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The most excruciating moments in Theresa May’s speech

Everything fell apart when the Prime Minister tried to address Conservative party conference.

In her annual address to Tory conference, Theresa May started out feeling sorry for herself:

“When people ask me why I put myself through it – the long hours, the pressure, the criticism and insults that inevitably go with the job – I tell them this: I do it to root out injustice and to give everyone in our country a voice.”

But little did she know it was going to get a whole lot worse – and she wouldn’t be giving anyone a voice, especially not herself.

Here’s what happened:

The P45 protester

Just as Theresa May was at the part of her speech where she attacked Labour (“NO, Jeremy Corbyn”), a protester – the comedian Simon Brodkin whose onstage persona is Lee Nelson – appeared at the lectern to hand May a P45, saying “Boris asked me to give this to you”.

After about a minute’s kerfuffle in the hall, which brought the speech to a complete halt, Brodkin was taken out by security.

Police have arrested him for breach of peace, amid questions swirling around conference about the Prime Minister’s security.

Here’s the P45 in question, which gives the “reason for termination” as “NEITHER STRONG NOR STABLE” and “WE’RE A BIT WORRIED ABOUT JEZZA”:

The conference cough

Just as the Prime Minister got herself back on track – making a quip that she’d like to hand Jeremy Corbyn a P45 – she began to cough. And then cough some more. From this moment on, she struggled at numerous moments in her speech to even get the words out:

In the end, the Chancellor handed her a lozenge – but it didn’t really help. Cue rather valiant ad-libbing about fiscal responsibility and cough sweets a few times as she spluttered and choked through the rest of the speech. (“I hope you noticed that, conference – the Chancellor giving something away for free…”).

May has done 28 interviews and spoken at 19 receptions at this conference, so no wonder her throat was feeling rather sore. Unfortunately her conference cold kicked in early, but Alastair Campbell suggested she should have been prepared, tweeting that Tony Blair used to be treated by doctors before delivering speeches when fluey:

Spilling water

While drinking water to help with her cough, the Prime Minister spilt some on herself – something not lost on the audience, who tried to cover up the awkwardness with a standing ovation.

The slogan falls apart – literally

The backdrop of May’s speech was experiencing its own chaos, as the letter “F” fell off the “Building a country that works for everyone” slogan behind her:

And then the last “E” went the same way, until this is what it looked like:

Even gravity was against her.

Boris told to stand and clap

And of course, it wouldn’t be Tory conference 2017 without an intervention from Boris Johnson. Here’s a clip of him sitting among the rest of the cabinet, with Amber Rudd telling him to stand up with everyone else in applause:

Theresa May said her speech was about the “British Dream” – it turned out to be a real-life nightmare.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”