British Prime Minister Theresa May’s bid to reassert her dwindling authority has been marred by a calamitous keynote speech interrupted by repeated coughing fits, a prankster and even letters of her slogan falling off the stage.
Ms May had wanted to use the Conservative Party’s annual conference to bring her divided party together and pitch herself as the only person able to deliver Brexit and keep opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn out of power.
She started by apologising for her botched bet on a snap June election, which stripped her party of its majority in parliament, then pitched a revitalised “British Dream” for which she proposed fixing broken markets and uniting the country.
But her flow was interrupted by British comedian Simon Brodkin, who handed her a P45 letter, a document given to employees when they leave their job.
The document had been “signed” by her ambitious Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Theresa May repeatedly lost her voice during her big speech https://t.co/CogjOzoJ1u
Philip Hammond helped out here: pic.twitter.com/goa2w8yhSe
— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) October 4, 2017
Then Ms May began a coughing fit and was repeatedly forced to take drinks of water, even coughing into her glass, and was proffered a lozenge from her finance minister, Philip Hammond.
While she was speaking, several letters fell off the slogans behind her on the stage.
The 61-year-old won standing ovations for pressing on with the hour-long address, in which she took a more personal tone – saying she did not mind being called the “Ice Maiden” and describing her “great sadness” at not having children.
Her speech sought to offer party activists a renewal of Conservative values while making new promises to a younger generation and those “just about managing”.
Many in the audience said her coughing fit and the sudden appearance by the comedian had helped to win them over. Opponents were less kind.
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) October 4, 2017
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, said Ms May was so useless that if she remained as leader then Labour’s Corbyn would soon be in power.
After Labour’s assault on some elements of capitalism, the backbone of Conservative policy, Ms May sought to make the case for free markets and fiscal prudence.
She tried to compete with Labour on its pledges to voters, offering £2 billion ($A3.4 billion) to build cheaper houses, proposing a cap on what she called “rip-off” energy prices and to ease the burden of student debt.