MANCHESTER • British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday reset her "mainstream Conservative agenda", taking on her critics, even a protester who interrupted her mid-speech, in an attempt to prove she can lead Britain and secure a strong Brexit.
In a keynote conference speech where the protester and a coughing fit brought her words almost to a halt, Mrs May won over many members in the hall by promising to reinvigorate the party and offering pledges to younger people and families alike.
Seeking to draw a veil over party infighting, she tried to woo back floating voters tempted by opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's brand of socialism, with a promise to cap energy prices and build more social housing.
The government will publish next week a draft Bill to "put a price cap on energy bills", Mrs May announced.
The Prime Minister also said it will invest an additional £2 billion (S$3.6 billion) in affordable housing - taking the total affordable housing budget to almost £9 billion. Her plan is for "a new generation of council houses to help fix our broken housing market".
The 61-year-old Mrs May also said she did not mind being called the "Ice Maiden", but that unlike many of her critics, she came from lowly beginnings, something that convinced her of the need of what she called the "British Dream".
KEEPING THE FAITH
This is a Conservatism I believe in, a Conservatism of fairness and justice and opportunity for all, a Conservatism that keeps the British Dream alive for a new generation. That's what I'm in this for.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY
"This is a Conservatism I believe in, a Conservatism of fairness and justice and opportunity for all, a Conservatism that keeps the British Dream alive for a new generation," she told the cheering crowd.
"That's what I'm in this for," she said, repeating the phrase at least eight times. "That's what we must all be in this for."
The vicar's daughter called on the party to do its "duty" by voters as the nation heads towards leaving the European Union in two years. She said the government wants Brexit negotiations to succeed, but is also preparing for a scenario in which they could fail. "I believe it is profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed, but I know some are worried whether we are prepared in the event that they do not. It is our responsibility as a government to prepare for every eventuality," she said.
"I know some find the negotiations frustrating," she said, adding: "But if we approach them in the right spirit... I am confident we will find a deal that works for Britain and for Europe too."
The conference in the northern English city of Manchester was a sombre affair, light on policy and heavy on self-doubt. The speech was already a difficult one for Mrs May, opening with an apology to her party for the disastrous election campaign earlier in the year.
The address could be make or break for the Prime Minister, whose attempt to present a united front at the conference has been undermined by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a possible leadership contender who received rousing applause for his speech on Tuesday.
The protester who interrupted Mrs May's speech, comedian Simon Brodkin, handed her a P45 letter, a document given to employees when they leave their job.
As security agents escorted him out, Mr Brodkin quipped that Mr Johnson had told him to hand the P45 to Mrs May. "Boris told me to hand her a P45," he said. "He didn't tell me why. He wanted me to do it."
Mrs May retorted with a jibe aimed at the Labour Party leader, saying: "It's Jeremy Corbyn who should be given a P45."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, XINHUA