May’s speech was easily best since becoming PM

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

The prime minister may not think she has much to thank Boris Johnson for - but he has at least forced her indirectly to spice up her normal dreary speech-making.

Theresa May and her aides must have watched in something approaching horror his barnstorming speech to a near ecstatic audience of 1,000 Tory conference delegates at a fringe meeting in Birmingham last week.

Prime Minister Theresa May dances as she arrives on stage to make her speech at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham

Prime Minister Theresa May dances as she arrives on stage to make her speech at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham

She obviously quickly realised she had better do something - without delay - to try to rid herself of her notorious “glumbucket” performances on the rostrum.

And it seemed to work. For once, she delivered a lively speech - easily the best since becoming prime minister - to an audience which she had already charmed with a few jokes and some self-deprecating dance steps and piston-like movements as she approached the lectern.

She is not out of the woods yet - there are a number of Tory MPs who still want to pitch her out of Downing Street - but she has taken some of the heat off herself.

However, she must beware: Jeremy Corbyn’s Opposition, in a welcome move, has started to liven itself up and provide more of a problem for the already quarrelsome Tories than hitherto. May must watch her step.

One thing in her favour, is that she does not flinch under fire. That virtue might just carry her through.

• What an old grump is Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, just at a time when there looks like being some kind of breakthrough in the marathon Brexit negotiations?

Juncker has chosen now to direct his bile at the British press, saying: “They do not respect the human rights of political actors at all. I shall not miss them.”

As Enoch Powell once put it: “A politician who complains about the press is like the captain of a ship complaining about the sea.”

Juncker has been targeted regularly by some newspapers over his alleged heavy drinking. But if he is so upset about a critical press he should never have gone into politics. A scrutinising media goes with the territory.

But the British press, and anybody else, have every right - even perhaps a duty - to probe the habits of people in such key roles concerning something which will have such a momentous effect on the UK for years to come.

Perhaps Juncker has been featherbedded by a fawning press on the European mainland. Whatever the truth, the Brussels negotiators seem to have put pretty well every obstacle they can find to impede the UK’s departure. Perhaps that is partly to deter any other member states which might be considering leaving this great monolith.

• Dr Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary and a committed, even ardent, ‘Leaver’, does not appear to have 100% faith in the UK’s ability to unlock itself from Europe in anything like the foreseeable future.

He told a fringe meeting at the Tory conference last week: “A year from now we may have left the EU. May have...”

• The new unlikely pin-up for the Conservative Party was Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, QC, whose sparkling speech brought a long overdue ray of sunshine to a hitherto drab, dreary and droning Tory conference.

He has been billed as the only senior and eminent politician virtually no one had heard of outside Westminster.

But after his speech, he was described by one Twitter user as “a hidden star” and praised for his “Richard Burton voice; Churchillian style; Rumpole humour”.

What an accolade! And what a contrast to one of his predecessors Dominic Grieve, the unchallenged Eeyore of the Tory back-benches. Dominic “Grief”, as he perhaps should be called, has been moaning interminably about Brexit for months, in as dryasdust a legalistic manner as it is possible to be. A surefire curer of insomniacs.

But there is one question mark against the well-heeled Mr Cox: He charged 49p for a carton of milk during the expenses affair. Well, we can’t all be perfect.