Was more effort put into the May’s shoes than her speech?

As Theresa May strode into the conference hall with husband Philip on Wednesday, she was wearing black court shoes.

Ever fashion-conscious, she had carefully planned to change into another pair with eye-catching green jewels 30 minutes later – in time for her speech.

If only her aides had invested as much time and effort on the preparations for the speech itself, it might not have turned out so disastrously.


Theresa May wore eye-catching green heels for her appearance at the Tory conference on Wednesday

Of course, a Prime Minister’s party conference speech is always one of the great political set-pieces of the year. Normally, huge effort goes into ensuring it is packed with bold policy initiatives, heart-warming anecdotes and a sprinkling of sparkling jokes.

Tony Blair would spend days with Alastair Campbell and their No 10 team, huddled away as they honed his annual speech to the party faithful. Indeed, it is often said that PMs’ speech-writers begin thinking about next year’s script as soon as the standing ovation for the last one fades away.

But this was not the case with Mrs May.

Indeed, considering that Wednesday’s speech had been billed as the most important of her political life – vital if she wanted to resurrect her struggling premiership – it is astonishing how little endeavour seems to have gone into its preparation.

When David Cameron was Tory leader, he worked on the first drafts of his autumn conference speech in August. Yet his successor’s team met for the first time to discuss the theme only four weeks ago.

Present then were Chief Whip Gavin Williamson, Robbie Gibb, newly arrived from the BBC as direction of communications, and Chris Wilkins, who had quit as Mrs May’s speech-writer after the general election but was brought back to help.

Shockingly, I’m told by a backbench Tory MP that the group had very few big ideas other than that the PM should champion the ‘British dream’ – a phrase that she herself had used to describe how she wanted every new generation of Britons to enjoy a better standard of living than the previous one.

(It didn’t help that this woolly concept echoed a phrase used by the most inept French president in recent history, the Socialist Francois Hollande, who vowed ‘to re-enchant the French dream’.)

It is astonishing how little endeavour seems to have gone into the preparation of Mrs May’s disastrous speech

There were only two main policy ideas: plans for more council houses and a cap on energy prices.

Problem was, they were very un-Tory policies.

More council houses – making people beholden to the State – does not fit with the Tory belief of greater property ownership. And price-fixing by central government was a policy that was Ed Miliband’s pet project when he was Labour leader.

Another problem was that Mrs May had been abroad for such long periods in the run-up to the party conference – in America, Canada and Italy – and embroiled in Brexit planning that there was scant time to concentrate on the speech.

Her aides struggled on with their outline texts, but without proper guidance from the PM herself, the first rough draft was completed only two weeks ago.

Last year, much of Mrs May’s conference speech was written by her then chief-of-staff Nick Timothy. A long-time ally and the intellectual powerhouse in her Downing Street operation, she relied on him very heavily.

But he was forced to resign after being responsible for the social care manifesto proposal which went down so badly with voters in the election.

And so with less than a fortnight to go before Mrs May’s speech was due, her team had material which they realised was ‘embarrassingly policy-light’.

For her part, Mrs May didn’t seem too concerned.

A late policy suggestion was that people in England should have to opt out if they did not want their organs to be donated after death. This was a surprise as it was not an idea that would attract many votes.

A Tory MP told me that it was a desperate bid to win the approval of headline-writers in newspapers. However, the only newspaper that would approve would be the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror (which had campaigned on the issue), whose readers are the least likely to vote for Mrs May.

But there was a bigger problem.

By the time the Prime Minister arrived in Manchester for the conference, she had a heavy cold which saw her cough for long periods of her speech

By the time the Prime Minister arrived in Manchester for the conference, she had a heavy cold which saw her cough for long periods of her speech

By the time she arrived in Manchester, Mrs May had a heavy cold. Sane advice would have been for her to take it easy, glad-hand just a few delegates and put all her efforts into her speech.

But, ludicrously, her aides arranged 28 media interviews and for her to attend 19 receptions, speaking at most. No wonder her vocal cords were raw on Wednesday.

Meantime, just an hour a day was ring-fenced on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to refine the speech, but even that time was reduced as extra events crept into her schedule.

Inevitably, she was missing Timothy and fellow chief-of staff Fiona Hill (who had resigned with him).

‘Fiona would have angrily intervened to make sure Theresa was given enough time to perfect the speech,’ a source said. ‘She would have torn the eyes out of anyone who she thought was not protecting the PM’s voice.’

With this pair no longer in Downing Street, Mrs May has relied heavily (too heavily, some are saying) on Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. But as a civil servant, he had nothing to do with the party conference.

Instead of launching a last-minute rescue bid on the speech, the PM agreed to be subjected to two major TV interviews on Tuesday afternoon – one, a fierce encounter with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and another with Corbyn fan Jon Snow from Channel 4 News.

Finally, a weary Mrs May rejoined her team to look at what by now was a much-abandoned and inadequate speech. This was around 6pm. But Mrs May left prematurely to attend another round of engagements with party activists. On her return at 11pm, still suffering a cold, she did a run-through of the speech before going to bed at midnight.

Astonishingly, she never did a full rehearsal, reading it from start to finish with her team.

Indeed, I’m told there wasn’t the time – or the inclination. ‘She doesn’t like doing that – it’s not her style,’ said one MP.

What madness.

She should have been encouraged to stay in her hotel suite for hours – practising the speech, drinking hot lemon and honey drinks, with a doctor or voice coach on call.

The fact that none of this was thought of speaks volumes about the calibre of people around her.


Read more at DailyMail.co.uk