In Depth

Tory conference: was Theresa May’s speech enough to keep her in the job?

PM closes Conservatives’ annual meeting with speech promising end to austerity if party backs her

Theresa May has pledged to end austerity and release money into public services, in a clear pitch to both the Tory party and UK voters to keep her in power.

Addressing the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham today, the prime minister said: “A decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and their hard work has paid off.”

May vowed to bring forward plans for a new public spending review that would ensure “support for public services will go up”. In a message directed at the whole country during her closing speech, she promised: “Because you made sacrifices, there are better days ahead.” 

As the Financial Times notes, the PM “is fighting to contain her party’s civil war on Brexit and will, in the next few weeks, try to break the deadlock in her negotiations with the EU”.

Delivering what The Times describes as “an explicit warning” to her MPs, she said that replacing her as leader and choosing a hard Brexit would derail these future spending plans, which could only happen once “we’ve secured a good Brexit deal for Britain”.

The PM’s speech “was clearly better than last year’s”, if only because “the set remained intact and no comedian handed her a P45”, says the London Evening Standard.

All the same, May definitely “goes home much stronger than when she arrived”, says The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow.

At its heart, her speech was “a giant job interview for Tory MPs to keep her as leader beyond March... my future, in your hands”, says The Sun’s Tom Newton-Dunn.

Alongside her rhetorical pledge to end austerity, there were two big policy announcements. The PM said there would be a “step change” in how cancer is diagnosed, with a strategy aimed at increasing the early detection rate, from around 50% today to 75% by 2028.

May’s second big announcement was plans to scrap the current cap on how much councils can borrow to fund the building of new houses, which she said “doesn’t make sense”. The move will be welcomed by campaigners, “who have long argued that lifting the cap will help stimulate more public building”, says the FT.

The PM also used her speech to take a swipe at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “bogus solutions” - but actually “did Corbyn the honour of hijacking his agenda”, says The Guardian’s Sparrow. The lifting of the housing cap has been a “long-standing Labour policy”, reports Sparrow, who claims that May has “belatedly realised that Corbyn is on the right side of public opinion on austerity”.

On the whole, though, the speech “was accomplished and bought May some time”, says The Times’ Tim Shipman. “Unfortunately for her, that might only be a fortnight as we await the EU’s next move,” he adds.

The Spectator’s James Forsyth agrees, saying that while May will “send activists home in better heart than they expected this morning”, the “European Council in two weeks time means Brexit will soon reassert itself”.

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