nelson, approached her on stage and handed her a P-45 form, the British pink slip. “Boris asked me to give you this,” he said to May, alluding to Boris Johnson, the UK foreign minister who has recently been seen as undermining May on Brexit issues and has coveted her office since his days as Mayor of London.
After security removed Brodkin from the area, May attempted to continue with her speech, but a fit of coughs beset the speech and she nearly lost her voice. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, the British equivalent of the Treasury Secretary, handed her a lozenge. Towards the end of May’s speech, letters began to fall off the wall behind her, with an F and an E dropping from the party’s slogan “Building a country that works for everyone.”
The speech centred on offering voters the British dream while changing the focus from Brexit to domestic policy. May proposed initiatives to review the Mental Health Act, tackle racial inequality, legislate energy price caps, fund a £2 billion plan to build subsidized housing, and cancel a planned increase in college tuition fees.
The latter proposals targeted young voters, who strongly favoured Corbyn in the snap election and fueled Labour’s 30-seat gain. May further acknowledged her political mistakes in her address. “I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign and I am sorry,” she said.
Nonetheless, the various interruptions overshadowed the content of her speech and instead resurfaced questions about her leadership. The optics of her speech further reinforced the current view that she will not last the entirety of the 2 years until the conclusion of Brexit.
Former Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps called on May to resign and claimed that 30 MPs and a couple of cabinet ministers support his call, and insisted that this list is growing. Party rules only require 48 MPs to initiate a leadership contest.
His claims, however, were met with skepticism and outright denial. Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, key players in the Conservative Party, both stood by Prime Minister May. “What part of 14 million do these people not understand?” Gove said, alluding to the 14 million people who voted for May’s Conservative party, in response to Shapps’ comments. Sky News reported that May has no plans to resign.