YOU wouldn’t often confuse Mrs Maybe with a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. And perhaps you still won’t after she started her conference speech with a stiff Abba shuffle.
You wouldn’t often dust off the word ‘sashay’ to describe the prime minister’s generally awkward movements. But that little dazzler has been lifted from the glitter pile by some this morning in praise of her Dancing Queen routine.
Before scoring Theresa May’s performance, let’s consider the insular idiosyncrasies of the party conference speech. The party faithful loved her routine in Birmingham, but it’s surely odd when a woman shaking her stiff joints to an old Abba tune earns a standing ovation.
As a bit of political theatre, it was pretty good in that it conveyed confidence, yet it was still odd, and oddly embarrassing. Her words were more confident than is often the case, but they weren’t saying much. Also, it was hard not to detect the strange self-confidence of someone who isn’t as good at her job as she seems to think. And a hint, surely, of the dullest person in the room telling herself: “I’m a right laugh, me.”
The newspapers mostly enjoyed the show, with the Daily Mail choosing the headline: “MAMA MAY-A” and praising a “bravura speech that savaged Corbyn and put Boris in his place – and promised an end to austerity”.
All that from a jerky shuffle and a dull speech.
The Telegraph, not often a friend to the prancing one, goes with: “Dancing to a new beat: May declares an end to austerity.”
The Mirror, never a friend to the Tories, prefers “Strictly shambolic” and “ZERO CREDIBILITY.”
Even if you don’t like Theresa May, it’s fair to say that she had a good day. Better at least that the true shambles of last year; better for sure than the speech before that, when she dismissed Remain voters as “citizens of nowhere”.
But this ending austerity business sounds highly suspicious. Once the “excitement” dies down – that’s if anyone other than Tory MPs desperate for good news felt the tingle – we should all make sure to read the small print.
Austerity was imposed unnecessarily, and the effects are only now being fully felt. Mrs Maybe embraced this experiment in fiscal cruelty. Then she added the economic illiteracy of a hard Brexit into the mix. Now, with a shuffle of her feet, she announces the end of austerity. Just like that, as Tommy Cooper used to say.
It was as if Brexit didn’t exist, as if the financial penalty clauses of leaving the EU were only a few loose Euros, rather than untold billions of the pounds no longer in your pocket.
Mrs Maybe showed some other old moves too. She revived her commitment to people who feel “left behind” – a noble pledge made when she took office, and one ignobly ignored ever since.
She has form with saying words that sound fine, if from the dull end of the drawer, but turn out to mean nothing much.
Will her fine words lead to the scrapping of the dreadful and calamitous universal credit? Unlikely. Will her tin-earned “thanking” of people for all their hard work over austerity win her new friends? Unlikely – and wasn’t that the oddest note, a flat-footed thank-you as if we’d all been helping with the village fete, not suffering years of cuts.
A better than expected speech, but that’s not saying much.