East's MPs dancing to Theresa May's tune
PUBLISHED: 14:07 03 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:33 03 October 2018
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Dancing Queen Theresa May has been backed by East Anglia's MPs after delivering an "optimistic" conference speech.
The prime minister attempted to unite her party after a fractious conference in Birmingham that was dominated by interventions on Brexit by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
And in an audacious bid to win the crowd over she even jigged on to the stage as Dancing Queen boomed out in the hall – a gag that recalled her dancing with African school children in the summer.
That, and other jokes about last year’s disastrous speech, were well received by the faithful.
In a clear plea for both her party and the country to unite over Brexit she said: “A second referendum would be a ‘politicians’ vote’: politicians telling people they got it wrong the first time and should try again.
“Think for a moment what it would do to faith in our democracy if – having asked the people of this country to take this decision – politicians tried to overturn it.
“Those of us who do respect the result – whichever side of the question we stood on two years ago – need to come together now.”
And she declared an end to austerity, saying: “When we’ve secured a good Brexit deal for Britain, at the spending review next year we will set out our approach for the future.
“Debt as a share of the economy will continue to go down, support for public services will go up. Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.”
And East of England MPs backed the prime minister.
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said: “I’ve heard over 40 Conservative PM’s and leader’s speeches, and this was one of the very, very best.
“An exceptionally well-crafted and confidently-delivered speech which combined optimism and aspiration with a really strong and credible plan for Brexit. She also made a compelling case for capitalism and free markets, whilst demolishing Corbyn’s extreme socialism.”
Colchester MP Will Quince added: “This was a brand refresh for the prime minister and a really brilliant speech. It was funny and showed a human side to her – a side we in Westminster see all the time.
“There was a positive message on Brexit which is important. And I think everyone will be very optimistic now going forward.”
But not everyone agreed. Labour East of England MEP Alex Mayer said: “Theresa May might have danced on to the stage but her speech shows she is out of step with the country.
“In a speech about opportunity it’s a crying shame the PM didn’t take the opportunity to explain how she would tackle the social care crisis, or the chaos on the railways or per pupil funding in the classroom.”
And the spectre of Mr Johnson will linger on.
Mrs May took to the stage less than 24 hours after 1,500 delegates gave a thunderous standing ovation to Mr Johnson as he branded her Brexit plans a “constitutional outrage” that would humiliate Britain.
And just an hour before she took the stage there was more bad news for the PM when Tory MP James Duddridge announced he had written to the chairman of the Conservative 1922 committee calling for a change of leader. In the letter he wrote: “I write this with heavy heart however we now need a proper leadership election and to move on.”
During her speech the prime minister made a direct appeal to mainstream Labour voters disillusioned by Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing agenda to switch to the “decent, moderate, patriotic” Tories.
She borrowed the Labour leader’s “For the many, not the few” slogan declaring that Conservatives are “a party not for the few, not even for the many, but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best”.
Addressing Labour voters directly, Mrs May said: “Millions of people who have never supported our party in the past are appalled by what Jeremy Corbyn has done to Labour.
“They want to support a party that is decent, moderate and patriotic. One that puts the national interest first.”
More than two hours before Boris Johnson’s speech people began queuing to get in.
And not all of them were lucky enough to witness that particular piece of political theatre.
But there were queues again before the prime minister was set to take to the stage to deliver her crucial message of unity to the party and the country.
In fact the line snaked much of the length of the main conference concourse.
One MP was confused though: “There have never been queues here before. I can only think the doors are being kept shut on purpose. I think Mrs May’s people want to show that she can attract a crowd as well.
“I think this is a case of ‘anything you can queue, I can queue better’.”
And some people in line revealed they had suffered a similar long wait the day before. “My main memory of this conference will be standing in line,” one quipped. And another added: “It is very British though isn’t it? Splendid.”