That was painful to watch, and must have been sheer agony for the Prime Minister. Never has leadership looked quite so lonely as it did with Theresa May’s voice collapsing at the very moment she wanted to project authority to her party and the nation. The only compensation for her would have been the palpable waves of sympathy from delegates in the hall that (just) kept her going.
The personal drama of seeing a Prime Minister reel from cough to splutter, gulping water and clutching at cough sweets, desperately trying to keep the show on the road was such that noone will remember the speech for its content. Policy announcements that were supposed to dominate front pages will be utterly overshadowed (and that is without even taking into account the “P45” stunt – a gift photo for the Conservative’s opponents.)
And yes, the sympathy was real, but politics is merciless and it will fade very quickly. Theresa May’s job was to try to revitalise her deflated activists; to reassert a glimmer of belief in a party that is suffering a crisis of confidence. Against that yardstick, a courageous but faltering and fragile performance was a disaster.
This was originally published as part of a PR Week article.