Sometimes things go badly for political parties. And at some of those times, whatever they do to turn it around only makes the situation worse. So it was today for the final day of this year’s Tory Party Conference in Manchester. It was the opportunity for Theresa May to put her stamp on the party, to show that she was still capable of leading The Blue Team for however long it took to fight another General Election.
The PM had worked long into yesterday night on her keynote speech, spending so much of yesterday on the content and delivery that she missed the entirely missable attempt by London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to galvanise the assembled delegates into something approaching a frenzy of excitement. This was her make or break moment. And then reality intervened.
Ms May was apparently in reasonable form as she came out fighting. The applause lines were as expected of a leader’s speech. There were interesting proposals on organ donation and other health matters. A commitment not to let another Grenfell Tower fire happen on her watch. And then a man called Lee Nelson got up from his seat and approached the podium. In his hand was a piece of paper.
Rob Hutton was watching: “It's all kicking off at #CPC17: Protester hands May a P45, telling her she's fired, escorted out by security. May gets a standing ovation”. Richard Partington had more: “Someone hands Theresa May a P45 saying ‘Boris asked me to give you this’”. Could it get any worse? Stay tuned.
The BBC’s Daniel Sandford made the obvious point: “A serious security issue there? A protestor got close enough to Theresa May to hand her a fake P45 during her speech”. Meanwhile, Jess Brammar of Newsnight had yet worse news: “May recovers. But she took the P45. In full view of the snappers in the front row. That's not an image they will be happy with”. It was that bad. And Conference security had questions to answer.
Paddy French at Press Gang mused “Surely the ‘May P45er’ has security clearance to get into the conference?” Absolutely. So how did Nelson get in? Is he a Tory Party member? Did he get press accreditation? Oh, and yes, it did get worse. Ms May lost her voice.
Valiant Philip Hammond gave her a Strepsil. She managed a joke about getting something for free from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But Helen Lewis of the Staggers was unimpressed. “Now she's losing her voice! This is cursed. All she needs is a pigeon to shit on her head and it's full house”. The former station roof, fortunately, remained in place.
It was almost like Statler and Waldorf heckling the performers on the Muppet Show. “It was bad … it was terrible!” Ian Fraser merely looked on and concluded “This is excruciating to watch”. And then it got worse still: the props started to fall apart.
Daniel Sandford again: “Now the letter ‘F’ has fallen off behind Theresa May”. Yes, our Prime Minister suffers an Eff Off Moment.
The Tories would be a joke. But sadly for all of us, they’re the ones in power.