Prime ministers are up all night on the eve of their party conference speech. I remember watching Gordon Brown pacing his hotel suite in Brighton one year, rehearsing his lines, honing and polishing with his team into the wee hours. David Cameron earned the nickname of the “essay crisis” Premier for just this sort of thing.
Not so Theresa May. The new PM was tucked up in her Hyatt Hotel suite in Birmingham nice and early on Tuesday night.
Her team were allowed out for the night, enjoying the parties and gossip. In Downing Street world, this is unheard of. And this detail captures neatly a phenomenon about Mrs May. She’s decisive. She’s resolute. And she knows precisely what she wants to do.
The Premier and her husband were able to have an early night because she came to Birmingham with her speech largely polished. The challenge: to answer the question on everyone’s lips: ‘What is Mayism?’
And the answer was to be found in that speech. Not, as many think, in the phrase ‘change is coming’, although that wake-up call is real. No, it came in the phrase laced through her address: ‘Get on with it’.
Much has been made of the ovation that came from her promise to fix rural broadband. But No. 10 people weren’t surprised. It wasn’t a sweeping statement about policy direction. It was a Prime Minister responding to a practical problem impacting on real people. Everyday people trying to get on in life.
Mrs May hasn’t notched up 100 days in office yet. Today is number 84. Yet we now know about nuclear energy policy; shale gas exploration; grammar schools; housing plans; a race equality audit. We also know that restricting immigration will trump membership of the single market in her Brexit negotiations.
The PM’s team have good reason to feel a job was well done in Birmingham. Her dominance of the media through the first days of the conference was admirable. She conducted herself with steely charm and won new friends.
Of course, not everything she promised was celebrated. Business and employer groups felt uncomfortable with what they saw as a broadbrush and unfair attack. But many have long felt that consumers have been ignored. And Mrs May is out to act for them, collecting disenchanted Labour and UKIP supporters as she goes.
Another feature we will see is the return of the green and white papers of the traditional consultation process. These are the hallmarks of a cautious, details person. They allow ministers to bring policy to the Commons with fully-baked proposals, the more likely to pass into law. Remember, there is no early General Election and she commands a majority of just 16.
So what next? The PM will soon turn her attention to the Industrial Strategy. I believe life sciences and support to boost the pharmaceutical industry will be a major plank. The UK is already the chosen home of some of the world’s greatest scientific talent. It’s precisely this kind of high value knowledge economy she wants to build.
Former life sciences minister George Freeman sits at the helm of her policy board and his closeness to the operation is significant. Mayism is delivering what people need and want. Not the elites, but the ordinary, ‘normal’ people toiling away week to week.
They get by. They want a champion rooting for them. And the early signs are they have their champion.
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