Rowena Mason picks apart the main lines from the leader’s keynote speech at the Tory party gathering in Birmingham
1) Theresa May says she has a plan for Brexit, will see it through and has “just about” managed to keep Boris Johnson on message for four days.
RM: She conveys her key conference message that the government is in control of Brexit without actually giving away many details about how it will be carried out. Rounded off with a joke about Johnson, May is simultaneously trying to show she is not as humourless as she is characterised while stamping her authority on the foreign secretary (who does not look amused).
2) The PM says she wants to plant the Tories on the centre ground, where everyone is given the chance to be all they want to be.
RM: This is what May has been promising since she gave her speech outside Downing Street. However, she has unveiled a number of rightwing policies, from grammar schools to asking companies to reveal how many foreign workers they employ.
3) The PM thanks David Cameron for modernising the party but draws a line under his prime ministership by saying: “Now we need to change again,” because those who voted for Brexit in a “quiet revolution” do not want to be ignored any more.
RM: May is making the case that she has a mandate for change and radical reform on the domestic front as well as taking the UK out of the EU. She is signing up to the narrative that the Brexit vote was a cry of anguish by voters who feel left behind and ignored, allowing her to paint herself as a prime minister who will be there for them.
4) May delivers a really tough-sounding message to business, saying she is putting companies that behave badly “on warning”. They include those hiring foreign workers rather than training young people down the road, a “household name” that is not cooperating on fighting terrorism and bosses who do not treat their staff well.
RM: This is fairly leftwing, interventionist rhetoric from May that is not too far from Milibandism (the former Labour leader tweeted jokingly about this earlier). May appears to be at her most centrist when talking about corporate reform, although it remains to be seen whether her actions will match her words about tackling excessive pay and putting workers on boards.
5) The PM makes time for an attack on Labour, labelling them the “nasty party” in an echo of her warning about her own party more than a decade ago.
RM: Labour has barely been mentioned at the Tory conference, where MPs and delegates appear more occupied with Brexit and discussing a programme for government under May. But the prime minister will be aware it is politically necessary for the Tories to keep casting Labour as a party of division, abusive behaviour and hard-left politics to try to cement that image in voters’ minds.
6) May repeats her statements from Sunday that ending the jurisdiction of EU law and free movement from Europe are priorities.
RM: There is no advance on her previous statements that she will not give a running commentary on how the negotiations will be achieved. She does not repeat her hackneyed “Brexit means Brexit” line, but it is clear she still thinks she can get away with refusing to elaborate on the settlement she would like to see for the UK.
7) She attacks “leftwing” human rights lawyers who attempt to prosecute soldiers for actions on the battlefield, after an announcement there would be an exemption for human rights law while troops are in conflict.
RM: This is a really rightwing passage that draws cheers from the activists and will be red meat to the Tory press. It does not sit that easily with May’s claim to be moving into the centre ground but this appears to be an attempt to position her as in touch with patriotic voters.
8) May makes the case for state intervention, saying the best way to defend capitalism is to reform it.
RM: She references failures in the energy, housing and broadband markets. It seems Ed Miliband was on to something with his diagnosis that consumers are suffering from a broken financial model.
9) The PM focuses on big infrastructure, saying it was necessary for the economy to take decisions.
RM: There are hints in here that she will proceed with airport expansion at Heathrow.
10) May says there will be consumers and workers represented on company boards, while employment rights will be protected and enhanced.
RM: The PM looks like she is enjoying being counterintuitive, entering Labour territory and shooting down arguments that leaving the EU will cause a Tory attack on workers’ rights. However, she does not have a strong record on defending or voting for worker protections, so her actions on this are likely to be closely scrutinised.
11) May dismisses the idea that the Tories cut the NHS and want to privatise it, while praising Jeremy Hunt for his commitment to the health service.
RM: The elephant in the room is the Brexit campaign’s pledge that leaving the EU could bring back £350m a week to be spent on the NHS. She has so far notably failed to sign up to this. Her extended praise for Hunt is interesting given his unpopularity with health workers over the junior doctors’ strike. Few other colleagues have been mentioned at length in the speech.
12) The PM says all that should matter is how hard people are prepared to work – whatever race, gender, sexuality you are.
RM: This gets her biggest applause from the Tory delegates. She talks about her past successes on reducing stop and search and introducing a Modern Slavery Act, but there is little detail about what policies she would bring in to reduce inequalities, apart from an audit of public services.
13) The new grammar school policy is outlined by May with emphasis on selective education being just one element of a reform package.
RM: She is not backing away from the much-criticised grammar policy, saying it is a scandal that poorer children cannot have the same chances to get ahead as those from richer families.
14) May embarks on an anecdote about triathlete Alistair Brownlee helping his brother Jonny in a race to make a point that society should not be about individualism and self-interest.
RM: A thread running through this speech – a really clear rejection of the Thatcherite idea that there is no such thing as society, and of 80s corporate greed. But the passage about the Brownlees was so sentimental it provoked an outbreak of mock-vomiting noises across the press room in Birmingham.
15) She ends with nods to Disraeli, Churchill, Attlee and Thatcher (“who taught us we could dream great dreams again”) as examples of British leaders who have done good. May looks emotional as she ends with an inducement to “come with me” as the government makes changes to the country.
RM: This is an interesting insight into May’s influences, including leaders from the Victorian era and postwar period. It is no surprise she admires elements of Thatcher’s leadership but the reference to Labour’s Attlee, the architect of the welfare state, is a more unusual choice for a Conservative. The speech has shown she is ideologically difficult to place, with rightwing policies on immigration and education, a left-leaning attack on the excesses of corporatism and a populist attack on elites who do not listen to ordinary voters. However, there was very little concrete new policy to back any of this up.