What Theresa May tried to say in her conference speech – and what she really meant

A translation of the words the Prime Minister struggled to deliver as she was interrupted by a protester and lost her voice 

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Wednesday 04 October 2017 16:42
Theresa May's speech breaks down due to coughing fit

What Theresa May said: A little over 40 years ago in a small village in Oxfordshire, I signed up to be a member of the Conservative Party.

And what she meant: I want to tell you a story. It’s about a heroic young Home Counties woman who wanted to be prime minister and who faced unexpected horrors when she succeeded. One day she found herself delivering a speech to her party conference after an unexpectedly disastrous election and you will never guess what happened next...

What she said: Now I called that election ... We did not get the victory we wanted because our national campaign fell short. It was too scripted.

What she meant: So I am going to show you how not to stick to a script.

What she said: [That election] allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity, when the public wanted to hear a message of change. I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign. And I am sorry.

What she meant: That’s what it says in the script, anyway.

Letters fall off Tory slogan behind Theresa May during conference speech

What she said: All that should ever drive us is the duty we have to Britain and the historic mission of this party – this Conservative Party – to renew the British dream in each new generation. That dream that says each generation should do better than the one before it. Each era should be better than the last.

What she meant: The British dream set out by Tony Blair in 1994, copied by Michael Howard in 2005, stolen back by Ed Miliband in 2015. My dream now. Definitely not a bit of boilerplate robotic rhetoric, at all.

What she said: I know that people think I’m not very emotional. I’m not the kind of person who wears their heart on their sleeve. And I don’t mind being called things like the Ice Maiden – though perhaps George Osborne took the analogy a little far.

What she meant: I can take a joke. Humans can take a joke. A robot wouldn’t understand that it was a joke. It would think the editor of the Evening Standard had some unconventional food storage protocols.

What she said: My grandmother was a domestic servant, who worked as a lady’s maid below stairs.

What she meant: You have seen Doctor Who. Lady’s maids very rarely turn out to be robots from other planets. I have a fully human lineage.

What she said: To renew that dream is my purpose in politics. My reason for being. The thing that drives me on.

What she meant: Otherwise known as the CPU.

What she said: Change, as Disraeli taught us, is constant and inevitable. And we must bend it to our will.

What she meant: Conservative Party leader’s conference speech standard template. Quote Disraeli. One Nation guy. Check.

What she said: The agenda that I laid out on day one as Prime Minister still holds. It burns inside me just the same.

What she meant: Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.

What she said: And when people ask me why I put myself through it – the long hours, the pressure, the criticism and insults that inevitably go with the job – I tell them this: I do it to root out injustice and to give everyone in our country a voice.

What she meant: Plus, I’ve got to get to the end of this speech because until I do no one can go home.

What she said: Don’t try and tell me that free markets are no longer fit for purpose. That somehow they’re holding people back. Don’t try and tell me that the innovations they have encouraged – the advances they have brought – the mobile phone, the internet, pioneering medical treatments, the ability to travel freely across the world – are worth nothing.

What she meant: All those Corbyn supporters with their smartphones and Momentum apps: listen up.

What she said: It’s the Conservative Party that has a vision of an open, global, self-confident Britain, while our opponents flirt with a foreign policy of neutrality and prepare for a run on the ground.

What she meant: I’m sorry, I meant “pound”. I was distracted by someone handing me a note, which I thought was going to say: “Be more spontaneous.” It didn’t. It seemed to be some kind of official form. I thought I had already filled in my request for more recycling bags.

What she said: Some people say we’ve spent too much time talking about Jeremy Corbyn’s past. So let’s talk about his present instead ... This is a politician who thinks we should take the economics of Venezuela as our role model. No, Jeremy Corbyn.

What she meant: Sing that, young persons. The tune is “Seven Nation Army”.

What she said: Britain is leaving the European Union in March 2019.

What she meant: You would have thought they would have remembered this, but it makes them clap every time.

What she said: Ten years after Northern Rock, our economy is back on track. My voice is not on track.

What she meant: I will convince you that I am human. Only 11 pages to go.

What she said: With government, businesses and the public sector working together, we have bounced back – creating record numbers of jobs…

What she meant: Nobody is paying any attention to what I am saying, they are just wondering whether I can get through to the next sentence. So I hereby announce that the Labour Party has been abolished and its leaders put under house arrest.

What she said: Under this Government, we will continue to meet the international aid target, spending 0.7 per cent of our GNI on international development … We should be proud that under a Conservative Government, this country is one of the few that is meeting its duty to some of the poorest people in our world.

What she meant: Now that no one is paying attention to my words, I can get away with all kinds of socialist stuff that the Tory grassroots don’t much like.

What she said: It has always been a great sadness for me and Philip that we were never blessed with children. It seems some things in life are just never meant to be. But I believe in the dream that life should be better for the next generation as much as any mother.

What she meant: It has taken me a while to get round to this, but: get lost, Andrea Leadsom, yes I did mind when you suggested that, as a mother, you had “a very real stake” in the nation’s future.

What she said: I will dedicate my premiership to fixing this problem – to restoring hope. To renewing the British dream for a new generation of people. And that means fixing our broken housing market.

What she meant: My premiership may not be very long but I am human and I want to be remembered for doing something. Something other than losing a majority and losing my voice.

What she said: It won’t be quick or easy, but as Prime Minister I am going to make it my mission to solve this problem. I will take personal charge of the Government’s response, and make the British dream a reality by reigniting home ownership in Britain once again.

What she meant: Oops. Glitch in programme. I am going to set fire to the housing market.

What she said: As a proud Unionist, I take comfort that the general election saw the threat of nationalism set back, the case for a second referendum in Scotland denied. And wasn’t it a brilliant result for the Scottish Conservatives and their superb leader, Ruth Davidson?

What she meant: So brilliant that she should stay in Scotland and do Scottish things and not think of coming down south to take over from me, who am human.

What she said: For we are a nation of dreamers, with the capacity to deliver those dreams too.

What she meant: Not a nation of robots at all.

What she said: Within a few hundred yards of here [is] a new research facility to develop the extraordinary material graphene, for which two scientists here in Manchester won the Nobel prize. And let me say this to George Osborne – you were right to back it as part of the Northern Powerhouse and this Government will back it too.

What she meant: Forgiveness is human.

What she said: Beyond this hall, beyond the gossip pages of the newspapers, and beyond the streets, corridors and meeting rooms of Westminster, life continues – the daily lives of working people go on. Many pay little attention to great conferences and gatherings like this.

What she meant: If only.

What she said: The test of a leader is how you respond when tough times come upon you.

What she meant: And whether one of your colleagues will offer you a cough sweet.

What she said: When faced with challenge, if you emerge stronger. When confronted with adversity, if you find the will to pull through.

What she meant: Got to hope so, anyway. It’s almost like a metaphor, isn’t it?

What she said: Let us fulfil our duty to the British people. Let us fulfil our duty to our country. Let us fulfil our duty to Britain. Let us renew the British dream.

What she meant: Yes. Done it. Fulfilled my very human duty to finish this speech.

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