Even the cruellest 'Thick of It' script writer couldn't have dreamt this up
Theresa May’s flagship Tory party conference speech needed to be miraculously good in order to paper over the cracks of a week filled with tension, backstabbing and uncertainty. Just before the Conservatives’ get-together started, Boris Johnson outlined his own personal Brexit preferences in an interview with a tabloid. As the conference kicked off, unremarkable speeches were met with empty seats and really awkward backstage photos. And just when the Prime Minister needed to deliver a defiant, shut-up-and-put-up speech, the complete opposite happened.
It’s cruel to pin someone’s failure down to a coughing fit. But if we only had a few huffing, hacks and wheezes to talk about, May would have escaped unfazed. The thing is, everything else that could have possibly gone wrong did. And not a way anyone could have predicted.
It didn’t start well. May was handed a P45 and given her marching orders
Comedian / “prankster” Lee Nelson was responsible for this attention-grabbing exploit (remember when he invaded Kanye West’s Glastonbury set? Yeah, that guy…).
In fairness, May didn’t handle the P45 situation too badly. She grabbed the slip of paper, crumpled it up, and tried to get on with her speech, even as Nelson gave a big thumbs up to Boris. It could have been a lot worse. She might have fled in fear, or worse, picked up a papercut.
But then the coughing fit happened
Which, again, it’s coughing. It can’t really be helped. All of us have coughed at an awkward time: during an exam, midway through a presentation, reading wedding vows. It happens. Philip Hammond gave her a cough sweet, she made a joke about the Chancellor “giving something away for free”, and attempted to continue.
But then the F fell off
This can be marked as the official turning point when her speech went from ‘quite bad’ to ‘a complete fucking disaster’.
The Internet is a cruel place. There were thousands of trigger-happy commenters waiting to turn one standout clanger from this speech into a meme. And then this happens.
Cue a hundred jokes about how everyone wanted her to “F Off”
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And oh fucking hell, it all went wrong
Someone should have ordered a stronger, more stable backdrop. The wheels were officially coming off.
By this point, it was a lost cause, and everyone knew it
Boris was reminded he needed to stand and clap
And this guy had to remind himself
All things considered, was it the most disastrous speech by a party leader ever?
Just when May desperately needed a show of strength and unity, even inanimate objects were working against her. This was a nightmare even the most cruel Thick of It script writer couldn’t dream up.