Most of today’s papers, and, yes, that includes several right-leaning ones, have wasted no time in declaring Theresa May’s keynote speech to this year’s Tory Party Conference a disaster, a farce. The Murdoch Times told readers “May on final warning after speech shambles”, while the Guardian offered “Coughing and spluttering - May’s British dream turns into nightmare”. The Telegraph used “Luckless May centre stage in tragic farce”.
Reality? What reality?
Even the Murdoch Sun told it like it was, with “Things Can Only Get Letter … PM’s nightmare as sign collapses”. But one paper, and one obscenely overpaid pundit, were prepared to do their duty and spin for all they were worth, which on the open market would be precious little. The Daily Mail and its alleged sketch writer, the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not), saw things very differently in the retelling.
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In an oversized front page teaser of routine sexism, readers were told “A nitwit prankster, wretched freaking luck … but the old girl made it to the end. After this, Brexit will be a cinch!” What age does Letts inhabit? Lee Nelson, who gave the PM that mock P45, a “Nitwit”? Plonker, meathead, prat, idiot, perhaps, but “Nitwit”?
Quent had already propagandised for all he was worth on the previous day’s proceedings, telling “On the day the Tory conference finally achieved lift-off, it was Boris Johnson’s zest for the English language … that galvanised the crowd … As he finished with a jowly riff of ‘let the British lion roar’, the hall leapt to its pins, folk wolf-whistling and clapping over their heads. At last - at ruddy last! - they had heard a volley of speeches (from Liam Fox, David Davis, Priti Patel and Boris) which were optimistic about Brexit”.
Now came another excursion through the looking glass. Theresa May’s cough? “She was savaged by a near-terminal lurgy … It was a vocal malfunction like no other - utter agony to behold. Wretched, freakish luck”. Lurgy? So Quent’s sense of humour has reached The Goon Show, which ended its run in 1960. What a stupid twisted boy.
After that it was propaganda all the way. “Early paragraphs of the speech included a memorable mea culpa on her bad election campaign … She talked about her grandmother, who had been a ‘below stairs’ lady’s-maid. Her family’s rise from domestic service to Downing Street had been an example of ‘the British dream’. The theme of the speech, indeed, was intended to be that it was time to renew that dream”.
As for the prank and the cough, Quent had his excuses ready: “The conference-goers realised that their Theresa needed some covering fire. They gave her a rolling, standing ovation, the Tory tribe circling round their stricken leader, rallying to her in need … Some of us in the Press seats told each other ‘she’s got to stop, surely’. But that is not Theresa May’s way. Cave in to a lightning-bolt of colic? Never! Gamely, valiantly, she battled on. The hall sensed her intent and started to get behind her”.
And the reality was conveniently forgotten. After all, as Letts conceded at the end, “Let others discuss the speech’s policy content. A sketchwriter’s business is the theatre of politics, the character of its leading figures”. In other words, he wasn’t taking notes. Again.
The real world is already writing Theresa May’s political obituary. But the schoolboy crush on her from the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre endures. Sad, really.