One consistent aspect of Theresa May’s ascent to the top of the Conservative Party has been the tenor of the landmark speeches that have defined her career.
Firstly, she gave the “nasty party” speech to the 2002 conference when she was the party chair (then went on to be the Home Secretary who refused to support the rescue of drowning migrants in the Mediterranean ). Then when Home Secretary she gave that famous speech to the Police Federation where she pointedly accused them of crying wolf in relation to police numbers (whilst allowing the number of officers to be reduced by 21,500 and armed officers by 6,000). And then even on the day of her leadership election launch she took the opportunity to have a barbed attack on Boris Johnson’s skills of international diplomacy with reference to his bungled purchase of water cannon from Germany , and then went on to make him Foreign Secretary.
The theme running through all of the above is that Mrs May was not offering any positive vision or ideas. She was defining herself and her politics by contrast with others and by attacking others.
This was continued upon her taking the premiership. She clearly sought to define herself against the old Etonians, then shunned her cabinet during the 2017 election campaign.
Last year I read Sir Alex Ferguson’s book on leadership. One of the lessons from it was, never go looking for conflict as a leader. Conflict will find you soon enough so don’t exacerbate the situation by making unnecessary enemies and distractions.
So, when we look at yesterday’s terrible conference speech, and consider what a forlorn and lonely figure Mrs May looked, we must remember that much of that loneliness is of her own doing.
We must also remember that a PM’s role is to unite the country. She has no track record of doing that in her own party let alone the country.
This stands in marked contrast to Jeremy Corbyn. Despite having come through the most turbulent times as leader, he was able to unite a party around a manifesto and throughout an election campaign. That was in no small part because he has shunned the style of politics that Mrs May has made her forte.